Labs Update: August 2011


Barely survived the hottest July ever in DC? That was nothing compared to this sweltering wave of updates from the Labs. While you read, cool yourself off with the song that topped the Billboard Top 100 chart this day in 1991, Rush Rush by Paula Abdul.

Sunlight Health

Sunlight Health logo

Our first Knight Foundation funded mobile app has hit the Android Market and iOS App Store! Sunlight Health helps you make more informed health care choices by putting trusted information from multiple sources at your fingertips. Use Sunlight Health to learn about hospitals, nursing homes, dialysis clinics, health care suppliers and prescription drugs. Give Eric and Caitlin high fives the next time you see them for their great work on this app.

Influence Explorer

In June the IE team launched Inbox Influence, a Gmail browser plugin that displays political influence data about the people and companies mentioned in the mail you receive. The technology that powers the plugin was so cool, Andrew opened up the Influence Explorer Text API so you can get structured influence data from any arbitrary chunk of text. The service returns data for Influence Explorer entities, campaign contributions, affiliated organizations, lobbying, political fundraisers and more!

Alison worked on data maintenance, most notably preparing and releasing updated data in the federal and state campaign finance datasets on TransparencyData and Influence Explorer.

Work also continued on extracting public regulatory comments from and integrating the resulting analysis into Influence Explorer.

Open States

map of the United States

July saw the Open States Project add Massachusetts, Oklahoma, West Virginia and Puerto Rico. Casey took on the task of extracting text from model legislation for a future project. James has been working on a new document repository for tracking state legislation and has been working on a few minor Open States API enhancements that will benefit mobile applications using Open States data.

Subsidy Scope

Kaitlin dedicated the month of July to the re-launch of Pew’s Tax Expenditure Database and a complete redesign of Subsidyscope. She also worked on updating the data for Clearspending and rewriting some of the copy on the site.

After the launch of Pew’s Tax Expenditure Database, Drew spent the remainder of his time rounding the final corner on the way to a Clearspending update and investigating the relationships between various corporate identifier schemes.

Team Reporting

Aaron worked with the Reporting Group to launch a new database of meetings with financial agencies on rulemaking related to the Dodd-Frank bill. He’s also been helping keep up with recent FEC filings, focusing mainly on Super PACs, and continuing to work with Caitlin on the front end of Capitol Words.

Ryan journalized on lots of short and long term projects last month, including the story about Rupert Murdoch’s Washington Influence and the Knight personal finance app. This month she’ll continue research into campaign finance for the 2012 election, the Home Affordable Modification Program (HAMP) and anything else relevant to Sunlight in the news cycle.

Team Design

With Ali taking a leave of absence to get a taste of the startup world, the rest of Team Design have been barreling through a mountain of design work. Caitlin wrapped up the redesign of Subsidyscope and started on wireframes for the next Knight mobile app.

a tentacled Rupert Murdoch with the arms of his empire wrapped around Washington

Chris worked on numerous small projects including carousel graphics, a logo for the Financial Meetings Database, a Facebook share graphic and helped fix some bugs in the new House Staff Directory design. She did an amazing job creating the data visualization illustration for Ryan’s piece on Rupert Murdoch’s influence.

Team Boss

Tom, being the boss he is by keeping everyone in line

Tom has been doing his usual mix of working on grant reports, writing grant proposals, keeping an eye on project management and trying to make sure the Labs offices are full, productive and cheerful. But he badly shirked his responsibilities related to building giant LED clocks: there’s no progress to report on that front, though he’s optimistic that August will be a big month for big electronic timepieces.

Goodbye, Michael! Hello, Dan!

We are sad to announce that Michael Stephens has left the Labs. Michael was one of the first community members to contribute to Open States and his work was so excellent we had no choice but to bring him on full-time. If we ever build a dedicated Bitcoin mining machine, it will be named after him.

Taking Michael’s place, literally at the same desk, is Dan Drinkard, formerly of nclud and the Washington Post. His first task is updating Politiwidgets with some sweet new features. Welcome, Dan!


  • I worked with Ryan to create interactive maps displaying HAMP data (launching soon?) and pushed out numerous changes and campaigns on
  • Ethan went to OSCON to talk about Open APIs for Open Government Data.
  • Sysadmin Timball spent the month keeping various vendors in check and working on the office’s new 9TB NAS.
  • Luigi has been continuing work on the next generation platform for Sunlight Live and has been managing an update of Sunlight’s Real Time Congress iOS app.
  • Eric found time in his busy vacation schedule to push a redesign of the House Staff Directory.
  • Daniel has been working with Chris and Nicko on the game mechanics and story for an upcoming DC scandal game which will more than likely be built with the Titanium framework.
  • President Obama asked the American people to contact their representatives… and brought the Congressional servers down.
  • July’s frozen yogurt topping-of-the-month: wet walnuts.

Coming up next month: Sunlight North?