Nothing Like Sunshine to Spark the Mind

This past friday I was lucky enough, thanks to our affiliation with NewAssignment.Net and my previous work with with The Sunlight Foundation and the ever-dynamic Micah Sifry to attend an invited shindig called Open(Data)/Open[Gov] (tagged odog06 on places like flickr and technorati) hosted by the Mitch Kapor Foundation in SF. I don't think I can improve much on Tara Hunt's overall assesment:

An amazing group formed on Friday, consisting of many of my heros, like Clay Shirky, Doc Searls, Allison Randal and Janice Fraser, and was well-moderated by Gunner. Looking over the schedule the night before, Chris and I were excited that the interesting schedule consisted of a morning of getting to know one another and getting the creative juices flowing, while the afternoon consisted of more directed discussions (one of which we were leading). The day ended very productively and many of us set off with our individual tasks.

I didn't lead any sessions or look things over the night before with Chris (natch), but I was also deeply honored -- and I must say a mite bit intimidated -- by being included as a peer with so many heavyweights and heroes. Future events are in the works, and should have a more barcamp-style model, which will be exciting.

I was also pleasantly surprised to see old comrade Nicholas Reville (who I know originally from DownHillBattle as part of my days at Music For America) showing off a sweet project called Open Congress. I don't have a login to the beta, but I did see it demoed, and it's moi caliente.

There were so many amazing projects there focused on dragging the hard data about government -- principally money and votes -- into the light of day, I couldn't help getting a buzz. Check out Open Secrets, Follow the Money and Fedspending.org for a taste. The best part is that everyone is seeing the light on APIs, so we can expect the next year or two to produce some really great widgets, mashups and innovative uses to all this awesome data. Providing some of the major procedural roadblocks (e.g. no voting at 3am without time to read the laws) are cleared up by Speaker Pelosi's ethics reform, it seems like we are, as a country, set to start reversing the trend over the past decade or so towards opacity and payola in the halls of Congress. That gets my juices flowing both personally and professionally.

In the afternoon session, I also semi-volunteered to help the likes of Clay Shirky, Zephyr Teachout and NZ Bear to help setting up a transparency PAC. Should be fun. I'll blog here about that.

As an end-note, it was neat to participate with NZ Bear (aka Rob), as he's someone I know to be much more conservative than me, a Libertarian who politically sides with Republicans for the most part. I'm a two-fisted liberal/progressive partisan at heart, but I also believe that divisions, competition and adversarial systems create really good outcomes. The contemporary mainstream political discourse is pretty worthless, but I have high hopes that the online world will bring back the vitally important traditions of real debate, and cross-partisan coalition building. Our whole gestalt of openness, exchange, and ad-hoc organization seem to point in that direction, but it's clearly going to be a while before the divide becomes productive rather than rancorous. Every time I have a good interaction "across the isle" it gives me hope.