Vote for our NewsChallenge Application: What Matters HereJune 21, 2012 - by David Moore
The team behind OpenCongress is pleased to have submitted an application to the exciting NewsChallenge from the Knight Foundation, on the theme of making big data useful. We think it’ll be a powerful tool for finding urgent local political issues in your city, making community concerns more easily visible, and connecting people to lawmakers via OpenCongress. Please check it out and give it a “heart” ::
Here’s why: Twitter is a real-time flood of political expression & conversation. People use Twitter to speak out, share experiences, or link to information on issues like health care, the economy, immigration, civil liberties, and many more.
But much personal speech is lost or overlooked in this constant deluge of Twitter updates. We can build better tools to extract relevance & meaning from the ocean of Twitter data. A Tweet by someone near you about unemployment insurance may not reference a specific bill number or politician by name, but it’s still a political expression. Micro-actions through social media services should count. Twitter offers a massive untapped data set of what people are really talking about and what matters to communities.
How you can help: just give us a “heart” or leave a comment on the proposal page. You’ll have to create a free Tumblr account, or login, to heart our proposal & others. Let us know what you think! (Image, above, linked from some site called UpRoxx, by Column Five Media & InboxQ. We didn’t create it, just linking to it here as it’s pretty relevant.)
A bit more detail on our proposal: Twitter makes it possible to search for keywords, hashtags, account information given in a user’s profile, and approximate geographic area of Tweet. For example, here’s an advanced search result for “health care” near our NYC office – much of this is available via the Twitter API. What Matters Here will establish an open methodology of keyword analysis for determining the most-mentioned topics in a city. Creating an easy Web dashboard of what’s most-buzzed-about, the site will surface trends and community concerns that otherwise may have gone overlooked. After all, we believe the public needs better tools for seeing what their neighbors are saying on Twitter, even if they don’t follow them yet individually. Local political discussion & neighborhood opinion is quite interesting. The local hubs will be titled by city name: “What Matters in Philadelphia”, “What Matters in Phoenix”, “What Matters in Charlotte”, etc.
Importantly, the new web tool will tie-in to the actions of the existing OpenCongress community and the existing OCv3 engagement tools on our site. A simple one-click button will deliver a message (using OC’s unique Message Builder) to your two U.S. senators and U.S. representative- for example, “I found out on What Matters in Chicago that our neighborhood is talking about asthma more than average. Let’s prioritize this issue.” That’s really just the tip of the type of engagement that will be possible – in the months to come we hope to sketch out more advanced uses, including comparing metrics of mentions (of, say, unemployment insurance) across multiple city regions and connecting general concerns (“I lost my job today”) to specific legislation that is likely to be relevant to the user. For starters, take a look at the 46 legislative issue area names on Project VoteSmart – in the drop-down – we’d start with those as a backbone (“health”, “taxes”, “transportation”), but the keyword analysis would seek to be much more sophisticated to capture common terms (“laid off”, “broke”, “bus”, “school”, etc.) and would layer in searches for more- timely political topics from the news. This is just a very preliminary intro sketch – stress on very preliminary – of the open keyword analysis we seek to develop for the public benefit.
After all, not every political tweet uses the hashtags like #USbill #hr3523 (that would be #CISPA, booooo) – or refer to an elected official by his or her proper Twitter handle – or refers to state bills as #CAbill etc. We’re offering a new view on these overlooked urgent issues in communities. It’s a great field of applicants – will type more next week about some of the other interesting proposals, there are lots of overlaps with our open-source, not-for-profit public benefit work for open government data & civic engagement. Lots of friends & allies with proposals – I’ll highlight a few next week with shout-outs and hearts of my own. Some open-data services will be of direct utility in the next planned phase of open-source OpenGovernment development, bringing the proven OpenCongress model of engagement to state & city governments across the U.S.
But for now, please spread the word — on Twitter, please use the hashtag #whatmattershere — and email your friends with asks to give us a “heart”. Thanks – feel free to leave a comment or email me: david at opencongress.org – with feedback. Hope to get a chance to build this cool new app. Shout out to the Knight Foundation for pushing things forward with such an easy, open, and public application process – and for attracting so much top-tier talent to its contest – really increasing the speed of innovation in civic media. Impressive philanthropic approach, we’re glad to be in the mix. (For background, David of PPF attended the Knight Foundation – MIT CivicMedia conference earlier this week in Cambridge, MA — my thoughts were recorded on the micropublishing service and by others on #civicmedia & #newschallenge hashtags.)
Thanks OC community. Here’s What Matters.