As the term "API" has become more widely recognized through its ubiquity in social media and other web services, its coolness factor has grown considerably, and has become something frequently called for from government.
But does government really need to rush around and make APIs for all of their stuff? Peter Krantz argues that offering direct downloads to bulk data is a much more scalable, simple, and sane solution in most cases.
You should go read his article, rather than just our summary. But specifically...Continue reading
At a Friday hearing, the House of Representatives significantly raised the bar on open data by passing a resolution requiring that a wide variety of crucial House legislative information be published online, in open formats, and at permanent predictable URLs. Daniel Schuman covered this on the Sunlight Foundation blog on Friday.
The new standards create a new central website, run by the Clerk of the House, that will host all House bills, resolutions, amendments, and conference reports. These documents will be online on January 1, 2012, and will be in XML.
Beyond that, the standards require committees to post their amendments, votes, hearing notices, which bills and resolutions they're considering, and lots of other documents. The Clerk is charged with building tools for committees to post this information to the new website; in the meantime, committees must post them to their own website, in PDF. Committees are also encouraged to post this information in XML, and "should expect XML formats to become mandatory in the future".
This is hugely valuable information that, to date, has been extremely difficult to discover in a reliable way. To get House legislation, one either needs to scrape THOMAS.gov (a Sisyphean ordeal), or to rely on the good work of people who've already done it. Committee information is terribly fragmented, and in some cases there is often no way to get it at all (such as committee votes and amendments), short of hiring people to go sit in committee rooms and record what goes on (a practice that forms the basis for a number of business models here in DC). This is the beginning of bringing much needed order to chaos, and sunlight to the legislative process.
These standards demonstrate excellent leadership on the part of the House, and offers a modern vision for how a legislative body should view its responsibilities to the public. The Senate should hear the sound of a gauntlet being thrown. The Committee's action is in keeping with Speaker Boehner's and Majority Leader Cantor's April call for the House Clerk to release legislative data in machine readable formats. It is very gratifying to see this call taken so seriously.Continue reading
This past Saturday was the second annual International Open Data Hackathon, a globally coordinated day for people to gather and hack on open public data from the world's governments. As part of this, POPVOX hosted an Open Data event here in DC at the MLK Memorial Public Library.
Several Sunlighters showed up, and we had a pretty great time. Andrew and I came expecting to work alone on our project, an ambitious attempt to bridge the data gap between legislation and the regulations they generate, that we're tentatively titling Crosslaws. Instead, after we (and everyone else) described our project to the room at the start of the day, we had 6 people come to our table and ask how they could help - 5 of whom weren't developers at all.
Despite Andrew and I not having any obvious tasks to hand out, after we explained the finer points of the work, everyone figured out their own valuable research and development to do for the entire course of the day, from scholarly articles to actual parsing code. You can find some of our group's notes on the Crosslaws wiki, as well as an overview of what's left to be done (there's a lot!).
Drew and Daniel went to the hackathon to work on their statistical analysis of USASpending data, using Benford's Law. They were hoping to find a stats wizard to help rigorously test the findings, and while they weren't able to find one, their search was still fruitful. The project did attract interest from a handful of very thoughtful people, and they had a long discussion that helped refine the goals of the project. Drew was very thankful for that, as he came away from the hackathon better focused on a concrete goal. At the end of the day, they had the parser and downloader written, but weren't able to download enough data to test it thoroughly. You can find Drew's team's code on Github.
In general, it was a fantastic crop of people who showed up on a Saturday morning at the MLK Library, from awesome self-directed policy people, to talented folks from the DC and federal governments. My project got real momentum from it, and we'll be capitalizing on that momentum with more work over the next couple months. Given all that, the hackathon felt like a real success to me, and I'm looking forward to next year's.Continue reading
On Tuesday, the House Majority Whip's office released a "WhipCast" app through the iOS, Android, and Blackberry app stores.
It contains updates from the House floor, and various documents and publications from the Whip's office. It's being billed by the House Republican leadership team as "a step towards fulfilling the House Republican's commitment to transparency and accessibility". Unfortunately, there's nothing transparent or accessible about the app. Most of the information available through the app is extremely partisan, and serves to push House leadership's talking points.Continue reading
Read on to see how it was done, and how to set up your own.Continue reading
Yesterday, the House of Representatives massively improved its feed of live updates from the House floor. The House Clerk has been hosting a live floor feed for a long time, but this update breaks out related bills and votes more cleanly, adds times down to the second for each update, and drastically cleans up the HTML of the page.
But most wonderfully, the cleaner HTML doesn't really matter, because they also turned on a live XML feed.Continue reading
Recently I've begun work on a new project here with a very simple idea: tell us the issues or keywords that you're interested in, and we'll let you know right away when something happens in state or federal government that you care about.
A straightforward idea, but very powerful. If you're a reporter focusing on immigration, you can know as soon as a state introduces a border control bill. If you're an environmental activist, you can learn right away of all the attempts in Congress to give or take away power to the EPA.Continue reading
Hit the jump for some sweet photos, including our Labs Director Tom Lee, who did the bulk of the day's soldering, in the middle of a lightning talk about the LED numbers he's working on lighting up for an upcoming Sunlight project.Continue reading
Come by Sunlight's office in Dupont Circle this Saturday, June 4 for DevHouse DC's 5th gathering. We'll be here from noon to midnight, hacking, soldering, and roboticizing the day away.
If you have no idea what DevHouse DC is, then you have no choice but to come and find out the fun way. Or I guess you can look at their website, whatever. Hopefully using the words "typing", "talking", and "treasure" in a sentence together like this is enough to get it across. Register for free on EventBrite and we'll see you there!Continue reading
I spent most of this week in San Francisco for Google I/O. While Google I/O doesn't have a whole lot to do with open government, we do enough Android development in the service of open government that it seemed worth my attendance.
In the end, Google I/O was a mixed bag, offering nice goodies and announcements, but at the cost of tightly crowded sessions and what felt like an embarrassment of riches.Continue reading