Last week I participated in the 2013 Legislative and Transparency Conference put on by the U.S. House of Representatives in Washington D.C.
It was a one day event that featured numerous speakers both within the U.S. government and in the surrounding transparency community around D.C. My role, at the end of the day, was to speak as a panelist along with Josh Tauberer of GovTrack.us and Anne Washington of The George Washington University on Under-Digitized Legislative Data. It was a fun experience for me and allowed me to have a friendly debate with Josh on API’s versus bulk downloads of XML data. In the end, while we both fundamentally agree, he favors bulk downloads while I favor APIs. It’s a simple matter of how we use the data.
The morning sessions were all about the government reporting the progress they have made over the past year relating to their transparency initiatives. There has been substantial progress this year and this was evident in the various talks. Particularly exciting was the progress that the Library of Congress is making in developing the new congress.gov website. Eventually this website will expand to replace THOMAS entirely.
The afternoon sessions were kicked off by Gherardo Casini of the UN-DESA Global Centre for ICT in Parliament in Rome, Italy. He gave an overview of the progress, or lack thereof, of XML in various parliaments and legislatures around the world. He also gave a brief mention of the progress in the LegalDocumentML Technical Committee at OASIS which is working towards the standardization of Akoma Ntoso. I am a member of that technical committee.
The next panel was a good discussion on extending XML. The panelists were Eric Mill at the Sunlight Foundation who, among other things, talked about the HTML transformation work he has been exploring in recent weeks. I mentioned his efforts in my blog last week. Following him was Jim Harper at the Cato Institute. He talked about the Cato Institute’s Deepbills project. Finally, Daniel Bennett gave a talk on HTML and microdata. His interest in this subject was also mentioned in my blog last week.
One particularly fun aspect of the conference was walking into the entrance and noticing the Cato Institute’s Deepbills editor running on the table at the entrance. The reason it was fun for me is that their editor is actually a customization of an early version of the HTML5-based LegisPro Web editor which I have spent much of the past year developing. We have developed this editor to be an open and customizable platform for legislative editing. The Cato Project is one of four different implementations which now exist – two are Akoma Ntoso based and two are not. More news will come on this development in the not-too-distant future. I had not expected the Cato Institute to be demonstrating anything and it was quite a nice surprise to see software I had written up on the display.
If there was any recurring theme throughout the day, it was the call for better linked data. While there has been significant progress over the past year towards getting the data out there, now it is time to start linking it all together. Luckily for me, this was the topic I had chosen to focus on in my talk at the end of the day. It will be interesting to see the progress that is made towards this objective this time next year.
All in all, it was a very successful and productive day. I didn’t have a single moment to myself all day. There were so many interesting people to meet that I didn’t get a chance to chat with nearly as many as I would have liked to.
For an amusing yet still informative take on the conference, check out Ari Hershowitz’s Tabulaw blog. He reveals a little bit more about some of the many projects we have been up to over the past year.