Labs Update: October 2011


We’ve had the first hint of fall here in DC with Metro switching from AC to heat. Grab some apple cider and a baked good while you read this brisk update from Sunlight Labs.

Eric Mill, International Man of Transparency

Fundacion Ciudadano Inteligente logozs

For the last two weeks, Eric has been in Santiago, Chile, working in the offices of the Fundacion Ciudadano Inteligente. There, he’s been chipping in on an API over Chilean parliamentary data, imparting what knowledge of JavaScript and Android he can and learning about the open government scene in Chile.

Influence Explorer

Yet again, new data sets have been added to Influence Explorer and Transparency Data. This past week was the official launch of EPA violations, public comments on federal regulations and corporate employees that sit on federal advisory committees. The BP profile page is a great example of each of these new data sets. Andrew has also spent some time working on infrastructure improvements to allow us to keep our copy of the data up to date.

Real Time Congress

Before his international travel, Eric worked on adding Senate Floor information to both the Real Time Congress API and to the Congress app for Android and continued development on an upcoming website around alerts of government data. Being the spontaneous person that he is, he made a spur-of-the-moment trip to the Senate Office of Public Records to fetch documents relating to Senate Political Fund Designees, which he’ll digitize and release as a CSV after returning from Chile.

The Open States Project

Open States logo

The Open States team has continued to expand their coverage with the addition of Nebraska and Iowa. The team is also working to add more special sessions and several features utilizing the actual text of legislation. James will soon be heading up north to Boston so be on the lookout in the coming months for exciting Sunlight North news.

Sunlight Live / Datajam

Luigi has continued to plug away at Datajam, a new platform to power Sunlight Live. In addition to the core platform, Dan has been working on a modular comment and discussion system for events. If you’ve been hankering to run your own real-time, data-driven events, you won’t have to wait much longer. Datajam will be well-documented and open-sourced for everyone to use by the end of the year.


Clearspending 2011 has launched! In addition to the launch, Kaitlin and Drew have been working on a corporate identifier project. The site will feature a visualization of the impracticality of continuing to use DUNS numbers as the de facto standard for identifying corporations. It is based on a 2D JavaScript port of the Traer processing library and the “nice branching” processing sketch by Natasha Harper and Katie Adee. Kaitlin is currently working on two presentations for the Association for Budgeting and Financial Management conference (super wonky) and one for Open Government Data Camp in Warsaw (super European).


K2, the codename for our second Knight Foundation mobile app, is moving along nicely. The final name and logo are days away from approval, data has been finalized and scraped, and design is moving from comps to build out. Ryan, Caitlin, and I are quite excited about this app and hope to have something good to show you for next month’s Labs Update.

Super Committee logo

The big news on the Foundation front is that we are embarking on a rebranding, redesign, and content reorganization of the main web site. Ali is getting to work on comps and mood boards and I’ll be looking at a reorganization of our blog content. In addition to the redesign, we’ve been pushing out new campaign pages. See our Super Committee page to find out what we’ve been working on to bring transparency to the committee.

Team Design

Now back to full staff, Team Design has been swamped with new work. Chris has been knocking out presentations for Sunlight speaking engagements and worked on design for a few new projects. Caitlin has been working on Capitol Words (I promise, it’s coming soon!) and K2. Ali has been working on the design for Kaitlin and Drew’s corporate identifier site, a new visualization for federal budget projections over time, updates to Influence Explorer, the redesign for Sunlight Foundation and a microsite for the Reporting Group for research they’re doing on financial databases.

Team Management

Tom has been doing the usual odds and ends, wrapping up some grant proposals and writing some reports for grants we’ve been working on. It’s all very glamorous! Somewhat less boringly, he’s also getting ready to head to the Code for America Summit next week. The big news, however, was the launch of Superfastmatch, a joint project with Media Standards Trust. Superfastmatch is an open source tool for quickly finding overlapping text between documents in a huge corpora. We’ve got some great stuff planned for Superfastmatch so stay tuned.

Team Sysadmin

Between searching for an entrepreneur to marry and making scallion oil pancakes, Tim has been working to improve our core infrastructure. In the office Tim has been buying new hardware to replace the switches we’ve had since we were a very small organization. Once the new hardware is installed and the chains of wireless routers are removed, we hope to have dead-zone free wireless access throughout the office. We now have data-filled Munin graphs for all of our servers. Tim also went to a Varnish meet-up at the SURGE conference.


  • Aaron has been helping our reporting group make improvements to their site that will allow users to keep up with electronic FEC filings, particularly those from presidential candidates and members of the Super Committee.
  • Our mobile game, Decipher DC, is on hold for the moment as Daniel works on an analytics and metrics dashboard.
  • I’m headed to sunny Miami, FL tomorrow for PyCodeConf. Send me a message if you are going so we can meet up!
  • The Labs is holding an open house later this month, so keep an eye on the blog here for information. We’ll post invites once we figure out the maximum number of lasers and dry ice we can buy.
  • Goodbye, 1800 Cafe! You’ve fed us well with delicious scrapple, egg and cheese sandwiches since we’ve been here in Dupont Circle.