Why Shouldn't New Legislative Data Flow Directly Into Wikipedia

from the automate-that dept

There's an interesting event going on today and tomorrow at the Cato Institute, with a very practical focus: looking at ways to automate the process of getting legislative data into Wikipedia. That is, when new bills are introduced, and as they make their way through Congress and to the President, is there any reason that data doesn't automatically populate to Wikipedia?
Our project to produce enhanced XML markup of federal legislation is well under way, and we hope to use this data to make more information available to the public about how bills affect existing law, federal agencies, and spending, for example.

What better way to spread knowledge about federal public policy than by supporting the growth of Wikipedia content?
There are a bunch of services out there that present such legislative data, but having a straight XML feed from Congress to Wikipedia seems like an all around good idea.


Reader Comments (rss)

(Flattened / Threaded)

  1.  
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    fogbugzd (profile), Mar 14th, 2013 @ 3:44pm

    There are several businesses based on selling legislative data. I'm fine with that concept because the companies usually also provide some filtering and additional organizational tools. They are providing a useful service and should get paid for it if they want to be paid.

    The distribution companies don't exactly have a monopoly right now, but it can be hard for small businesses and individuals to get their hands on the data in a useful form. Wiki-izing the legislative data would make it much more accessible and uniform.

    There would still be a market for paid access to legislative data as long as the tools and filters were doing a good job. There might be some pressure to improve the quality of those tools to compete with the unfiltered data, but that is a good thing, at least for the public.

    I would not be surprised to see the companies already in the business of selling the data try to block this effort. I would have a problem with that.

     

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  2.  
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    BentFranklin (profile), Mar 14th, 2013 @ 4:31pm

    There's a difference between an encyclopedia and a database. But yes, there should be a publicly owned and accessible database, probably just not Wikipedia.

     

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  3.  
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    Jay (profile), Mar 14th, 2013 @ 4:40pm

    Wait, aren't there already such databases?

    I know that Reddit actually has one where legislation is constantly pirated by a bout to be assessed by the public.

    My issue is that there is no good way to interpret that data and watch merely for what you might be interested in.

     

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  4.  
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    The Mighty Buzzard (profile), Mar 14th, 2013 @ 5:11pm

    Re:

    I don't really give a happy damn if it entirely kills their market. That's capitalism. Provide something worth paying for or GTFO.

    If they're stand-up businessmen, they'll do like you suggest and build their business around providing value on top of what's available for free. If they're douchebags, they'll try to go the legislative protection route. If they're idiots, they'll keep doing the same thing and go bankrupt.

    I honestly don't care which they pick aside from the legislative protection route. If they succeed, they get fat wads of cash for being useful to society. If they fail, someone else will be happy to take our money in their place. As long as there's no protectionism going on, everyone who's not either bloody stupid or a greedy fucktard wins.

     

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  5.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2013 @ 5:24pm

    I'd rather it went directly to public Git repos.

    In fact, I'd rather all legislative proposals were tracked via version control in public repos.

     

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  6.  
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    special-interesting (profile), Mar 14th, 2013 @ 5:49pm

    All for it with reservations. As many times it is shown implementation is harder than conceiving an idea. Direct to Wikipedia? Most of what congress puts out is hard to distinguish from sapm anyway.

    This has great potential to get legislation closer to the citizenry. Public scrutiny of the plans and data submitted to congress would be great in that special interest groups would not be able to 'lie in the darkness' like the last 200 years or so.

    The key part is how do we make sense of all the drivel produced by our legislators? How do we recognize the parts written by monopolistic protectionist minded special interest groups? How do we discover the badly manipulated data that leaves out all the good points?

    At any time the engagement of the public in making law should be a good thing. Even if fails the effort is noble.

     

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  7.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2013 @ 6:13pm

    But will it HAPPEN, more importantly, will it be ALLOWED to happen.

     

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  8.  
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    Unanimous Cow Herd (profile), Mar 14th, 2013 @ 7:42pm

    THOMAS

    I would welcome some current and active wikipedia information on legislation. It would certainly help raise awareness a little as well as increase access to UNDERSTANDABLE translations for those of us who are watch-dogging our elected officials. It has the added benefit of allowing alternative voices and requests for citations(BS calling). Could any open and truly democratic civilization strive to have any more of a meaningful tool than one that allows an inclusive discussion open to EVERYONE on current legislation? The fathers of democracy could only have dreamed of the potential such a system has. Look at wikipedia's success. It is a perfect example of democracy in action and is not draining tax dollars.

    Granted, we have THOMAS but it is a pathetic piece of garbage that you just know is hiding divide by zero SQL errors behind the lame GUI.


    End of File.

     

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  9.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2013 @ 9:06pm

    Re:

    Agreed

     

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  10.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 14th, 2013 @ 9:52pm

    Obama is a Liar

    Barack Obama’s promise to The People (what a liar)

    “I’ll make our Govt Open and Transparent so anyone can ensure that our business is the people’s business”

    "Public Will Have 5 Days To Look At Every Bill That Lands On My Desk"

    https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=o5t8GdxFYBU

     

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  11.  
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    Corwin (profile), Mar 15th, 2013 @ 3:25am

    Why shouldn't all laws be proposed and voted by the people directly?

    n/t

     

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  12.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2013 @ 3:37am

    Re:

    It would make efforts such.

    openstates.org a lot easier to do.

     

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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2013 @ 4:37am

    Re:

    true, but the database can be used to create at least a basic wikipedia article.

     

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  14.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2013 @ 4:50am

    Re: Why shouldn't all laws be proposed and voted by the people directly?

    because that doesn't actually work on a nationwide scale? there is a reason why direct democracy is rare and small-scale. Historically, it was constrained by the fact that it was difficult to travel to somewhere with enough room for a massive assembly. People had better things to do with their time. These days, there are other issues ( off the top of my head, an internet vote has issues with ensuring one vote per person, not to mention keeping trolls like Anonymous from derailing votes. (I am thinking of things like the vote that would have sent Taylor Swift to a school for the deaf- I doubt they would avoid messing with an actually important vote. third issue is that again, having a nationwide debate on every topic is going to run into issues with respect to people having better things to do with their time. fourth issue is related to the third: will people actually pay attention to what they are voting on?

     

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  15.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2013 @ 6:12am

    Re: Re: Why shouldn't all laws be proposed and voted by the people directly?

    Look if Brazil can pull it off why can't America?

    Addressing concerns of voting, well that is what encryption is for, to create unique keys identifying people.

    Direct vote means millions of opinions, it also means that only things that are truly universal will be accepted, so we should start thinking about what should be governed by direct vote or by representatives, I doubt people would want to vote or be participative to everyday stuff, but there could be a mechanisms there where if 80% or 90% of the people unanimously agree on something why should the representatives not be obliged to comply with the wishes of the majority?

    It would be a safety mechanism for democracy.

     

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  16.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 15th, 2013 @ 6:17am

    Re: Re: Why shouldn't all laws be proposed and voted by the people directly?

    Why 80% to 90%?

    If it is universal, than it will have no problems achieving that, further it makes it harder for minorities with special interests to pass and subvert the system.

    Exactly minorities are not allowed to take part on that scheme, because it is supposed to be used by everyone because it affects everyone, not just 2 small players inside some little field.

     

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  17.  
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    AMusingFool (profile), Mar 15th, 2013 @ 7:07am

    Re:

    Amen. And no anonymous (or, say, Senate Judiciary Committee account) check-ins.

     

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  18.  
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    Spaceman Spiff (profile), Mar 15th, 2013 @ 7:14am

    Which is why it won't happen...

    "There are a bunch of services out there that present such legislative data, but having a straight XML feed from Congress to Wikipedia seems like an all around good idea."

    Indeed, but this is why it won't happen, most likely... :-(

     

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  19.  
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    Robert Doyle (profile), Mar 15th, 2013 @ 10:53am

    Re:

    Shouldn't paying your taxes entitle you to access to all of the legislative data?

    Just saying...

     

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  20.  
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    Jim Harper, Mar 15th, 2013 @ 1:06pm

    If y'all wanna stay current on our work, you can do so...

     

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  21.  
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    Anonymous Coward, Mar 16th, 2013 @ 12:28pm

    Re:

    Indeed. Especially nice if each change was properly associated with the politician(s) who proposed it. Lets all see exactly what side of the discussion our legislators are really on.

     

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  22.  
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    tqk (profile), Mar 17th, 2013 @ 8:56pm

    Re: Re: Re: Why shouldn't all laws be proposed and voted by the people directly?

    Addressing concerns of voting, well that is what encryption is for, to create unique keys identifying people.

    Are you going to pay the multi-$100 fee to *certify* that your rugrats/$significant_other/parents/$somebody_else have their own accounts, can't login as you, and your vote is biometrically provable to only have been cast by you, and that nobody's paid/forced you to vote that way?

    My B-in-law has a laptop that has fingerprint biometric enabled logins. I can defeat that just by booting with a live Linux/*BSD CD.

    Multiply all of the above by MS-Windows/OSX^^$malware. Are you *sure* your machine's not part of a botnet? How sure?

    I'd love to have direct democracy via the Internet, but we're nowhere near what we need to do that technologically nor socially.

     

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  23.  
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    James, Jul 30th, 2013 @ 10:41pm

    I don't know about a wiki, but definitely it should be public data.

     

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