BillTrack50 wants to make it easier to search, engage with legislation
Karen Suhaka shares her vision for BillTrack50.
Give us the BillTrack50 elevator pitch.
BillTrack50 provides convenient and user-friendly 50-state legislative data to both citizens and those with a professional interest.
What civic problem does BillTrack50 solve?
We are making it easier for citizens to research what their state legislature is doing about topics of interest to them, and look at trends and across the country generally. We’ve also given them the information they need to follow up with their representative, if they like. More importantly we have tools to help individuals and organizations more easily share information about pending legislation. For example see: http://missoulainsession.
What’s the story behind starting BillTrack50?
I am a serial entrepreneur, and most of my businesses have revolved around compiling publicly available data from state governments, and making it useful to consumers and businesses. After selling my last company I started looking for ideas for a new business. I came across the concept of online legislation tracking, and thought it would be great to break it wide open, and make it available for free for everyone.
We launched in March of 2012, and already have close to 2,000 registered users. However anyone can read bills on the site, registered or not, and in January of 2013 we passed 1,000,000 bills read on the site. People are embracing the ability to share bills they think are important; some share privately to an internal group, but most share publicly.
I think there are lots of smart people in our country, and somewhere someone has a good idea about every challenge we face. I want to get those people informed, and connected, to build a better country for everyone. It especially behooves people in government to stay aware of, and participate in, the democratic process as it relates to their area of expertise.
What are its key features?
Anyone can search for bills or legislators for free, and get a wealth of up-to-date information. Subscribers can save searches, set up alerts, and share their bill feed with others. The key feature that make all of our services useful is that the bill text and other information is open to everyone. So it’s easy to put our widget on your page to share bills you care about, and your readers can click through and learn more without any barriers. We also have a tool to make it easy to rate legislators and create a graphical, interactive scorecard on your site.
We have also processed all of the bills into uniform structured xml, which allows us to so some neat tricks, like comparing bill texts to see what has changed between revisions. Having the bills as data also allows me to do fun mathematical analysis, which I share on my blog.
What are the costs, pricing plans?
Basic access is free. Searching for bills requires you to register, which is free, you just need to give us your name and email. Subscriptions to save searches and user our other tools start at $500/year. See our product comparison matrix for more details.
How can those interested connect with you?
Every day I get to engage with entrepreneurs, public sector innovators and journalists on re-imagining and re-energizing how government works, what it means to be “civic,” and this year has been an incredible one for many friends and colleagues.
I’m always inspired talking and working with entrepreneurs trying to solve big civic problems, especially those who realize much of the challenge lies within modernizing and empowering internal government operations, so it was great to finally meet with Govtech Fund Founder and Managing Partner Ron Bouganim this week.
The 18F Delivery team released a “Partnership Playbook” that aims to help federal agencies understand what to expect when working with 18F, and the gem within is play number two, “We work with an empowered product owner.”
Citizens simply glaze over when they are confronted by a sea of large numbers with many zeros. These figures need to be relatable to the person reading the data. Otherwise, open data is just more data that dies on the vine.
The U.S. Department of Veterans Affairs released a beta version of Vets.gov, and it’s the future of federal government digital development.
The Welsh Government released a report of its findings on how local government in Wales can better leverage digital technologies and realize significant savings while still providing quality, scalable citizen services.
A California bipartisan oversight committee, the Little Hoover Commission, has issued recommendations on how the state can bring a more customer-centric government to residents and visitors.
Seneca Systems CEO Chris Maddox shares the inspiration behind the new constituent relationship management system, Romulus.
“No ugly, old IT” jumped out at me when I first reviewed DataSF’s strategic plan, “Data in San Francisco: Meeting supply, spurring demand,” and it still sticks, mostly because someone inside government was so bold as to make this a priority and openly communicate it and also because this should be a mantra for everyone building civic technology.
Enabling internal government tech shops to quickly stand up applications in a secure testing environment is fundamental to quick prototyping, and 18F’s new Cloud.gov is a major step in realizing ultimate IT flexibility.