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A Brand New OpenCongress - Fresh Look, Contact Congress Tools and More

July 30, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

I’m thrilled to announce today the release of our biggest, most comprehensive update yet. We’ve redesigned every nook and cranny of the website with a focus on bringing more clarity and comprehension to the obscure legislative puzzle that is Congress. Besides the new design, we’re also going public with a bunch of new features today that make it easier for people to turn their browsing and research of bills before Congress into powerful political action, instantly. The site improvements we’re launching today are a big step towards fulfilling our mission of opening up the lawmaking process and creating a more participatory political environment.

homepage screen shot

First, the redesign. Headed by our amazing lead designer Morgan Knutson, we’ve updated the look and feel of every page on OpenCongress. The goal is to make it easier to understand what Congress is up to at a glance, and more inviting for people who care about political issues, but aren’t necessarily Congress buffs. Take a few minutes to click around the site and let us know what you think of the new look. You can peruse bills here, senators here, and here’s a link to the House health care bill to see the kind of depth of information we’re making available for the most important legislation in Congress right now.

Here’s what else is new today on OpenCongress:

Contact Congress – Until now, we’ve been focused solely on bringing together all the best information on Congress. But starting today, after you do research, you can also use OpenCongress to take action. Now from any page on OpenCongress, you’re just one click away from sending an email to your Senator or Representative. For example, if you’re researching a bill in Congress and you decide that you want your Representative to sign onto it as a co-sponsor, just click the “write your Rep. button” on the right-hand sidebar and an email form will pop out that you can use to send them your message, as shown in the screen shot below. This kind of self-directed activism has a powerful effect on lawmakers. Try it out at this bill page, for example.

screen shot of contact congress tool

Watchdog Congress – Now you can track how every vote your members of Congress take on passing bills compares to your own personal votes, “aye” or “nay,” and how they compare to what constituents in your state and district support and oppose. Log in to your OpenCongress account (or register one for free) and click the “watchdog” button in your profile to see a complete side-by-side comparison. If you keep up with Congress, this is an ideal resource for gauging how well your lawmakers are representing you and the people in your district.

Social Tracking – We’ve added more helpful ways to find the things in Congress that are important to you. On the page of any bill, issue, or Member of Congress, see what other users tracking that item are also tracking, as well as what they are supporting and opposing. It works like “Six Degrees of OpenCongress” – if you care about a certain bill in Congress, you can explore the unique trail of user-generated info and find related bills, votes, and issues of interest. For example, on the health care bill page you can learn that the second most popular bill among its supporters is the cap-and-trade climate bill, while the most popular bill among people who oppose the health care bill is the Citizens’ Self-Defense Act.

More Data – We’ve added detailed new data on campaign contributions for lawmakers and bills from OpenSecrets and MAPLight, congressional scorecards from issue-based organizations on the OpenCongress Wiki, and more. You can see a big picture perspective of the money trail in Congress, or click the “money trail” tab on any bill, senator or representative page for details on which companies are funding the lobbying efforts and campaigns. For an example, here’s an overview of the money behind the stimulus.

The OpenCongress API – All of our uniquely-aggregated data about Congress and user-generated content on the site is now freely available via API for web programmers to remix and share on their own websites.

RaceTracker – We announced this last month, but since then hundreds of people have added their knowledge and helped to make this into an incredible one-stop resource for every 2010 Senate and House race. The Racetracker is a crowd-sourced project that allows individuals to add information about who’s running for office in their district and state, as long as the info is referenced to an outside source. If you haven’t yet, go there and check out how your ballot is shaping up for the mid-term elections.

Things are still buggy throughout the site, so if you come across a link that doesn’t work properly or a page that is un-styled, know that we’ll be fixing it in the next few days. Generally, though, things should be stable and functioning. Feedback is always appreciated. Let us know what you think at Thanks!

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