Nifty political info

Aaron Swartz, who’s brought lots of valuable technologies to life, is at it again. He’s developing a resource for integrating political information so that people can go to one site and learn about demographics, representation, and perspectives on issues for free. The data are US-centric (at this time?), so one uses a zipcode as the locater to learn about one’s neighborhood.

Here’s Mr. Swartz’s run-down on the plan:

So the site is called watchdog.net and the plan has three parts. First, pull in data sources from all over — district demographics, votes, lobbying records, campaign finance reports, etc. — and let people explore them in one elegant, unified interface. I want this to be one of the most powerful, compelling interfaces for exploring a large data set out there.

But just giving people information isn’t enough; unless you give them an opportunity to do something about it, it will just make them more apathetic. So the second part of the site is building tools to let people take action: write or call your representative, send a note to local papers, post a story about something interesting you’ve found, generate a scorecard for the next election.

And tying these two pieces together will be a collaborative database of political causes. So on the page about global warming, you’ll be able to learn more about the problem and proposed solutions, research the donors and votes on the issue, and see or start a letter-writing campaign.

All of it, of course, is free software and free data. And it’s all got a dozen different APIs to make it easy for others to build on what we’ve done in their own work. The goal is to be a hub, connecting citizens, activists, organizations, politicians, programmers, and everybody else who’s interested in politics.

Link to watchdog.net or read the entry from Mr. Swartz’s blog entry about the project. It seems like a cousin to Richmond Sunlight my earlier post.

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