July 10, 2008

Sunlight and Tweeting

The Sunlight Foundation is once again taking on "the deepest darkest holes" in all of government -- i.e. the House floor, according to Congressman John Culberson (R- TX).

Culberson recently started a bit of a firestorm on Twitter.com regarding his ability to use social networking sites and other live streaming technologies (think Twitter, Qik, etc.) from the floor of Congress.

John Culberson's Twitter

Aaron Brazell (Technosailor.com) wrote a very thorough post that does a good job of highlighting both sides of the issue. I won't attempt to go into the nitty gritty, so if you want the gory details check out his lengthy post, which includes the documents and proposals in question.

Let Our Congress TweetBack to my lead -- the Sunlight Foundation launched a very cool Twitter-based "petition" called Let Our Congress Tweet. The premise of the "petition" is simple: "Congressional rules should not prevent lawmakers from joining us in online conversations."

But why do you keep putting quotes around "petition," you ask? Well, because signing it is as simple as including the following text in your tweet: #LOCT08

For people not completely familiar with the ins and outs of Twitter, that's called a "hashtag," and several services track them via search: hashtags.org, twemes.com, and summize.com. (Summize is a great overall search engine for Twitter, but many developers are building Summize search directly into their application if you click on a #hashtag. Click and see for yourself.)

So, the Sunlight Foundation is simply tracking the use of the #LOCT08 hashtag -- you are not necessarily "signing" anything. They are being somewhat pretty straightforward about this, using the language "join our petition," instead of "sign," and saying "track...the latest tweets about #LOCT08". I focus on this, because a) I think it's a brilliant new use for Twitter and advocacy, and b) since it's the first of its kind, I wonder about people indiscriminately using the #LOCT08 hashtag (for or against) and getting "counted" in the petition.

The value of social networking and social software for politicians is definitely up for debate, but the hope is that these new technologies can help shed some light on the processes and people at work in our government. Just as Twitter has done for coporations like JetBlue, Zappos, Comcast, and others, the hope is that this new line of communication can bridge the gap between politicians and their constituents. The exciting part? It's interactive and real time.

Update: Avelino Maestas has a great entry over at the Huffington Post.

Update 2: NPR spoke with Technosailor himself this morning, and is covering the story.

Update 3: Speaker Pelosi responds! She says that "inaccurate rumors have been circulated."

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