by Pam Greenberg
Yesterday marked the launch of OpenGovernment, a new "free for everyone, open-source, open standards, not-for-profit, and non-partisan" resource with legislative information for five states—California, Louisiana, Maryland, Texas and Wisconsin. This site brings together bill information with blog posts, news stories, social media and public participation tools, and campaign contribution data.
OpenGovernment.org is based on OpenCongress.org, and is in beta version at this point (suggestion: it’s easier on the eyes in Firefox than in IE 7). It’s a joint project of the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation. OpenGovernment hopes to raise funds to cover all 50 states in the next year.
The site's sources include:
- Official state government data from the Open States Project
- News and blog coverage via Google News and Blog Search
- Campaign contribution data from FollowTheMoney.org, via TransparencyData
- Issue group ratings and legislator contact information from Project VoteSmart
- Social media mentions from the Twitter API
- Legislator biographies from Wikipedia
- Video - to be crowdsourced for each state on Miro Community.
- U.S. Congressional data from THOMAS via data partner GovTrack and the OpenCongress API.
- Geographic maps of districts from the U.S. Census Bureau.
An example of some of the features available include tabs that show the “Most Viewed” bills and legislators or those “Most in the News.” In the Louisiana section of the site, the Senator most in the news, John Smith, was the result because the Twitter feed pulled any mention of a “John Smith” on Twitter (e.g., “The John Smith trail, America's first all-water national and historical trail”).
The creators note that they expect a few kinks, but say that much more data and features are forthcoming and welcome comments.
I am looking forward to seeing the innovative features on the sites develop, but I disagree vehemently with David Moore of the Participatory Politics Foundation, who said that "Government, official government websites for state legislatures, are clunky and not up to technical standards. No one uses them.” The official sites for these states (California, Louisiana, Maryland Texas and Wisconsin) are accessed so often that it's a little bit like Yogi Berra saying, "That place is so crowded nobody goes there any more." Take a look for yourself.
You can read more about the OpenGovernment initiative on the site’s blog.