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OpenMass: Taking it to the State Level

May 9, 2007 - by Donny Shaw

The 10th Amendment states that the federal government is designed to have limited power and that the rest of the powers are “reserved for the States respectively, or to the people.” Thus, OpenCongress only provides a part of the picture. However, as an open-source project, we have made our framework available to anyone who wants to start filling in the rest of the picture.

We are pleased to announce the first of what we hope will be many such projects: OpenMass, a new site built on the OpenCongress framework. and designed to track the Massachusetts state legislature. OpenMass was developed completely independent of the makers of OpenCongress, but it is true to our mission of increasing government transparency through non-partisan and not for profit resources.

The site does a lot of the same thing that OpenOngress does. It tracks bills as they move through the legislative process, profiles state Senators and Representatives, and gathers news and data from Google News, Google Blog Search and FollowtheMoney.org. It also collects and displays metadata like which bills, representatives, and senators are being viewed the most.

Since it is dealing with a state legislature, there are some different features. For example, Public Hearings are monitored, as well as the activities of the Governor. And since Mass.gov makes the information available, the site tracks all earmarks from the 2008 budget, organized by their sponsor and fully searchable.

As for further development, RSS feeds have just been added for bills and more feeds are on the way. The plan is to put feeds on just about everything that is possible. IN the next few days, Jim Caralis, the site’s creator, will be putting up a brief explanation of how the site was built, with a more in depth “how to” guide following in the next few weeks. Plus, he has a lot of experience making sense of unstructured data sources (and runs a software consulting company), and is offering to dedicate a bit of his time to offering advice to people looking to undertake similar projects. So, if you are interested in making a similar site but think you may need some help, now is your chance.

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