Workshop: “Computing in the Cloud”

Center for Information Technology Policy at Princeton University
“Civics in the Cloud”
Joshua Tauberer – GovTracks.us

January 15, 2008

This panel at the workshop was very interesting. The discussion was about using the cloud to strengthen the relationship between citizens and the government. How? Joshua Tauberer started a website called GovTrack.us to improve communication between the government and the citizens of this country. Govtrack.us is a tool used to track what is happening in congress. The website pools resources from a number of different website including Google Maps, local government website, campaign donation websites, etc. You can get customized rss feeds and emails that are relevant to your personal political interests. Furthermore, it collects information automatically from government websites (like Thomas.loc.gov) and represents it in a several new ways. For instance, there are websites that store public data on campaign donations and there are other websites that track earmark spending in legislative bills, but GovTracks.us combines the power of these existing sites in order to track the relationship between earmark spending and donations to study weather politicians are voting based on certain financial interests.

According to Tauberer, the U.S. Government only presents bills and laws in one perspective, but GovTracks.us uses the power of cloud computing to help you to see and understand them from a variety of different perspectives. Once concern of Tauberer’s is that government has no goals for how to incorporate technology into the legislative process in order to keep citizens more informed. Fortunately, there is lots of relevant data on government legislative actions, but there is no structure or a system to put relevant government databases together in a meaningful way to help the citizens understand what is going on in congress.

GovTracks.us is an example of how cloud computing can be used to bridge the citizens and congressmen. This panel helps to illuminate a powerful and influential social utility that can arise from cloud computing. If GovTracks.us can actually fulfill its purpose, such technology would prove to be a powerful tool for improving the democratic political system in this country.

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