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LittleSis - Bringing Transparency to the Powers That Be

January 14, 2009 - by Donny Shaw

Today, a new project aimed at opening up hidden power structures in Washington and beyond – LittleSis – is making its initial foray into the wilds of the internet. Like an OpenCongress for unaccountable officials or, as the team behind LittleSis calls it, “an involuntary facebook of powerful Americans,” the site profiles CEOs, presidential cabinet members, lobbyists, financiers etc., and charts overlaps in their backgrounds so we can start to see the connections that have built the powers that be.

The people profiled on LittleSis make some of the most important decisions affecting our lives; LittleSis helps us turn a critical eye to let them know that we are watching.

Little Sis relies on the public to contribute information about powerful people. Anyone can sign up to become an analyst and start adding information to help fill out the puzzle. You may not be able to reveal new power structures on your own, but when combined with everyone else’s work, your bit of research could be the crucial link to revealing an important relationship that wouldn’t be known otherwise.

Profiles on LittleSis collect information on government contracts, board memberships, education, business positions, family ties and campaign contributions to find “interlocks” between powerful people. So, for example, for Susan Rice, Barack Obama’s choice for US ambassador to the UN, you can see a list of people who with positions in the same organizations (James Steinberg and Jeffrey Bader top the list) and people who have given money to same causes (David Cohen and John Alchin of Comcast have the most similar donation records). You can also look at it from an organizational perspective. For example, here’s a list of the organizations that have the most overlapping membership with the transition’s National Security Policy Working Group. Topping that list is the Center for a New American Security, a D.C. think-tank that has significant overlap with both ConocoPhillips and Lockheed Martin. I’m sure you can see how this could get interesting…

The site is still in beta, so there are some limitations, bugs and holes in the data. It’s going to be really interesting to watch this site grow – the development team is already talking about opening up its data for people to reuse, designing network maps for visualizing relationships and a browser plugin for highlighting hidden connections between names in the news. But the fist step, of course, is for all of us to go in and flesh out the profiles. Let’s get to it.

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