Sunlight Foundation’s Apps for America

Sunlight Foundation is a very cool organization that I’ve been close to. They are involved with many efforts to further government transparency and accountability, often using technology, but not only.

Recently they ran their second competition looking for interesting and useful applications and tools to be built using or leveraging data published by government.

It’s a clever model: offer $10,000 or so to a winner who creates and submits the most interesting entry. Give applicants encouragement, publicity and assistance. I have to believe that this creates a groundswell of energy and hacking that furthers the foundations goals and uses the prize money in a highly leveraged way.

““By setting government data free on its new site, the Obama administration enabled and encouraged the creation of fresh, new ideas that could help citizens get more involved in their government,” said Clay Johnson, director of Sunlight Labs. “Seizing upon this important moment, Sunlight organized this Apps for America contest to catalyze the development of useful applications and visualizations to make this information more comprehensible to more people. We also wanted to demonstrate to the government that when it makes its data available, it makes itself more accountable and creates more trust and opportunity in its actions.”

The latest Apps for America competition has just announced its winners.

The first prize winner is, a Web application designed by Forum One Communications that lets anyone—no programming background required—choose different government data sets and mash them up to create visualizations and compare results on a state by state basis.

The second prize winner is GovPulse, which allows viewers to quickly search the Federal Register in a variety of ways, including by agency or date. And the third was, which lets users type in their zip code and get back a wealth of information about their neighborhood drawn from different agencies.

Very cool!

[GEEKY] How DataRSS might work

Editors Note (that’s me, Pito): I’ve decided to change the name of this thing to “Decentralized Data Discovery – DDD” because I learned from more than one person that calling it Data RSS was misleading and confusing. I need to go back and update the papers and blog posts.

I’ve just finished writing part 3 of my series about DataRSS. Part 1 gives the background and justification for the concept, and Part 2 worked through a semi-believable scenario where having DataRSS would be a good thing.

In part 3 I try to get into more technical detail. I hope that you take the time to read it because that’s the only way I will get technical feedback on it. The reason I wrote the first two parts is that realistically I expect to lose 99.5% of you guys once you open up part 3. That’s why this post is labeled [GEEKY]. Here’s some of what I cover in part 3:

“Data RSS is a simple protocol and a simple data format. It can be implemented in any programming language.

Importantly, the Publisher and Accessor software need not know (can not know) what language the counterparties software is written in. ” (from DataRSS: Technical Overview)


“DataRSS is used between two parties, the Publisher, who ‘owns’ some data, and the Accessor, who wants to use that data. Publisher and Accessor are organizations with people in them. The Publisher wants to offer a technical means to allow an application program simple and standardized access to their data.

The Accessor wants to write an application program that accesses and does something useful with data coming from any Publisher. Accessor and Publisher don’t know each other. ” (from DataRSS: Technical Overview)

Delicious isn’t it? One final tease, I also have worked out some detailed examples of how DataRSS might work with the New York Times API, with the Sunlight Foundation API and with the Follow The Money API.

Transparency Camp

Everything’s a camp today, Foo Camp, Bar Camp and now Transparency Camp. I am attending this gathering in Washington D.C. to get closer to what’s going on in the open government movement. This is a pretty succinct summary of what it’s about:

“Convening a trans-partisan tribe of open government advocates from all walks — government representatives, technologists, developers, ngos, wonks & activists — to share knowledge on how to use new technologies to make our government transparent and meaningfully accessible to the public.” (from Transparency Camp)

What a new world! The degree of penetration of web 2.0, social media and technology into the machinations of the government is an eye-opener. There is also a lot of well informed passion around digging in around the edges of how things work, from legislation, to lobbying, to governing.

My question is, what is the impact of this, so far? While that’s not exactly clear to me (today) I feel that there will be an inevitable impact over time. These are early days, but this is very important work.