The Tools for Personal DemocracyExpert Opinion June 23rd, 2008
Drew Bennett, Former Reporter, BroadbandBreakfast.com
NEW YORK, 23 June, Mid-Morning – The morning speakers and break-out sessions thus far have focused on some of the tools and innovations for enhanced democracy that Micah and Zephyr discussed. Anthony Helle of Linkfluence and Matthew Hurst of Microsoft Live Labs looked at the power of mapping the blogosphere. Collecting data on what citizens are blogging about is clearly a vital part of conveying what’s important to these citizens to the politicians. Matthew is interested in the kind of things you can do with this data and how you can harness it to give people a stronger voice. For instance, he presented a map with geographically and chronologically shifting tags that can reveal the issues that are important to citizens in real-time and can give an idea of local significance.
In the morning break-out session, the Sunlight Foundation demonstrated some of their latest tools for enhancing the transparency and accountability of Congress. Sunlight is developing tools that can aggregate, syndicate and replicate the data they and others gather on politicians, their voting records and the donors that hope to influence those records. Sunlight’s Political Profile widget can be embedded in any website and can make any blogger a Congressional watch-dog. Sites with this widget will broadcast aggregated data on the politician they choose to profile that updates itself and even transforms spreadsheet data into readable text.
The potential for political empowerment presented by these new tools got me thinking about how they could be utilized by the related efforts of initiatives like Broadband Census. The Census seeks transparency and accountability as well – wouldn’t Provider Profile widgets that reveal accurate speeds, costs and coverage offered by ISPs be useful additions to any website concerned with the telecom industry?
Powerful innovations for personal democracy will aggregate the most accurate data from the most diverse sources and will be available to the most expansive community. These tools and the data they deliver need to be syndicated and widely available in order to make positive contributions to the policy debate and they can also impact other arenas like consumer choice and industry competition.