Improving our government: at the local, state, and federal level, by doing what we do best: writing code, and building apps.
I work for a non-profit called the Sunlight Labs. We're developers and designers committed to improving government through transparency: the idea is that government can be made better and more accountable when data about its processes and influences are made freely available to the public.
1. Push for open data 2. Build open source software using that open data 3. Work towards open government
We believe that all government data that isn't sensitive or personally identifiable should be made available online, in real-time, and in machine readable formats. Government is responsible for all sorts of useful data. The thing about government data is, only govt can provide it.
Usually when you think of the judicial branch of the federal government, you think of the Supreme Court. But in reality, there are lower district courts in every state, and 11 courts of appeal.
All these courts means that there's a lot of testimony being recorded, a lot of decisions being rendered. That's a lot of data, all of which, by law, is public domain. But all that data is locked up in an online database called PACER, which stores everything in PDF files.
But that's not all. These PDFs cost 8 cents per page, and because PACER doesn't have full-text search, people end up paying for much more than they usually need. So this is a situation ripe for civic hacking.
Two years ago, PACER went on a free trial at a couple libraries across the country, meaning there was no charge to download the PDFs. So Aaron went to one of these libraries, ran a scraper script on a lab computer, and transferred 20 million files to his EC2 server.
The script ran for two weeks before the people running PACER figured out what was happening. They freaked out, shut down access, and asked the FBI to investigate him, which they did, but Aaron was cleared of any wrong-doing.
Just not for the sake of hacking -- we want to build useful things
This is OpenCongress.org, which is what Congress's website should be. It takes raw data, the text of legislation and vote history for members of Congress, and presents everything in a way that makes sense to average people.
URL string, cgi-bin, data in a web page
oil disaster, semantic web
So where do we find all this data? A project I work on is the National Data Catalog, which lists government data published at all levels: federal, state, and local. We catalog both data sets and APIs.
FlyOnTime.us uses FAA data to make predictions about how late you can expect your flight to be depending on weather conditions.
Quakespotter uses real-time data from the US Geological Survey to map earthquakes around the globe.
StumbleSafely uses DC crime data to tell you which streets to avoid at night when walking home from the bar. Wayfinder is an augmented reality app for Android which uses New York City subway data to point you to nearby subway stations.
After Korean Air Lines Flight 007, carrying 269 people, was shot down in 1983 after straying into the USSR's prohibited airspace, President Ronald Reagan issued a directive making GPS freely available for civilian use, once it was sufficiently developed, as a common good.
Let's look at one API. You know about dialing 911 for emergencies, and 411 for information. Well 311 is what you dial for city services, broken traffic lights and potholes. Open311 is a RESTful API for requesting those services.
Code for America is a project modeled after Teach for America. Teams of developers are being recruited to work on open source software for five cities across the country. Applications are open right now.
Held at city hall
Met Marc Chung at RubyConf in SFO. Meet twice a month.
When JFK spoke those words nearly 50 years ago, service to your country meant going into the military, or joining the Peace Corps. But today, service can mean using the skills and talents we already have as software developers.
Next time something angers you. &#x201C;Can I solve this problem by writing code?&#x201D; Scratch an itch too. So consider civic hacking -- writing code to make your community, your country, your world, a better place. Thanks.