As stated in the note from the Sunlight Foundation′s Board Chair, as of September 2020 the Sunlight Foundation is no longer active. This site is maintained as a static archive only.

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Tag Archive: Sunlight Labs Update

Labs Update


I admit it: we missed the May Labs Update entirely. I'm sorry! It's been as busy as always around here, with a number of really neat -- but also really involved -- projects beginning to see some light at the end of their respective tunnels. Amidst that effort, we just plain forgot to get out a timely update last month. We promise we won't keep you in the dark like this again.

The most exciting news is that we have a bunch of new faces in the labs offices:

  • Drew Vogel has joined the Subsidyscope team, and after a few weeks of work by remote, he's now in the office, in person, and doing great things.

  • Ryan Sibley recently moved over to Labs from the Reporting Group. Ryan's been with Sunlight for a while, but the idea of having a journalist embedded with our developers is a new one, and something that I'm pretty excited about.

  • Casey Kimmey has joined the Open States team for the summer, where she'll be doing some invaluable data quality validation.

  • And finally, Montserrat Lobos is joining us for three weeks from our friends at Ciudadano Inteligente in Chile. She's going to be working with the design team; we're excited to have her.

Here's what the team has been working on:

Tom has been finally -- finally! -- finishing the process of getting the team back to a full headcount. He's also been doing the usual mixture of proposal writing, project oversight, and general triage. Also: some soldering and messing around with Titanium Mobile, the results of which will hopefully be published in a few months.

Alison added a new, corporate accountability dataset to TransparencyData and Influence Explorer. She has also been working on several name matching tasks and making some major additions, including parsing for organization names, to our Name Cleaver name parsing library. In addition, she has been experimenting with some visualizations based upon campaign finance data, which you may be able to look forward to cropping up on our site or in a blog post in the future.

Luigi is busy with the next-generation of software that will power our Sunlight Live events. He wrote an article for HTML5 Rocks and took trips to Portland and Baltimore.

Drew added a few usability enhancements to the Subsidyscope search tool. Now he is working on changes to the data importer that will allow us to provide direct expenditure figures based on more current USASpending data.

Jeremy has been hard at work destroying Sunlight web sites, but in a good way. We have decided to retire Public Equals Online and integrate the features into the main Sunlight Foundation site and organizing page. Jeremy also rebuilt to add a brand new mobile app and HTML based informational screens to display session information on monitors at the conference.

Eric has been integrating full-text searching with ElasticSearch into our Real Time Congress API for bills. There'll be new endpoints and features announced soon. He's also been wrapping up work on our soon-to-be-released iOS/Android mobile app to help people make better local health care decisions. Finally, he's been working on getting the first round of House expenditure data from the 112th Congress up into our expenditure database and House staff directory.

Aaron updated Follow the Unlimited Money for the new election cycle -- just in time for the special election in New York's 26th District -- and made some improvements to the Reporting Group's Lobbyist Tracker. He's also been working on Capitol Words (preview: the top words in Congress so far this year are "job", "cut", "create" and "repeal").

Kaitlin has been working on a third Roku app as well as building some backend tools for Subsidyscope. She's also been busy writing bombastic blog posts and checking up on her FOIA for contracting data quality reports. Also, she's been working with the other Caitlin to update the design and functionality of the Subsidyscope site.

Chris has been working on a variety of projects including: coding the new design for the House Staff Directory, creating graphics/signs/and other deliverables for Transparency Camp, new background theme for Sunlight's YouTube channel, and misc graphics for other Sunlight projects. She is currently working on a new theme for Sunlight's Data Viz Tumblr blog and continuing to work on the House Staff Directory site.

Michael has been working on expanding the coverage of the Open State Project to new states, adding XML support to the API, and exploring visualizations of the data that's being collected.

Ethan has been coordinating a number of new products and features in Data Commons. This week we released Inbox Influence and added POGO's contractor misconduct database to Transparency Data and Influence Explorer. We're hard at work on several new data sets to be released in July.

With Sunlight Health teetering on the edge of completion, Caitlin has turned her focus to building out the Subsidyscope redesign, interrupted briefly by a jaunt through the South and once again to help with updates to the Roku app that Kaitlin has been working on.

James has been adding support for Maine, New Hampshire, and Oregon to the Open State Project. He's also been working with new Open States intern Casey who has been doing data checking and cleaning to help promote more states from experimental to ready status.

Andrew prepped the Inbox Influence project for its launch, which was announced at the PdF conference in New York. He has also continued to work on extracting data from

Ali has been working on numerous small tasks to support the foundation in their design needs. She's been doing a little bit of everything from branding to visualizing data to giving cfbp advice on their new mortgage forms. Currently the big project on her desk is the new Capitol Words site.

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What’s Going On In The Labs


... or what was going on in the labs. I'm horribly late in posting this -- it turns out that I'm much, much worse at this than Josh was. Just another piece of evidence that we need more talented folks around here! Remember, we still have open positions.

Luigi has been working on Datajam, a data-driven platform for reporting live events on the Web. You can follow its development on Github. Datajam will soon power our Sunlight Live events.

Jeremy has been working on various Sunlight sites including the relaunch of the Advisory Committee on Transparency. February also saw the launch of Capitol Defense, a JavaScript/SVG/HTML game developed with Andrew and Chris. Other various interesting tasks included: launching Sunlight Jobs, teaching a half-day HTML class to Sunlight employees, releasing django-cloudmailin which we use for blog post drafting via email, and preparing for TransparencyCamp 2011.

Ethan attended the Computer Assisted Reporting Conference, worked on an algorithm for fast entity matching in text, and researched new content for the Influence Explorer homepage. He's now planning for new corporate accountability datasets and new lobbying-related features.

Eric released the Real Time Congress API, and version 3.0 of the Congress app for Android. He also continued his work on an upcoming mobile app to help people make better local health care decisions.

Kaitlin had a lovely vacation and then spent several days updating the USASpending data on Subsidyscope and is now squashing bugs in the soon-to-be-expanded tax expenditure database on the site. She also interviewed many a candidate for Subsidyscope and pitched in a little bit on the Clearspending testimony.

timball has been crying a lot over ISPs and is starting to familiarize himself with Chef, a new ruby based scaling solution. Also he says he gained 5lbs from eating in NOLA. We thought you should know.

Chris has been fabulously wireframing new layouts for the House Staff Directory, designing magically delicious HTML emails and newsletters, creating spectacular presentations promoting Sunlight's awesomeness, and providing Sugar-free-Red-Bull-fueled graphics support for a variety of little projects along the way (e.g. Capitol Defense, one Influence Explorer postcard, Sunlight's meetup page, new Twitter background, etc).

James and Michael have continued the process of expanding the reach of the Open States Project and migrating content to the new site The most recent update brings the project to 20 states and the District of Columbia. New functionality in the API is in the works, including the ability to query for bills by sponsor or issue area. We are also working on adding more ways for people to access the data without having to access the API directly.

Aaron added an additional lobbying dataset to the Reporting Group's lobbying tracker. Users can now see a list of post-employment notifications for former congressional staffers and members, including when they'll be eligible to lobby their old colleagues. He's also continued work on Capitol Words.

David is working on an analytics dashboard. He uploaded some sample data to Google's Public Data Explorer. He worked on pulling out structured data from GAO reports -- making some progress but also hit some obstacles.

Caitlin has been working with Eric and the reporting team on nailing down wireframes for the healthcare app and has been translating them into pretty sexy comps. She is also working with the other Kaitlin to redesign and streamline the Subsidyscope site. ...and stuff. She also helped launch the new Openstates site since the last Labs update.

Ali has been making a lot of ads lately to remarket the Sunlight Foundation and the reporting group and for new and upcoming Sunlight Live events. She has also been working on building out a new page for the organizing section of the Foundation and Sunlight Live.

Andrew has been working on new tools for adding influence-related context to text, focusing on a plugin for enhancing Gmail. He has also been experimenting with new scraping technologies.

Alison has been updating our Wikipedia scraper to pull in corporate logos to display on the organization pages in Influence Explorer. She has also been working on adding information to Influence Explorer detailing which bills organizations hired lobbyists to work on.

...and I (Tom) have been working on a bunch of proposals, organizing meetings around the corporate ID issue, writing some testimony related to Clearspending, and trying to find staff to fill the spots left by Josh and Kevin's departures. Also, daydreaming about what we're going to do with these enormous 7-segment LEDs.

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