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OpenCongress is Heading to NetSquared

April 18, 2008 - by Donny Shaw

A few weeks ago, we announced that OpenCongress has been chosen as a Featured Project in this year’s NetSquared conference. Next week we’ll be going to San Jose, California to share some of our ideas for the future of the site, and if we are selected from among the finalists, we could receive some prize money & other support to help us put our ideas into action. Thanks again to everyone who voted for us and made this opportunity possible! I want to share with everyone what we’ve been thinking about so we can get your feedback.

First, integrating OpenCalais would tap us into rich streams of data about every lawmaker, bill and issue area in Congress. We want to use this to give OpenCongress users access to important information about their tracked items that can’t be found through the usual means, like databases and search engines. The Calais Web service organizes related content in an open, interoperable, and tagged format.

So, if you’re tracking a senator, data from OpenCalais can automatically display an array of associated people, organizations, facts, and events about that person. For example, if you’re tracking Sen. McCain, on your page of tracked items you would be presented with relevant facts such as, “Sen. McCain is a Ranking Member of the Senate Armed Services Committee, which will have its next meeting on May 22, 2008.” Ideally this automated process would occasionally unearth interesting tidbits — say, whether a Member of Congress has family members working in an industry she oversees. We also want to use Calais to help people find more bills, lawmakers and issues they may care about. This would work kind of like some of the cool features on — when a user decides to track a bill, we’ll use Calais data to help us find other bills or lawmakers that that user may also be interested in following.

Second, we want to bring in the professionally-moderated news coverage made available by Daylife. Daylife gathers news from thousands of select news sites, wire and image services, and blogs worldwide, and organizes them around their key bits of information. In addition to news articles, Daylife is organizing juicy quotes from people in the news, as well as collecting an incredible array of photographs to give a visual context to current issues and affairs.

We want to give all this information to My OpenCongress users for their tracked items — imagine it reading, “Daylife editors selected ten news articles, eight quotes and six photos about Sen. Obama in the past week. Click here to view them”. Instead of following every news mention of a bill or issue (higher-volume), users could choose to receive a stream of only Daylife-featured content (lower-volume).

Check out the information DayLife has right now for some of the most popular content on OpenCongress – for example, the Farm Bill and the Economic Stimulus Bill, two of our most-viewed bill, and Ted Kennedy and Vito Fossella, two legislators who are hot on the site right now. In short, what’s displayed there is the type of information we’d like to make available at your fingertips directly on OpenCongress pages. We’ve been in touch with Vineet Gupta, a lead programmer with the DayLife team, and he agrees that such a setup would be a productive use of both our services.

Real quick, here’s how you can help and add your input. First, create a free NetSquared account, then head over to our mashup proposal page: Tracking Congress With Social Data. There, you can give our project a “star” and drop a quick comment with your input (e.g., describe how you would use the info we’re seeking to make accessible). This mashup would be good step forward in our work to bring you all the best info about Congress, all in one place. Let us know what you think, and thanks again!

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