Apps For America to shed light on Congress

Friday - 2/20/2009, 3:03pm EST

Greg Elin

Contest will mash data from across the web to make Congress more transparent.

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By Brian Drew
Internet Editor,
FederalNewsRadio

The current administration has talked a lot about making government more transparent, especially now that the stimulus bill has been signed into law by President Barack Obama. However, all of that information tends to be spread out, and not always easy to access.

Apps for America is a contest for computer developers to create applications using data from the Sunlight Foundation and mixing it with other information on the web to create a web application that makes congress more accountable, interactive and transparent.

"The goal is that other people take the information that is out there, and put it together, and connect the dots and make it easier to use," says Greg Elin, chief evangelist for the Sunlight Foundation. "We have focused on taking data, making sure it is digital, and then making sure it is in a format that can be machine processed so that programmers can take that information and work with it, rather than have to manually type it into a spreadsheet or database."

Applications for the contest can be client applications, web-based applications, Adobe Air applications, Java applications, or whatever platform the developer is interested in working with, that uses the data that the foundation has made available.

Elin told Amy Morris and Chris Dorobek, on the Daily Debrief, what kind of information they are making available to developers.

The data sets that we're talking about have to do with reference information on different politicians, and reference information on some of their campaign finance. We have information on state politicians and finance from followthemoney.org... We have information on a project from Sunlight Labs called 'capitol words' that actually counts words that people are using on the floor in Congress. We have a data set around some of the major lobbyists that would be available, and we also have a set on campaign finance parties that take place.

Elin says that having this project in the form of a contest expands the pool for creative ideas, and creates an incentive for more people to create something.

"When there's a contest, what you know is that there are going to be people seeing what you built," says Elin. "The mere fact that you know people are going to be seeing it, creates a huge incentive for that latent creativity to actually get called upon, and for people decide to build it. If you're not sure anyone is every going to take your idea seriously, or even look at it, it's a big disincentive to put your time and energy into it."

The deadline for the contest is March 31st, and Elin says they've already had a few entries to the contest, but are expecting many more to come. The winners will be announced on April 7th, with the developer of the best application receiving $15,000.

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On the Web:

Apps For America - Contest Page

Sunlight Foundation - Homeg Page

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