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And Five’s a Day

7 March 2008

During the last session, I managed to impressively crash my computer and lose a lot of my notes. However, I do have a lot of interesting links for you!

Originally, the discussion was supposed to be about What should the Policy Commons be? I remember it being an interesting conversation, but, unfortunately little else. The premise was, that you have the environmental commons, you have cultural commons, you have information commons, but are there/can there be governance commons? Meaning (I think), not only allowing for the policies, both content and the creation process, to be accessible to all, but also the infrastructure for spreading that information and involvement.

There were only three of us in that conversation, after a while we migrated to the very popular Congressional Information being Awesome hosted by two representatives of one of our wonderful sponsors, the Sunlight Foundation, which is dedicated to freedom of information. They had a projector up and were showing us some nifty information related links:

IBM Many Eyes is a data visualization platform, that allows you to take pretty much any set of data, and gives you the options to analyze texts, compare sets of values, see relationship among data points, see the parts of a whole, see the world, or track rise and fall over time. It then allows you to share data sets and visualizations, comment on others, and join “topic hubs.” Very nifty.

Sunlightlabs has aContent Extraction Prototype which scans a document for information of a given type and returns each instance with the character number it appears at and the strength of it’s appearance. Sunlightlabs also has an API for finding information about Congress representatives, a script for adding pop-up information bubbles about congress members to your site, a googlemaps mash-up of Labor, Health, and Human Services appropriations earmarks, and many other nifty applications.

But if you’re really interested in APIs and mash-ups, check out Programmable Web, which has over 500 of them, from using Google maps to find good fishing locations, to mapping campaign contributions to Flickr Sudoku. It’s fascinating just to see what people are creating these days.

There is Open CRS, which centralizations the collection of reports from the Congressional Research Service, the branch of the Library of Congress that does research for congress members and committees, and makes them available to the public. Normally CRS reports are only available to members of congress, but can be released to the public by any one of them. Hence, CRS report availability is scattered, at best. Open CRS lobbies for all CRS reports to be made immediately available to the public.

ZIPskinny is a cute site that allows you to enter your zipcode, and obtain demographic information on that area based on census 2000 data. You can also compare these statistics to other zipcodes, the state, or the nation. It also provides a map of the area and information on local schools. Helpful for anyone planning a move.

But the most entertaining website revealed was Fantasy Congress, which is very much as it sounds. It’s like a fantasy sports league, but with senators instead of baseballers. It was created to get the public more interested in the political process. You draft a team with a certain number of senior and junior members of congress and earn points based on their legislative success, voting attendance, “maverick score” (based on how far they deviate from party lines), speeches, and noteworthy national and local news. And, of course, you bench, trade, and pick up members. Remember, politics is a competitive sport.

Overall, the barcamp was wonderful, if exhausting. I met some awesome people and it’s very heartening to hear about all the concrete things people are doing to promote involvement in the political process, and the success they are having. The internet is a prime tool for fostering “bottom-up” interaction between citizens and between citizens and the political process. I will be keeping an eye on this community in the future.

Pictures from the day can be found in the eDemocracyCamp Flickr pool.


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