Digital Directions 11: Josh Hatch of Sunlight Foundation

Josh Hatch, until recently an interactive director at and now with the Sunlight Foundation, talked about how the organisation loves data. The transparency organisation uses data to show context and relationships. He highlighted how much money Google gave to candidates. Sunlight’s Influence Explorer showed that contributions from the organisation’s employees, their family members, and its political action committee went overwhelmingly to Barack Obama.

Sunlight Foundation Influence Explorer Google

The Influence Explorer is also part of another tool that Sunlight has, Poligraft. It is an astoundingly interesting tool in terms of surfacing information about political contributions in the US. You can enter the URL of any political story or just the text, and Poligraft will analyse the story and show you the donors for every member of Congress mentioned in the story. They will highlight details about the donors, donations from organisations and US government agencies. It’s an amazingly powerful application, and I think that it points the way to easily add context to stories. It does rely on the gigabytes of data that the US government publishes, but it’s a great argument for government data publishing and a demonstration for how to use that data. Poligraft is powerful and it scales well.

Josh showed a huge range of data visualisations, and he’ll post the presentation online. I’ll link to it once he’s done.

Tim Berners-Lee on Wikileaks and competing democratic values

Tim Berners-Lee, the director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C) and inventor of the World Wide Web, drew a distinction between Wikileaks and efforts to increase government transparency through open data, which he is involved with in the UK. Alexander Howard, government 2.0 correspondent for O’Reilly Media, has a good summary of his comments on the Huffington Post.

Berners-Lee succinctly discussed just a few of the values in a democratic society that have come into conflict in the Wikileaks case.

The whistleblower idea is very important to democracy, for the overturning of repressive regimes. The idea that the press should be able to not reveal their sources, for example, is a very important principle, and the fact that people should be accountable for what they say, and that you can’t just go out there anonymously insulting people, libeling them, creating havoc, which then spreads uncontrolled [?] damage across the blogosphere without any kind of accountability. That’s an important principle too. Obviously these principles are in conflict. And we, as a society, have to work out rules which allow us to have norms on both sides of the line, which allow both principles to survive, and where they are in total conflict, have a way of resolving in each case. That’s my feeling I’ve been asked that question a few times.

I think there are several democratic values at conflict in this case, and as democratic societies, we’re going to have to discuss these issues. The Wikileaks case has brought to public attention issues that specialists in internet security, government transparency and internet governance have been discussing for years. It’s good that Wikileaks has brought these issues forward to the general public. I hope that after some of the dust settles from the particulars of Wikileaks that these thorny debates move forward.

Obama’s Transition team talks Technology, Innovation and Government Reform

President Barack Obama has already begun his first day in office, but it’s interesting to look back at his transition, which has won praise in Washington as one of the most organised and disciplined in history. During his transition, he launched a website, to not only outline his policies but also to seek input. This video is worth watching. Technology and change is challenging for any organisation whether you’re in the business of governing a country or running a news service. Obama’s Technology, Innovation and Government Reform talk about how they faced these challenges.