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January 24, 2008 - by David Moore

Yesterday marked the launch of a tremendous new public resource — — check out their blog announcement. We’ve been in touch with their team before, most recently at an open-government conference last month, but we’ve been following the development of the Chicago-based project for a while, from slightly-afar and with outsized interest.

EveryBlock is sometimes described as a “hyper-local” news aggregator, and while that’s certainly integral to its mission, I think there’s a quick fundamental point that’s worth making first. The site is also a perfect example of the kind of hyper-“usable” public resource that the internet makes possible, of how a mess of sprawling municipal data can come together with thoughtful design to inform real-world people in their communities as they are. Even though it’s only launched with three cities so far — Chicago, NYC, and S.F. — it’s worth attention in the gladly growing field of user-centered online resources for civic engagement. If you’re interested in taking a look, here’s their page of results (local news, crime stats, restaurant reviews, and a ton of building permits) for my neighborhood in Brooklyn, and they encourage you to contact them with your feedback. Congrats to the team on the launch! More launch coverage at TechCrunch and Metafilter, for starters.

More to the point, EveryBlock has the most immediate potential to bring citizens closer to news about legislation and government affecting their street, precinct, county, building out to their city or state. But the federal Congress on which we focus here still plays a part. Local bloggers using info discovered off EveryBlock can write blog posts with questions or petitions for their Members of Congress, which will get picked up automatically here on pages for Senators and Representatives. For example, if I had an opinion to convey about happenings on my block (via EveryBlock), I could hypothetically post my concerns in a blog post addressed to the Representative for my district (Rep. Velazquez), then give her an approval rating and post a comment on her page on OpenCongress — all first steps in the crucial process of translating info into action. Using the “Friends” features on “My OpenCongress”, I can easily find other users in my district, and if they’ve chosen to make some contact info available on their “About Me” pages, encourage them to join my efforts. On our end, we’ll take a look at the many options for building in links to EveryBlock in pages on OpenCongress and we’ll be sure to work with their team to hash out what would be of greatest utility.

Rounding out the topic of technology with a social mission, we were greatly heartened today to receive a thumbs-up on the blog of John Lilly, who recently stepped into a new role as the CEO of Mozilla and in addition serves as a Member of the Board for a separate, sister organization of PPF’s, the Participatory Culture Foundation. John writes of OpenCongress, “… now you can put in your own profile, indicate the particular people, bills, and areas you’re interested in tracking, and find other folks who are interested in similar things to have conversations with.” Like Mozilla’s products, OpenCongress is proudly open-source (we’re licensed under the GPL) — developers and designers are invited to get involved and help us build: (Thanks for the mention, John!)

(Screenshot of EveryBlock’s page of news for East Williamsburg, Brooklyn.)

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