Being strategic about retiring projects

White pelicans flying over the ocean at sunset taken by the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Image via U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Close observers of Sunlight’s work may have noticed a number of projects listed as retired on the recently revamped tools page. As an organization, we believe in taking stock of our work on a regular basis to sunset programs that are no longer operating as intended, or that are outside the goals we’ve set for the future.

This critical self-evaluation can be a challenging process as each project is backed by passionate Sunlighters and public fans, but we know it is important to keep our work focused on the areas where we’re making the most impact and where our contribution is unique. This commitment to focus and impact is something our new President Chris Gates is keenly interested in and so we’ll be regularly and thoughtfully reviewing our work to be as effective and strategic as possible.

We’re an organization that is fortunate to be a member of a vibrant community working towards common goals, which is why all our code is open-source and licensed for reuse. For each retired project listed on the tools page, we link to the code on Github so anyone to adapt our code into their own projects. Here are a number of projects in alphabetical order that are now retired on the tools page:


180 Degrees: This project turned the cameras around on the audience to see who was attending influential events. It began with a Senate antitrust subcommittee hearing about the proposed AT&T and T-Mobile merger that was packed with Washington lobbyists and power brokers. It was an experiment to help connect the dots on the major players in the room working to influence the laws written in Washington.

Checking Influence: Checking Influence securely analyzed your online financial statements to show you the political influence of the companies you did business with. It displayed your own spending alongside corporate spending on lobbying activities and campaign contributions. When it launched in 2010, a New York Times reporter wrote about trying it on their accounts and found the “information was interesting.” Another financial blog reviewed it and said, “the Checking Influence tool would be a benefit to all of us as American consumers.”

Churnalism: Churnalism was a website and browser extension that showed you the similarities between news articles and press releases or other sources. It was driven by a cool search engine technology called “Superfastmatch” developed with the Media Standards Trust to match entered text against a large corpus of press releases.

Congrelate: Congrelate was an attempt to view, sort, filter and share information about members of Congress and their districts. It brought together disparate data sources to see how they related.

Congress for Windows Phone 7: This was an adaptation of our Congress app for the Windows Phone 7. Maximum PC once named it “App of the Week.”

Earmark Watch: Earmark Watch was an experiment in distributed research launched way back in 2007 where users could investigate and evaluate the spending provisions requested by individual members of Congress. It brought public oversight to the thousands of earmarks inserted into federal spending measures.

Elena’s Inbox: Elena’s Inbox allowed anyone to search through Supreme Court nominee Elena Kagan’s emails during her Clinton Administration years. Someone tweeted the idea to Sunlight, and the final result was called a “thought-provoking project” by ReadWrite and “Very much worth the click” by Politico. ThinkProgress said, “The crew over at the Sunlight Foundation have done the country a great service,” and DailyKos wrote “God bless the Sunlight Foundation.”

Inbox Influence: This project allowed you to see the political contributions of the people and organizations that are mentioned in emails you received. It added context to emailed articles and discovered who was behind political fundraising solicitations.

Operation Transbearency: This was a silly one-off event promoting the disclosure of money in politics that riffed on Stephen Colbert’s fear of bears. We had fun. Politico wrote, “Members of the foundation will don bear suits while spreading the word about the importance of government transparency (naturally).”

Poligraft: Poligraft let you to connect the dots between money and politics in Congress. You pasted in a URL or text of a news article, blog post or press release and then Poligraft created an enhanced view of the people, organizations and relationships described within it.

Politiwidgets: Politiwidgets were embeddable information about Congress. We built 10 free widgets that displayed lawmakers’ top campaign contributors, earmarks they requested, their voting record on any current bill, the locations of their fundraisers and many others.

Read the Bill: This was a successful campaign to allow elected officials and the public the chance to read a legislation before it goes for a vote. In Jan. 2011, Congress incorporated a new rule that non-emergency bills must be available for 72 hours online before a vote.

Real Time Congress: This app was the precursor to Congress for iOS. When it launched the Washington Post said it was “everything Hill-o-philes would want and need while on the go,” and the Atlantic called it “a fantastic and helpful new iPhone App.”

Roku Apps: We made a collection of open government apps for Roku to stream audio-visual content from the White House, Congress and the Supreme Court.

Sarah’s Inbox: This was an adaption of the code from Elena’s Inbox that allowed anyone to search through Sarah Palin’s emails during her time as governor of Alaska. It was similarly well received to the earlier version with the Guardian calling us “the bright sparks at the Sunlight Foundation,” and Minnesota Public Radio wrote, “the ability to display copious amounts of information in elegant ways continues to show promise for the future of journalism. Case in point: The Sunlight Foundation’s

Stream Congress: Stream Congress was a customizable feed of tweets, YouTube videos and floor updates from members of Congress.

Sunlight Campaign Ad Monitor: This was a project that allowed anyone to report information on the political advertising they saw on TV, heard on the radio or viewed online.

Sunlight Health: This was the first of three National Data Apps developed with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It was an Android and iPhone app to help consumers make informed decisions about healthcare services and prescription drug options.

Sunlight Live: This was an interactive, real-time investigative reporting platform. Sunlight Live paired streaming video of major congressional hearings and news events with relevant transparency data and responses to the online audience. It won the 2010 Knight-Batten Grand Prize for Innovations in Journalism.

Transparency Corps: Transparency Corps was a crowd-sourcing project to have the public assist with various open government projects.

Upwardly Mobile: Upwardly Mobile compared factors of salary, living and employment data and ranked locations based on your preferences. The New York Times wrote about how Upwardly Mobile helped people decide where to live, saying it “allows for a level of analytical rigor that has been missing from this conversation.” It was the second of three National Data Apps with support from the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation.