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Tag Archive: Sunlight Labs

Happy Anniversary, Sunlight

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It would have been a great one year anniversary present to have had the Senate's electronic filing bill pass today, but we're not going to let that rain on our parade as we pause, briefly, to celebrate the one year anniversary of Sunlight's public launch. Just 12 months ago, we announced the start up of Congresspedia and the results of national polling that demonstrated -- overwhelmingly -- the public's support for greater transparency in Congress. We feel like the efforts of our first year have lifted the lid off of what is really possible. Today we marveled at the good luck of the timing of our effort because it seems like our very presence at this time has galvanized more than we ever would have dreamed possible in our first year.

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Changes Afoot

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If last year -- Sunlight's first year of operation -- was a little like being shot out of a cannon, it's hard to describe what the first quarter of this year has been like. Suffice it to say, we are moving at something beyond warp speed.

As a result we have some dramatic growth underway. Here's what's happening.

Our Sunlight Labs has become a core element of our work and we will dramatically expand its capacity this year. It started as an experiment in mid-2006 as a way to both support our grantees and experiment with technology ourselves. After an amazingly successful first year under the co-directorship of consultants Greg Elin and Micah Sifry, the Labs has become part of our cutting edge as our technology and software development arm, well beyond its original mandate. It's now evolving further to better support its expanded internal and external activities.

Greg Elin is becoming our consulting Chief Data Architect with responsibilities that include managing all API development with our partner organizations (a very high priority for us this year) and our own internal data products. He'll also be tackling the "names standardization" problem with other Labs staff. Micah Sifry and Andrew Rasiej of Personal Democracy Forum will continue in their valued role as strategic consultants to the Foundation and to the Labs.

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Announcing! Sunlight SEEKR

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If you're a regular visitor to our site you noticed sometime last week, on the left side of our home page, our latest widget - we've dubbed it Sunlight Seekr. It's the first step to a one click search engine that culls through multiple databases. We put it up last week to play around with it and it appears to be working just fine so today we are going public with it. At the moment it does a simple search of five data sets: our own Sunlight Foundation and Congresspedia sites, The Institute on State Money and Politics and Center for Responsive Politics sites for state and federal campaign contributions, and GovTrack.org. Type in the name of an individual, corporation, and zip code and see what pops up. (To do really in-depth searches of all these sites APIs are inevitable, but not all the sites we wanted to include have APIs yet.)

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Crunched. Boinged. Digged.

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We're delighted that so many sites have been picking up the news of our Popup Politicians' widget. You can find it on Boing Boing and TechCrunch, Open Source News, The Left Coaster and a host of others. A number of excellent suggestions have already been made. Some folks want us to expand us to include state and local politicians, some want to see other information in the profile such as positions on environmental issues, or links to criminal records. Keep your ideas coming on how to improve on it.

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A Wonderful Widget

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We've been promising to introduce our Sunlight Labs more formally and today we're doing that, along with the announcement of a really neat widget that we're calling "Popup Politicians." Before you imagine the worst, like, Representative J. Dennis Hastert or Sen. John McCain or Representative John Boehner popping out of cake, take a look at what Greg Elin and Duncan Werner have developed -- a web page plug-in that links the reader to information about who's financing the lawmaker's campaign, the lawmaker's voting record, and their profile on Congresspedia. The widget appears as a small popup window when you mouse-over the little sun icon that appears at the end of the name.

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An Introduction: Carl Anderson

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How lucky can we get? We've had another amazing person join the Sunlight team, specifically working on the Sunlight Labs effort and I want to introduce him to you.

Carl Anderson has been involved in things I can barely grasp -- agent-based modeling and complex systems. (This, of course, means he has the qualifications to understand Congress.)  He's the author of more than 35 scientific journal papers and an interdisciplinary scientist. He has worked in biology (Duke; Regensburg, Germany; Aarhus, Denmark), mathematics (Sheffield, UK), and industrial and system engineering (Georgia Tech) university departments.

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First APIs Available

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Already the Sunlight Mash-Up Labs announced in May is striding toward my fantasy of one-click political influence disclosure. Last week, Lab Co-director, Greg Elin, guided me through the results of a week of "hacking" with Mike Krejci, lead programmer for The Institute of Money in State Politics. Supported by a small grant from the Sunlight Foundation, Greg went to Portland, Oregon and helped Mike begin work on The Institute's "web services API".

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