Labs Update: April 2012


It’s time again for our monthly Labs update. APRIL FOOLS! It’s only been bimonthly so far this year! Oh, man, I got you so good.

Anyway, here’s what we’ve been up to:

PyCon US 2012

Sunlight Foundation had a strong presence at PyCon consisting of Kaitlin, James, Thom, Paul and me. Our annual Open Government sprint didn’t disappoint as we got a lot of participation on Open States and a new semi-announced project. This was also the first chance that Kaitlin and I got to meet Paul and Thom, confirming that James is in fact capable of hiring good people.

We also trekked through 20 minutes of office parks just to get to In-N-Out Burger. That’s dedication.

Upwardly Mobile

screenshot of Upwardly Mobile

We finally launched! Check us out on your desktop, phone or tablet at We’ve also created a launcher app for Android devices so that you can have a convenient icon on your home screen.

Upwardly Mobile is Sunlight’s first responsively designed site. We learned a lot in the process and hope to use this method more often in the future.

Upwardly Mobile lets you find out where in the country it’s best to live by comparing various types of salary, living and employment data and ranking it based on your preferences. While economics are not the only factor in the decision of where to live, the app can be useful to help you find locations that you may have not considered before.


Work has begun on the third and final app, codenamed K3, for our grant with the Knight Foundation. We are taking a more thoughtful approach with this app, working with the fine folks at IDEO on the purpose and design of the project. Tom, Ali, Anu and I spent a few days out in San Francisco with the IDEO team getting a feel for their process and working through goals for the app. I also took the opportunity to eat massive amounts of raw oysters and fennel; my belly misses you, San Francisco.

Sunlight and IDEO teams together

We are entering a research phase now to identify the data sets that will support the app ideas that have been proposed. From there it will go back to IDEO for wire-framing and interaction design, then back to us for execution. Launch is scheduled for fall!

Check out our other apps from the Knight Grant:

Influence Explorer

Influence Explorer now contains frequently updated campaign finance data from the FEC! High five to Ethan for all of his work on this. The new data shows up-to-date fundraising for candidates and PACs, as well as new tables for Independent Expenditures. Alison worked on new data updates for campaign contributions, federal grants and contracts, and federal advisory committee data so that IE stays as accurate and relevant as possible.

Andrew has mostly been toiling away on Sunlight’s upcoming regulatory-comments-tracking site, but also snuck off to speak at Transparency Works last week in Vilnius, Lithuania.


It’s been a long time coming, but OpenStates has reached all 50 states, DC, and Puerto Rico in either production or experimental status! This is a huge accomplishment and a testament to James’ dedication, talent and lack of anything else to do. Document-related features will be coming to the API, laying the groundwork for much-awaited full text search and document comparison.

Paul and Thom have been working hard on data quality improvements to move the remaining states from experimental to production status. The team will soon begin work on a new web interface for OpenStates, opening up the API data for anyone to browse.

Semi-public Scraper Project

Daniel put together a mini-site for the not-yet-quite-ready-for-the-public scraper project that uses ScraperWiki to collect congressional information. We ran some initial trials of the project at PyCon and a ScraperWiki event here in DC. We’ll be making a decision soon if this project will graduate from the experimental stage. If so, we’ll be sure to announce it here.

Team Journalistic Integrity

Jacob has expanded the super PAC tracker to include all independent expenditures and electioneering communications, as well as all committees making independent expenditures or electioneering communications.

Ryan’s had the opportunity to report on two national news stories — the Trayvon Martin shooting and the Virginia ultrasound bill — using the SuperFastMatch technology that is being developed by Media Standards Trust. She used the tool to identify states that had adopted model legislation written by special interest groups. Ryan has also been working on stories and projects related to campaign finance in order to reveal who really influences the way Washington works and how they do it.

Lee has been working with Planet Money and This American Life on the value of congressional committee assignments and figuring out how much lobbying lowers corporate tax rates. Check out This American Life episode 461 that features the work of Lee and the rest of the Sunlight Foundation!

Team Leadership

Tom has been doing some traveling: San Francisco the K3 kick-off meeting with IDEO, and Austin to join a panel at SXSW and eat some tacos (mostly the taco part). In between he worked with Ryan on her SuperFastMatch project. At the moment he’s working on hiring and a project proposal; next week it’s back to the west coast.

Team Retribution

Hellcats promotional image

Ali has spent much of the past two months undoing an organization-wide re-branding she secretly undertook late last year. Ali was a huge fan of the CW’s cheerleading show Hellcats and spent many months creating themed templates for all of our sites. You should have seen the theme for the Labs site: Alice, standing at the side with her injured wrist, giving the evil eye to Lewis and Marti as they practice. She’ll have to find another outlet to mourn the cancellation of the show though; it doesn’t quite fit into our mission as a government transparency organization.

This is a lie. Ali didn’t send me anything for this update so I got to make it up for her.


  • Tim just returned from China bearing gifts as consolation for any servers that broke during his absence.
  • Poligraft is about to get faster and more accurate thanks to swell work from Dan.
  • Capitol Words might be getting some new data sets soon. More on that in a future update.
  • Eric has been working on getting a new government information search and alert web site ready for launch.
  • Using technology developed from his compulsive need to track every item he purchases, Daniel has been working on a prototype of a bar code scanning app that would connect products to the political contributions of the companies that produce them.
  • The final six sectors of SubsidyScope have launched!
  • Our new designer, Amy Cesal, will be starting next week!
  • We are still hiring.
  • Album of the month: Threads by Now Now.
  • Smoothie of the month: black cherry, strawberries, cocoa powder, and avocado from Yola.