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Tag Archive: GovTrack

A Modern Approach to Open Data

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Last year, a group of us who work daily with open government data -- Josh Tauberer of GovTrack.us, Derek Willis at The New York Times, and myself -- decided to stop each building the same basic tools over and over, and start building a foundation we could share. noun_project_15212 We set up a small home at github.com/unitedstates, and kicked it off with a couple of projects to gather data on the people and work of Congress. Using a mix of automation and curation, they gather basic information from all over the government -- THOMAS.gov, the House and Senate, the Congressional Bioguide, GPO's FDSys, and others -- that everyone needs to report, analyze, or build nearly anything to do with Congress. Once we centralized this work and started maintaining it publicly, we began getting contributions nearly immediately. People educated us on identifiers, fixed typos, and gathered new data. Chris Wilson built an impressive interactive visualization of the Senate's budget amendments by extending our collector to find and link the text of amendments. This is an unusual, and occasionally chaotic, model for an open data project. github.com/unitedstates is a neutral space; GitHub's permissions system allows many of us to share the keys, so no one person or institution controls it. What this means is that while we all benefit from each other's work, no one is dependent or "downstream" from anyone else. It's a shared commons in the public domain. There are a few principles that have helped make the unitedstates project something that's worth our time, which we've listed below.

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The Real Time Congress API

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Today we're making available the Real Time Congress API, a service we've been working on for several months, and will be continuing to expand.

The Real Time Congress API (RTC) is a RESTful API over the artifacts of Congress, kept up to date in as close to real time as possible. It consists of several live feeds of data, available in JSON or XML. These feeds are filterable and sortable and sliceable in all sorts of different ways, and you can read the docs to see how.

RTC replaces and deprecates the Drumbone API, which is no longer recommended for use.

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GovTrack.us Opens Source Code

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Josh Tauberer, founder and creator of GovTrack.us (and Open House Project contributor), announced today that his site is now "officially totally open source."  Josh's broadened commitment to opening the code that runs his site is very exciting; GovTrack can now benefit from the same kind of public examination and participation that the site encourages from citizens in dealing with their national legislature.

While the database of legislative information is in the public domain, "the front-end and back-end are licensed under the new GNU AGPL license, which basically means that you cannot modify the files without making the modifications publicly available," writes Josh.  Scott Wells, Sunlight's administrator, and an enthusiastic open standards advocate, observed that this license is "the fun, new one", proving that Josh is as adept at licensing options as he is at screen-scraping and designing the semantic web.

Greg Elin, on the Sunlight Labs blog, suggests that everyone have at the source code.  Josh deserves some reinforcements, after singlehandedly putting together such a complex site on which so many other sites rely.

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Insanely Useful Sites: GovTrack.us

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GovTrack.us is a perfect choice to be our first review as an Insanely Useful Website. GovTrack is one of the original web 2.0 type sources for government information: both an excellent example of a new model of political information distribution, and a compelling story of Web-programming genius expressed as an ambitious civic undertaking.

Josh Tauberer, Govtrack's creator and proprietor, has gone far beyond building a simple tool to help track congressional proceedings; Josh's creation has become a fundamental fixture in terms of both government information and structured data, a result of his extensive knowledge of both advanced linguistics, and computer programming. Josh's willingness to volunteer his expertise also led to him helping to form and author the recommendations of the Open House Project, a separate Sunlight project.

Here's Josh Tauberer briefly telling the story of Govtrack: (click below to play)

http://www.sunlightfoundation.com/files/mp3/govtrack.mp3

GovTrack's user oriented design and creative combinations of different data sources have garnered praise from notable sources, including Peggy Garvin, The New York Times, and The Washington Post, and also help make GovTrack useful for a variety of different users.

There's a lot more to this review; click below to keep reading...

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Legislative Sleuths

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There are really a surprising number of Websites that track legislative activity, most of them the result of enterprising individuals. Probably the database with the biggest reach is the one maintained by the Washington Post. Project Vote Smart's probably has the longest history. TechPolitics (which houses and mashes census data and other government information along with voting records and provides bill tracking) focuses on House votes and is headed by the very accomplished Ken Colburn. GovTrac, founded and run by linguistics's graduate student Joshua Tauberer,has an automated system to track bills, issue-by-issue, Congress-wide.

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