I hadn’t seen this mentioned in any other local blogs, so I thought I’d note it here for the benefit of all you political anoraks out there: The folks who brought you OpenCongress.org, a site to keep track of the activities of your Congressional representations, have just launched a beta version of OpenGovernment.org to fill the same role for state legislators, and Maryland is one of the five states they’re starting with (along with California, Louisiana, Texas, and Wisconsin).

You can use the site to follow general issues, bills, campaign contributions, etc. If you sign up for the site you can also track individual legislators and legislation, and even add your own comments in various places. For more background information see the site’s about page, which has an especially interesting discussion concerning all the data sources they’re aggregating.

The page for Allan Kittleman (probably the Maryland state legislator most in the news lately) gives a good idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the site in its current (unfinished) state: It has a good set of links to various things Kittleman-related like his votes, bills he’s sponsored, ratings from various groups, and so on, but lacks other useful resources. For example, it collates Twitter mentions, but has no links at all to news coverage or blog posts, even though it claims to be doing a Google news search and blog search for Kittleman-related posts. (Apparently the site is searching for “Senator Allan H Kittleman,” when it would do much better searching for plain “Senator Allan Kittleman.”) The page doesn’t even have a photo of Kittleman, even though it links to a Wikipedia article that has a perfectly good one. What’s worse, even if you register and sign in it’s not immediately clear how you can help make the page better, especially if you’re a nontechnical user.

But this is nitpicking a site on its second day live. I think this is a worthy effort, and it is still in beta. The groups behind the project, the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation are doing some good work and it’s worth checking out what they’re doing and even providing support , either financially or using your mad developer skillz.

The goal for the project is very ambitious: to cover all levels of government from Federal down to local city and county governments. Here’s hoping they can secure more funding and expand the site, so that one day we’ll be able to have the same level of coverage of local Howard County politicos.

David Moore - 2011-01-20 15:44

Frank - thanks for checking out the site! And agreed with your assessments … this is definitely a beta, and we’re on-target to make it better. Visitors can submit photos & links for members of the MD legislature to us anytime via our Contact page on OG, and we’ll get them up. In short, our first hurdle was a lack of open data – if the primary source made them available in full, well then, we’d have no problems bringing them in. Second, re: news & blog aggregation, there are many hundreds of members in our database now for our five beta states, and we’re still optimizing our search queries in just the way you describe. So with our various technical workarounds on OG, there’s lots more work to do, but we hope we’re building a useful tool for watchdogging. Thanks again for your valuable comments on the photo issue, we’re working every day on making it a more powerful public resource and empowering any internet surfer to make it better for everyone, just as you describe.

Sarah - 2011-01-20 17:31

Frank– thanks for blogging about this. I haven’t heard of it and it looks like a great project with a ton of potential.

OpenGovernment on NCSL The Thicket and more | OpenGovernment Blog - 2011-01-20 22:38

[…] everyone, plenty more press mentions & positive buzz to report: Frank Hecker’s MD blog; Federal News Radio (with whom I was fortunate to do a phone interview earlier today, piece […]