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Preview of OpenCongress Redesign

June 29, 2009 - by David Moore

Today, at the Personal Democracy Forum conference, OpenCongress is announcing our biggest update yet, coming this summer: a complete site re-design, more data on “the money trail” in Congress, and new tools to engage with your elected officials. Everyone can be an insider.

Currently, OpenCongress works as a hub of conversation about bills and issues in Congress, but the upcoming redesign will make the site a more powerful organizing platform. If OpenCongress were a software project, we’d call it version 2.0, and we’re excited to get it out into the world.

Here are some screenshot previews of the redesign, along with quick ways for you to give your feedback and help spread the word. First, to the right, check out the new OC homepage in progress — click the image once to see it in full in a new browser window and again to enlarge:

… so fresh & so clean, the redesign improves the readability & usability of all the government data & social wisdom on our pages. We’re continually working toward the point where, instead of feeling overwhelmed or intimidated by government data, newcomers to politics feel more informed and empowered in the face of the legislative process.


Congress w/ Social Context

Second, our bill page interface has been redesigned with one of the primary aims being to foreground the interactive tools:

… the new right-hand sidebar presents easy access to tracking and voting features, built-in social sharing, and now, as below, the ability to write your elected officials directly from bill pages with your opinion on the bill:


… scrolling down back on this draft bill page, we’ve brought out and highlighted the social data on “Users Tracking This Bill” — what other bills and Members people are tracking, supporting, and opposing. This data, uniquely generated by the OpenCongress community, works like a “Six Degrees of OpenCongress” — find other topics of likely interest to you in the Congressional haystack, based on the associations of real people.


Watchdog Congress

Third, we’re especially excited to announce a new set of “Watchdog” features called as part of every free “My OpenCongress” profile:

… on your “Watchdog” tab, you can easily view your Senators’ and Representative’s latest actions, and compare your personal votes “aye/nay” on bills with their official votes on those bills’ passage. Watchdog tabs are accompanied by state- and Congressional district-specific portals to find your elected officials and what other users in your state are tracking, supporting, and opposing. These are significant steps towards our goal of taking OpenCongress more local and facilitating peer-to-peer constituent communication about the votes that matter to you.

More $$ Data

Fourth, we’re integrating more campaign contribution data to help the public follow “The Money Trail” throughout Congress. For Members of Congress, the redesigned site will show new levels of detail from OpenSecrets on which industries have donated to their campaigns. For bills, we’re now syndicating more info from MAPLight on interests that support and oppose the bill (e.g., the recent Climate Change Bill [H.R. 2454]). These are significant additions in making OpenCongress a more useful tool for combating corruption and building broad-based accountability.

Fifth, as part of the redesign launch we’ll be releasing the OpenCongress API, currently in beta. In short, the API provides web developers with automated access to all the data on OpenCongress in order to remix it for their own websites & online communities. In addition to official legislative data, the API offers a wealth of one-of-a-kind social data: bills most in the news & blogs, what’s popular in the Battle Royale, users tracking this bill are also tracking these bills, summaries of hot bills, and much more.

Wiki Knowledge

Sixth and last, the redesign will feature enhanced access to the shockingly useful content available on the OpenCongress Wiki — especially RaceTracker, the community project tracking every election for the U.S. House, the U.S. Senate, and governorship. This crowd-sourced project allows individuals to add information they know about who’s running for office in their district and state, as long as the info is referenced to an outside source. The result is a collaborative, non-partisan, rich web resource on everyone running for Congress in 2010 and beyond. The OC Wiki will also release a new project giving enhanced access to Congressional scorecards from issue-based organizations from a variety of backgrounds. On pages for Members of Congress, you’ll have over 30 scorecards at your fingertips with meaningful votes on important issues, as well as the ability to access all this structured data through semantic MediaWiki. For example, visit the wiki profile of Rep. Gary Ackerman (D-NY) & do a ‘find’ on “Congressional scorecards”.

Help Us Out!

Overall, by making our site more social and interactive, we’re working to make Congress more transparent and accountable. We’re interested in your feedback – to volunteer as a beta-tester and how the new features work for you, simply email us at w/ subject line “redesign”. In the weeks to come we’ll email you a preview link with further instructions on how to help. In the meantime, please help spread the word about our upcoming redesign — short link to Tweet, Digg post to Digg, or simply email this blog post to your friends. As always, OpenCongress is a 100% free, open-source, non-partisan, and not-for-profit joint project of Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation. Can’t wait to see how individuals and organizations use the new site to get involved in the Congressional process. Thanks for using OpenCongress.

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