As a political reporter, you often have occassion to attempt to find specific language in a bill, or figure out who's co-sponsored a piece of legislation, or what the status of an amendement is. While all of this can be gleaned from Congress' Thomas web site, it ain't easy. In fact, it's a serious headache. There are other tools aside from Thomas, but while they are comprehensive in their data, none of them synthesizes and presents the information in a particularly useful way. They don't incorporate blogs, and user rating systems, or tell you what other users have been searching for. In short, they don't use all the features of web 2.0 usability that have made the web such a powerful aggregator and distiller of information in the last few years. But now all that is about to change. Today, the Sunlight Foundation and the Participatory Politics Foundation went live with the beta version of OpenCongress, an amazing new tool for activists and citizens.
OpenCongress gives you access to all the going-on of congress: what bills are in commitee, what amendments are up for floor votes, how individual legislators are voting, and it presents all this information is an easy-to-use, simple-as-pie manner. But you can also spend time on OpenCongress just browsing. The site displays what votes have just taken place and lists which bills and legislators are most viewed. It's got a blog that distills congressional news and even allows you to set up RSS feeds so you can track what's happening with a specific issue or bill. There's nothing else remotely as intuitive and easy. Next time you want to check up on what your elected representative is up to, head over to OpenCongress.