My Trip to D.C.
- Hey, all. Here's how my trip to D.C. went. I posted this as a news
item on GovTrack. More to come in a few days.
Last night I got back from a two-day trip to D.C. The point of the trip
was to make a presentation about GovTrack and also to start some
collaboration with others on expanding the political information that is
freely and openly available online.
Monday afternoon I presented GovTrack and some ideas about the semantic
web to the people who are responsible for getting some aspects of
legislative information posted online in XML format. Right now GovTrack
gets its information from screen-scraping, which is an inexact and
fragile process of extracting information out of the same HTML pages
that you see when you view web sites. Having data published also in XML
format can greatly improve the accuracy of getting information. What the
people at the clerk of the House have done to date, in terms of getting
bills written in XML and roll call votes posted in XML, has been a great
step forward, although it hasn't been that useful for GovTrack. (One
reason is the Senate hasn't followed suit because, as I understand it,
the clerk of the Senate isn't authorized by the Senate itself to work on
I think I may have bored the attendees a bit. I wasn't sure exactly who
was coming and what their backgrounds were. But, at the least they know
who I am now, and that might mean some collaboration can occur in the
Daniel Bennett of DotGov put the session together -- thanks Daniel!
DotGov runs the websites of some democratic representatives. He and Jeff
Mascott of RightClick Strategies (a pun on 'right' -- it took me a while
to get that) also made presentations, which I enjoyed.
Daniel then took me out to dinner (thanks again!), and Chris and April
from DemocracyInAction came along. DIA is a nonprofit that works with
other nonprofits (on the left) to improve their campaigning
effectiveness, and I was really impressed with how motivated they are.
DIA is gathering legislative information like GovTrack, and we talked
about how we can get our data to relate together, to start building a
network of information that can, for instance, be reused by grassroots
activists to build their websites. (See www.ogdex.info.) Some of the
same type of discussion is happening on the GovTrack mail list.
Yesterday I met with two people from GalleryWatch.com, which provides a
(not-free) service like GovTrack's, but in real time. They constantly
monitor legislative activity and in minutes of an action can update
their clients. I was, again, impressed by how these guys feel strongly
about not just making a business out of this but also giving back, by
providing their service at low cost to some non-commercial entities.
They're interested in taking advantage of semantic web ideas, and I
think they'll help bootstrap the process of building the (free and open)
I think I've met now almost all of the players in the arena of building
this network of political information. Between everyone involved,
including those on the GovTrack mail list, we have enough data and
enthusiasm to get something very unique and useful started.