Wednesday, February 28, 2007

OpenCongress: A valuable tool for watching what your representatives are doing

OpenCongress, a new non-profit, non-partisan group, has put together a free open-source website you can use to keep an eye on what Congress is actually doing.

A joint project of the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation,
OpenCongress taps into the valuable social wisdom that is available on the web, combined with official Congressional information and features to track what's hot, to give you a comprehensive snapshot of every bill and Member of Congress.
According to their about page, OpenCongress will provide the following:
  • Official Congressional information from Thomas, made available by bills, votes, committee reports, and more.
  • News articles about bills and Members of Congress from Google News.
  • Blog posts about bills and Members of Congress from Google Blog Search and Technorati.
  • Campaign contribution information for every Member of Congress from the website of the non-profit, non-partisan Center for Responsive Politics,
  • Congress Gossip Blog: a blog written by the site editors of OpenCongress that highlights useful news and blog reporting from around the web. The blog also solicits tips, either anonymous or attributed, from political insiders, citizen journalists, and the public in order to build public knowledge about Congress.
You can also participate in OpenCongress by sending them tips, helping them with their website, providing research -- they can use your skills.

OpenCongress provides more than bare information. While Thomas -- the Library of Congress website that publishes full text and progress of all bills in Congress -- is a useful tool, OpenCongress takes it to the next level by providing information that puts that bill in context. And it makes all the material user friendly -- you don't have to have gone to law school and spent years working on Capitol Hill to understand what's going on.

While looking at the OpenCongress page, I found another interesting resource: Congresspedia, an open source "citizen's encyclopedia on Congress." This is a wiki project -- if you have some facts to add about your members of Congress, you can participate.

Projects like OpenCongress show the real potential of the Web as a tool for citizens: Facts, context, and public participation, all in the same place.

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