OpenGovernment on NCSL’s “The Thicket” and more

Hi everyone, plenty more press mentions & positive buzz to report: Wisconsin Watch, a great piece by Kate Golden; Frank Hecker’s Maryland-focused blog; Federal News Radio (with whom I was fortunate to do a phone interview earlier today about OG’s mission, audio piece forthcoming probably tomorrow, thanks @cdorobek); a quick mention at Library Stuff; good coverage in the GovLaunch forum on GovLoop, the social networking site for government community & state employees; a bite-sized item on Spread Drupal (big ups open-source); Texas Watchdog, another great post that uses one of our eye-catching badges; Resource Shelf; Law Librarian Blog (very cool); and many more. Plus there’s the micro-publishing machine, churning without rest, a Terminator with scant little merciful filtering of content, always a compelling distraction. We haven’t yet had time to fire up a social networking page on the leading commercial service, but that’s still in the works, as we patiently await further Diaspora development and other open-source solutions for connecting with people in open standards on the semantic Web.

To highlight one mention in particular, we’re pleased that OpenGovernment was featured on The Thicket, the blog of the National Council Conference of State Legislature (NCSL – ed. — corrected, Conference not Council, thanks Pam for the catch), the indispensable umbrella group for state-level legislatures across the country. We think highly of the Thicket & the work that they do, and they’re listed on all state homepages on OG (e.g., CA), towards the bottom of the page, included in the helpful resources about how state government works.

Pam Greenberg, in her great write-up, perceptively surveys our site’s offerings & tools. Towards the end, she took slight issue with an off-the-cuff quote I gave in a recent interview, and I wanted to be sure to clarify that we’re productively building a public resource with and for state legislatures — my notes as below:

Hi Pam & Thicket readers – thanks for checking out the site, appreciate it. Thanks for your patience with this beta version as we work to optimize our queries for the hundreds of variants of names of the hundreds of legislators newly in our OG database. We’ll get it tightened up with crowdsourced help — our contact page has all the info about how to fix data quality questions & bug reports, and our ‘ help OG grow ‘ page has lots of other ways to volunteer and make the site a better resource for everyone.

The Thicket is a valuable resource for open knowledge regarding the state-level legislative process and contemporary best practices therein, and we hope that OG also proves useful, both for “insiders” looking to communicate with constituents more effectively and with a diverse array of “outsiders” looking to watchdog campaign donations to their elected officials.

Re: my quote about official state legislatures’ .gov sites, my quote was a bit hyperbolic, I’ll admit, hopefully clearly so, but by way of takeaway, I strongly stand by the points that I make more deliberately in our “About Us” page, viz. that the primary function of state legislative websites should be to simply publish raw data in ways that are standards-based and fully open to the public, license-free ::

… the open-source community can then use this foundational data to build a diverse ecosystem of #opengov tools, and given sufficient resources, can advise state government agencies on best practices & usability for their sites. We hold that all legislative data generated for the public should be open & available, immediately and in full. (With this beta OpenGovernment, we had to use web scraping to obtain info, which is a workaround but is far from what’s ideal or even what’s straightforwardly technically possible.)

“The Thicket” is a valuable resource for open knowledge of the state-level legislative process, and we hope that OG also contributes, both for “insiders” looking to communicate with constituents more effectively and with a diverse array of “outsiders” looking to watchdog campaign donations to their elected officials.

We’re interested in continuing the conversation about what we’re doing short-term with OG and medium-term with how state leg. chambers, understanding their resource limitations, can comply with open-gov practices as developed by communities such as: CivicCommons ; NY Open Senate ; Manor, TX Labs; and more.

Pam, let’s stay in touch, I’m david at ppolitics d0t org, let me know what you think of this beta version. I’d also be interested in obtaining any info that’s publicly-available via NCSL of current & historical usage of official state legislature websites across the country. My instinct is that we could productively compare-and-contrast their traffic & engagement metrics with other free web tools for political information out there (and those still in the works).

For our part, all user-generated data from OpenGovernment will soon be available back to the public commons via open API (see more of our wish-list).  Hope we can support the good work of all the readers of The Thicket in building more responsive  & open state legislatures.

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