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Stream Congress: An HTML5 App in the Google Chrome Web Store

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Earlier today, Google announced their Chrome Web Store. For its launch, Sunlight is thrilled to announce a new HTML5 app called Stream Congress. Stream Congress gives you a quick look into what exactly your members of Congress are up to. Resembling a lifestream (but for Congress), the app takes in data points from various sources and combines them into a clean, real-time interface. Consider the app to be in a Developer Preview for now: we're going to launch it in earnest when the new Congress begins in January. Your feedback is appreciated.

Today, I wanted to share with the Sunlight developer community the process behind building this HTML5 app. It really does feel like we're entering a new era of the Web, and it's important for the civic hacking community to lead the way.

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Recapping the Open Government Hackathon at RubyConf

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Last week, David, Eric, and I attended RubyConf in New Orleans. The organizers of the conference were kind enough to offer us space for an open government hackathon that we held every day of the conference. During the day, as conference sessions were going on, quite a few folks trickled in and out during the "open hacking" hours. On the first two evenings, after the conference sessions ended, we held a series of talks of our own in the hackathon room. We hosted a little over twenty people each night for the talks.

Big thanks goes to Tropo for sponsoring food and drinks for the hackathon attendees. We were able to enjoy beignets, soft pretzels, and king cake, not to mention stay hydrated and caffeinated, thanks to them.

Here's a quick recap of what we worked on:

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Sunlight Hackathon at RubyConf

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I'm happy to announce that Sunlight will be hosting an open government hackathon at RubyConf. The three day event will be held in New Orleans from November 11 to 13. This is the big show in the Ruby world, where the Ruby core team from Japan will make the trip across the Pacific. While the event initially sold in a matter of days when registration first opened, a second batch of tickets will be made available today. So head on over to the RubyConf registration page right now to get your seat.

The RubyConf organizers, Ruby Central Inc., have been gracious enough to provide us with a dedicated room at the conference venue. Previously, Sunlight has hosted successful hackathons at PyCon around the Open States Project. With the hackathon at RubyConf, we plan to have a diverse selection of projects for developers to work on. We'll have projects at the federal level and state level, like writing data importers for the National Data Catalog. In the past year within our community, there's been tremendous energy at the local level. We encourage those working on city-centric efforts to bring "shovel-ready" projects to the hackathon, and we'll support you throughout RubyConf. Just get in touch with me and we'll get your project on the board. We're also working with key stakeholders in New Orleans, and hope to have some projects ready that can directly help the city in its recovery efforts.

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Building Poligraft

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I'm happy to announce the newest project from Sunlight Labs, Poligraft. A utility built on top of Transparency Data, Poligraft takes in a block of text, parses it for entities like politicians and corporations, and returns a result set representing the political influence contained in that text. I won't dwell on the features -- read Ellen Miller's announcement blog post and the about page for more information. What I want to talk about instead is the development process.

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How We Use MongoDB at Sunlight

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MongoDB

Last week, David and I attended MongoNYC, a one-day conference focused on MongoDB. We like Mongo here at Sunlight. We like it a lot.

Working with Mongo, it's become clear that it's a more natural way to store data. We primarily use Python and Ruby, and because Mongo allows us to think in JSON, everything tends to just click. JSON documents are close enough to objects in Python and Ruby that mapping between application and database becomes almost effortless. Mongo has really shined in two specific use cases: as a datastore for a resource oriented web service, and as a datastore for results from scraping a web site.

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Grassroots Fundraising for Open Source Software

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By now, you've heard of Diaspora, the Kickstarter-funded effort to build an open, privacy-minded alternative to Facebook. In recent weeks, helped by a widely-circulated New York Times article, the project has raised over $180,000 from 5,000 backers. Considering that the project, while well-thought out by four undergrads at NYU, has not produced a single line of code, these figures are surprising to say the least. But hoping for the best, assuming that this project does deliver something tangible and useful at the end of the summer, it would inform a workable funding model for open source software projects.

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Drafting Guidelines for Government Data Catalogs

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A major focus of the Sunlight Labs is to push government to publish its data online. In recent months, we've gained in-depth familiarity with government data catalogs through our work on the National Data Catalog. The most prominent example of a data catalog is data.gov. Since its launch last year, a handful of states and cities have followed suit with their own efforts. As more data catalogs come online, we want to make sure their contents are open and exchangeable. We want to determine how to best structure the data catalog itself, and we want to ensure that the metadata it contains -- the data about the data -- exists in the most accessible way possible.

Last week, Clay posted three challenges for the community to tackle, and this is challenge #3. We're looking to start this conversation now and move towards consensus within a few months. I was at Transparency Camp, digging deeper into this topic, putting us on the path to make recommendations that governments can adopt quickly.

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Sunlight Labs on The Changelog

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Jeremy and I are on the newest episode of The Changelog, a terrific podcast about open source development. We talked about the work we do here from our offices in D.C. as well as the great work the entire Sunlight Labs community does across the country.

You may remember Wynn Netherland, one of the show's hosts, from TweetCongress and the big splash they made last year. Along with co-host Adam Stacoviak, Wynn also interviewed Apps for America winner Jeremy Ashkenas back in December.

Enjoy the show!

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Real Time Disclosure, Technically Speaking

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Image of our Open Government home page

Last week's Citizens United v. FEC Supreme Court decision was a game-changer in terms of corporate money in politics. In short, corporations will be allowed to freely spend unlimited amounts of money to support or oppose a candidate, just as long as there is no direct coordination with that candidate's campaign. Unprecedented amounts of corporate money will now flow into our political process. But here at Sunlight, we're focusing on the disclosure aspects of the decision. The majority opinion stated:

With the advent of the Internet, prompt disclosure of expenditures can provide shareholders and citizens with the information needed to hold corporations and elected officials accountable for their positions and supporters.

While the decision doesn't mandate "prompt disclosure", it does strongly recommend it. So what does disclosure at Internet speed look like?

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