Labs Olympics: Talk of the Town


It’s that time of year again…time for the 2011 Labs Olympics! This year, I was on a team with Andrew Pendleton of the Data Commons/Influence Explorer team and labs intern Matthew Gerring. Last year, I teamed up with Jeremy and Luigi to form the fierce (and winning) team, Blood Monkey. This year, we needed an equally intimidating team name and an equally creepy project to boot. So without further ado, team Baby in a Straight Jacket presents: Talk of the Town.

Talk of the Town is a corpus of closed captioning data from transcripts of municipal meetings from around the country. You can type in any word and see which cities or counties are talking about it, and how often. The size of the circle over each municipality corresponds to how frequently it was mentioned. Additionally, there’s a sparkline underneath the word you searched for that shows the week-by-week change in frequency.

Talk of the Town is powered by data from the nice folks at Granicus. Granicus is a vendor that provides a streaming video and document publishing suite to governments who want to increase their transparency by making public meetings more accessible to citizens. They were kind enough to let us use the beta version of their api to pull down data from their clients for the last six months. Luckily, they serve hundreds of municipalities across the country, so while the data isn’t exhaustive, it’s a nice sampling.

In addition to noting that the data does not contain every local government, users should also note that we haven’t had a chance to scale the frequency of mentions by the frequency of the meetings. However you can still find some pretty interesting results (bonus: try searching for “earthquake” or “irene”). For instance, if you search for “taxes”, you’ll notice the mention of taxes in Montgomery County is off the charts for a county that size (Montgomery County is the 13th wealthiest county in the country and is also home to a few Sunlighters, including myself).

So that was our two day project for the 2011 Labs Olympics. Although it wasn’t the winner, we’re happy to work on something that takes opengov to the grassroots level, even if only experimentally.