Ignite Presentation

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My ignite-style presentation for SxSW 2009

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  • * Hi There! I’m Clay Johnson
    * I am the Director of Sunlight Labs for the Sunlight Foundation
    * We’re the technology group of a larger foundation that advocates for transparency in Government through the use of Technology.


  • To build our tools we use Open Source technology
    Most of our stuff is written in Python, though we also build stuff in Ruby, PHP and we’re experimenting with big data processing using things like Hadoop.
    We’re largely a-political. We just want Government to be open and transparent. It is something that needs to happen for a healthy democracy.
  • We’re not some non-profit tech team
    We’re a group of 351 developers, developing open source tools, designs and technologies to change our government
    And we have a unique opportunity in the next 18 months, with the majority and minority party both calling on Government to be more transparent to make change happen


  • Sunlight Labs isn’t about “us” at the foundation. It is about you.
    Sunlight Labs is a way for Developers to make a contribution to society.
    Like Habitat for Humanity. But for Developers who Love Their Country.
  • I want to give you 5 things you can do
    TODAY would be best.
    RIGHT NOW would be better
    To help us build a better country.
    We the web community have this opportunity, but it has to happen now and it has to happen fast.
  • The first thing you can do is parse a state.
    Sunlight is doing a 50 state project
    We, as a community are writing parsers to get every bill, every legislator and every vote in every state house.


  • Here’s why
    The more local you get, the more your reps listen to you.
    In other words, when 100 people call a senator, it doesn’t matter. They dismiss it.
    But when 100 people call a state rep, it sure does. They listen.


  • But the data isn’t there. The more local you get, the less budget the government has to spend on technology. So we’re going to do it for them.
    We’ll liberate the data and allow 1000 flowers to bloom
    Just google “Sunlight 50 State Project” to get involved. And check out the state legislation page on our wiki. Claim a state and write the parser.
    We’ve got 8 so far.


  • For the designers in the room: you can help too.
    Nothing helps the Government open its mind like a picture. And you’ve got the talent to do it.
    Pick an agency. Redesign the front page. Tell us why you did what you did. We’ll let you guest blog if it is good
    And make sure the agency sees it too.
  • From our experience, these ignite fires inside the agencies.
    We did this one for the FEC and all the sudden the FEC was like “wow, this is amazing. Can you come in and talk with us?”
  • Same thing with USA.gov
    We launched it, and heard immediately from the GSA
    Saying it launched hundred chain email debates about why the design was right or wrong
    That’s the point: It lights fires within the agency getting them to talk about what they should do.
    Designers: help us start a fire in every agency.
  • Combining the two, you have data visualizations.
    Here’s a clock chart of the frequency of the word “transparency” in the new york times over time.
    Data visualizations tell a story to the public that sometimes words can’t say powerfully enough.
  • This is a google motion chart of contributions from industries.
    The big red dot at the top represents the finance and banking industries
    The Y axis is “contributions to republicans”
    The X axis is “contributions to democrats”
    You can see between 2004 and 2006, the industry shifted and moved to the Democrats.
    Visualizations like this tell big stories.
  • Join Sunlight Labs. We need you to be an active part of our community
    If you’re a developer, a designer, a writer, or just an all around good human being
    We would love your participation
  • Most of our action goes on on the sunlight labs mailing list.
    We’re doing a contest right now called “Apps for America”
    15,000 goes to the person who can make the best app using our API and the APIs of our partners.
    Ends on March 31 so there’s still time.
    The list is abuzz with new open source apps in this field.
  • Our wiki is where we list our project ideas and things you can help out on.
    Our big problems like name standardization, data intake
    And projects like the 50 state project are all coordinated on our wiki
  • Finally it is time for the web development community to stand up and organize
    Get people involved in their government again
    And start convening in the local space.
  • Invite friends together, and champion an idea using our projects, data or API methods.
    Post to the list servs your on and try and get people connected
    You’ll build friendships and partnerships that last forever.
  • And take this presentation
    Steal it
    Give it at an ignite event in your area
    Sunlight Labs is about all of us together
    Changing our country
  • You guys have been great
    Follow me on Twitter
    Send me an email
    And again, you can see the slides and notes from the slides at sunlightlabs.com/ignitepresentation
    Thanks so much.
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