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"My OpenCongress" in Action (continued...)

January 23, 2008 - by David Moore

OpenCongress launched a major set of new features last week, and already they’re being picked up by people around the country to track the hubbub of Congress and share their opinions on bills in process. Here’s another installment in our regular round-up of what’s hot with users of “”/register">My OpenCongress".

To start, here’s a good example of an organization, the Electronic Frontier Foundation (EFF), using OpenCongress to share analysis of their issues with a wide audience of users. No other website aggregates as much official Congressional data alongside social wisdom about politics, all accompanied with built-in tools for social sharing and collaborative analysis. So last week, when EFF’s Deeplinks reported on “Troubling ‘Digital Theft Prevention’ Requirements”, they linked to our page for the relevant bill, H.R. 4137. The EFF’s alert, in turn, received links on such popular sites as BoingBoing and Slashdot, meaning that “My OpenCongress” users who contributed comments to the bill page had a chance for their input to be viewed by even more interested people. (The bill is currently the sixth most-viewed on the site, with more than 350 views in the past week).

Speaking of Intellectual Property law, we’re grateful that Prof. Wendy Seltzer contributed her expertise on the topic by creating a profile on OpenCongress — for example, you can see her insta-take comment on the “”">IP Act of 2007" (good user discussion there, too) and her critique of the above-mentioned College Act. Fred von Lohmann, a senior staff attorney with EFF, posted a link on the “”">IP Act" with more helpful resources from another group, Public Knowledge. If you’re interested in internet law, then, Prof. Seltzer’s “My OpenCongress” profile offers a direct window onto the hottest bills and issues in that area (or, subscribe to an RSS feed for all her tracked items).

Here’s another easy way to follow how Congress is affecting tech policy: Prof. Susan Crawford is renowned for her work & advocacy in the fields of internet law, net neutrality, and telco lobbying. We were thrilled with her write-up of our tools as “overwhelmingly worthwhile” and its accompanying thumbs-up on One Web Day. For an at-a-glance view of which bills Prof. Crawford supports and opposes, simply check out her profile’s page of latest actions. It’s another avenue by which “My OpenCongress” allows you to find out which bills in the Congressional haystack most affect the issues you care about, then track them conveniently.

These new features (open-source as always!) received a bunch more positive mentions over the past week: we were included in this cool list of Five Websites That Might Possibly Change the World, and got another enthusiastic review on Andrew Meyer’s Buzzyeah. (Andrew, yes definitely, we look forward to integrating more of our new features with Facebook and other popular social services… it’s good to hear that new users are picking up our Facebook app…)

Among users of “My OpenCongress”, one of the busiest bills has been the Violent Radicalization and Homegrown Terrorism Prevention Act of 2007 - which rocketed to more than 60 user votes “nay” and only four votes “aye”, generating some interesting dicussion in its comments section. Definitely don’t forget to check out yesterday’s ">updated post from Donny Shaw on our blog about the status of this controversial bill and the role that online communities played in bringing it to light.

Another few examples of the comment boards working to bring you closer to the real story behind bills in Congress: check out the Farm Bill‘s comment boards for a link to analyst Michael Pollan’s take on the macro issues; the Climate Act‘s boards for a back-of-the-envelope calculation of the bill’s chances of passing this session; and some spirited back-and-forth over religion and the Constitution in the comments for the proposed “American Religious History Week”. Users are invited to jump in and use the slider bars to rate the helpfulness of any comment there, it’s a solid case where the community can “filter up” the most illuminating contributions about the bill’s substance.

That’s just a preliminary round-up — for more, you can skim more ways to use these new features, then take a minute to create your own free account. Once you’re logged in, you can easily invite others to join you in tracking your bills & issues by importing contacts from your Gmail, Yahoo!, or Hotmail accounts (just visit your account’s “Friends” page for the link). If you haven’t already, feel free to send a Friend invitation to Donny Shaw, who writes the OpenCongress blog and tracks more than a dozen attention-worthy bills. That way you’ll be able to follow his comments throughout the site from your own profile’s page for Friends’ Recent Activities.

Importantly, we’d like to thank everyone who helped beta-test these new features over the past month — everyone who sent feedback and bug reports. Our thanks go out especially to Phillip Duggan and Misty Fowler for their extraordinary volunteer help, it’s much appreciated, and of course everyone in the Sunlight Foundation community for their input & help in spreading the word.

We’re always interested to hear how you’re using “My OpenCongress” to track and share info about Congress on your blog or with your issue-based groups — let us know ( and we’ll try to highlight your work in future posts like this one. As always, we hope you’ll stay tuned with major site news by signing up for our low-volume mailing list and by grabbing our blog’s RSS feed. Thanks for using OpenCongress.

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