The Changelog

Open Source moves fast. Keep up.

The White House shares their web API standards on GitHub #

A fine hat tip to Lisa Nelson for sharing this on Twitter.

From the readme:

This document provides guidelines and examples for White House Web APIs, encouraging consistency, maintainability, and best practices across applications. White House APIs aim to balance a truly RESTful API interface with a positive developer experience (DX).

We’re certainly fans of open government around here. This makes us smile.

What do you think? Discuss on Hacker News.

Export Esri feature classes to open data formats like CSV, JSON, and GeoJSON #

We’ve been covering the topics of open government and open data since nearly the start of The Changelog. More recently, we covered the city of Chicago being on Github and how they open sourced various datasets for civic and commercial usage. Needless to say, the topics open government and open data is something we hackers get excited about.

Wednesday — March 13th (2013), Michael Byrne, Geographic Information Officer for the FCC, announced a new project on Twitter, and welcomes your help to improve it.

From the readme:

Much of the data in government coffers is contained in spatial databases. A large percentage of government spatial data is ESRI software. While the common interchange format, the ESRI Shapefile, is easily exported and imported by many other softwares, this data file format (the Shapefile) is not intrinsically part of the www ecology.

Basically, many government agencies use proprietary software, such as ESRI software, to do their day to day data storage and analysis, but getting that data out and into an open data format like CSV, JSON, or GeoJSON takes some extra effort — esri2open helps to solve this problem.

Check out the project on GitHub to learn more and help improve it!

The City of Chicago is on Github #

Recently the City of Chicago released five datasets under an open source MIT License on GitHub.

The datasets released are:

  1. Street center lines in Chicago
  2. Building footprints in Chicago
  3. Bike routes in Chicago
  4. Pedway routes in Chicago
  5. Bike rack locations in Chicago

They had this to say:

Anyone can now change the data when new bike paths are built, when roads are under construction, and new buildings are erected. When you want to improve our data, just fork it. Users are encouraged to improve data accuracy, combine it with other data sources, or download and use it for analysis or a new app.

Users have the right to download, modify, or use it for any purpose, including commercialization.

This means that projects like OpenStreetMaps will be able to add over 2GBs of Chicago data to their site. This also means that companies and Chicago startups who would like to leverage this data are able to as part of daily business.

Chicago’s Code For America Brigade also recently forked Code for America’s Adopt a Hydrant project to start Chicago Shovel’s Adopt-a-Sidewalk site as well.

If you have questions or would like to speak with the City of Chicago’s data team, email or contact @ChicagoCDO on Twitter.

Discuss or up-vote on Hacker News.

Episode 0.6.5 – Code for America with Erik Michaels-Ober and Max Ogden

Adam and Wynn caught up with Erik and Max, Fellows at Code for America to talk about civic-focused development and open source. Items mentioned in the show: Apply now to be a 2012 Code for America Fellow – Deadline is July 31 LSRC V is just around the corner Follow @TheSassWay for your Sass news […]

Episode 0.4.7 – Open Government and the Citizen Coder with Carl Tashian

Adam and Wynn caught up with Carl Tashian from Open Government to talk about,, and the rise of the Citizen Coder. Items mentioned in the show: Carl Tashian is Director of Technology at Open Government OpenGovernment: Empower individuals and organizations to track government at every level – open source Rails app to […]

govkit: Open Government APIs in a box #

In the same way that Fog aims to be the “Ruby cloud services library” by providing an all-in-one bundle of wrappers for popular cloud services including Amazon, Rackspace, and others, GovKit from OpenGovernment is a Swiss Army Knife of government API wrappers. GovKit currently supports:

You’ll need to grab API keys for each service you want use. If you’re running Rails, GovKit includes a handy generator for creating an initializer to hold your config info in config/initializers/govkit.rb:

rails generate govkit

[Source on GitHub]

OpenGovernment: Empower individuals and organizations to track government at every level #


When 9 Trillion dollars goes missing from the Federal Reserve and the Federal Inspector General can’t explain the details of that missing money, what can “we” the people do about it? (See a visualization of 1 Trillion Dollars)

Watch this YouTube video to learn more about this insane debacle. Sadly, Alan Grayson (the questioner) never asked the simple closed-ended question, “So, is that a Yes or No?”. However, collectively, we can ask that question if we have open access to government data.

While OpenGovernment may not provide the answer to that specific question directly, it will certainly provide a level of government transparency like we’ve never seen before at the state, city, local and international levels.

What is OpenGovernment?

OpenGovernment is an open-source Ruby on Rails application for aggregating and presenting open government data, and it is based on, the most-visited not-for-profit site for tracking the federal U.S. Congress.

As a joint project of two 501(c)3 non-profit organizations, the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation, OpenGovernment will empower individuals and organizations to track government at every level.

A ‘beta’ version of OpenGovernment is planned to launch this month (January 2011) with information for five state legislatures: California, Louisiana, Maryland, Texas, and Wisconsin.

Moving forward, they are looking for non-profit funding to extend civic engagement to all 50 U.S. states, major cities, other countries, and beyond. Just as OpenCongress has grown to become a popular community site for watchdogging the U.S. Congress, OpenGovernment will empower individuals and organizations to track government at every level. And like OpenCongress, OpenGovernment is a non-partisan public resource, independent from any government entity or political party.

How can I give my support?

You can support the open-source work on OpenGovernment by becoming a Booster of the non-profit Participatory Politics Foundation (a tax-exempt recurring donation of $1/day), giving a one-time charitable gift, or by forking the code on GitHub and start hacking.

Their biggest limiting factor isn’t ideas, or a lack of valuable government info to make accessible, but rather web development time. There’s a huge wish list of data & features for this open-source community site, so hop in #opengovernment on, or join their Google Group to get in touch. Also, the project’s README is super thorough in setting up the application to start hacking.

Special thanks to Jeremy Ashkenas for this tweet about OpenGovernment’s Rails model for legislature.rb.

class Legislature < ActiveRecord::Base
  has_one :upper_chamber
  has_one :lower_chamber
  has_many :chambers
  has_many :committees
  has_many :primary_committees, :class_name => 'Committee', :conditions => 'committees.votesmart_parent_id is null'
  has_many :sub_committees, :class_name => 'Committee', :conditions => 'committees.votesmart_parent_id is not null'
  has_many :lower_committees
  has_many :upper_committees
  has_many :joint_committees
  belongs_to :state
  validates_uniqueness_of :name
  validates_presence_of :name

  has_many :sessions

  CONGRESS = Legislature.find_by_name("United States Congress")
  MAJOR_PARTIES = ["Democrat", "Republican"]

[Source on GitHub] [Homepage] [Comment on Hacker News]

Episode 0.1.3 – Civic hacking with Luigi Montanez and Jeremy Carbaugh from Sunlight Labs

Adam and Wynn caught up with Luigi Montanez and Jeremy Carbaugh from Sunlight Labs and discussed their Python and Ruby projects, government transparency, and civic hacking – open source contributions as activism. Items mentioned in the show: Real Time Congress – iPhone app for keeping tabs on Congress, built with Appcelerator Titanium Anthill – Django-powered […]