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Tag Archive: mobile

The FEC’s New Mobile Site Could Use Some Work

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screenshot of the new FEC mobile siteLast Friday the Federal Election Commission announced the launch of a new mobile interface. You should try it for yourself at http://fec.gov/mobile/. The site declares itself to be a beta, which I suspect you'll agree is something of an understatement.

Let's call a spade a spade: there's no use pretending this is good. To begin with, there are obvious superficial problems: graphs lack units, graphics have been resized in a lossy way, and the damn thing doesn't work on most Android devices.

Worse, there are substantive errors. Look at Herman Cain's cash on hand. Why are debts listed as a share of positive assets? Look at the Bachman campaign's receipts. Why is "total contributions"--which should reflect the entire pie--just a slice? (It's not 50% because other slices seem to have incorrectly counted overlap, too.) Why don't any of the line items below the graphs reflect the fact that some are components of others?

We asked the FEC for comment, but so far they've declined. Once the powers that be over there have a closer look, I'm confident they'll agree that the mobile site is a mess.

It's hard to know what to say about all of this. Part of Sunlight's mission is to encourage government agencies to embrace technology more fully. We don't want to send mixed messages by jumping down their throats when they actually try to do so. Sure, we gave FAPIIS a hard time, but that was because the site's creators were obviously and deliberately undermining the idea of public oversight. By contrast, I don't think anyone who worked on the FEC Mobile site intended to do a bad job.

And of course there's a fundamental question. Obviously the bits that are relaying incorrect information are a problem. But assuming those get fixed, is a half-hearted attempt like this better than nothing? I suppose there might be some poor, twisted soul who will enjoy listening to FEC meeting audio while they're at the gym (though frankly, if such a person existed I suspect they'd already be working here). But as a general matter it's difficult to imagine anyone needing a mobile interface to a set of campaign finance data that's as narrowly conceived as this one.

To their credit, it doesn't seem as if this mobile interface was created at the expense of the organization's much more important responsibility to publish data--a mission that, by and large, the FEC fulfills ably and with steadily increasing sophistication. There's always room for improvement, but the truly pressing needs, like reliable identifiers for contributors and meaningful enforcement of campaign finance law, are beyond the reach of the organization's technical staff.

Still, it's a bit amazing to see obviously wrong numbers attached to a product that Chairperson Bauerly has been quoted as endorsing appreciatively. Among those of us concerned about America's campaign finance system and the effect it has on our democracy, there is a sense that the FEC's leadership does not take its mission particularly seriously. The release of shoddy work like this mobile site does little to dispel that impression.

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WhipCast – Promotion Isn’t Transparency

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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.

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Sunlight at Google I/O

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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.

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Introducing Briefing Book

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At Sunlight, we spend a lot of time following the money in an attempt to measure influence in the legislative process. While we obviously believe in the benefit of shining a light on these connections, the truth is that it's only part of the story. With our next experiment, a briefing book application, we aim to provide citizens with access to research and opinions that influence legislation currently under consideration by Congress.

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Watch Congress in Real Time on your iPhone

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iTunesThere are a lot of different iPhone apps out there about Congress. But it seems like they all do the same thing: allow you to look up legislators, find contact information for them and their staff members, call them, and get details about who they are and what they've done. In the Android Marketplace, there's only one app that does that-- our Congress app. But in iPhone land, there's at least a half-dozen.

Our project lead on our new iPhone [app], Josh Ruihley decided to take a different approach. We want to make data about what's happening inside Congress more available to the public. It isn't just who your member of Congress is that matters, but also what they do. It's also important to see what they're reading and who they're listening to, and what the process looks like.

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