Open Government Update: GPO and CITP’s FedThread Project

The Federal Register has moved to an XML format. That has allowed Princeton’s Center For Information Technology Policy to be on the move once more. The new project is called FedThread. As the site puts it now that the Federal Register is in XML, “citizens [can] create new services that in turn provide value back to government. Kudos to the Government Printing Office, National Archives and Records Administration, and Office of Science and Technology Policy for making this all possible.”

What does this mean for the public? Through FedThread people can more easily track issues regarding “rules, proposed rules, and notices of Federal agencies and organizations, as well as executive orders and other presidential documents” as they are posted to the Federal Register website (weekdays except for government holidays). So today’s documents include material about the Delaware River Basin Commission, Department of Education, Federal Communication Commission, Department of Health and Human Services, and the National Science Foundation proceedings. Actions regarding postesecondary education, rulemaking at the FCC, and pandemic influenza vaccines are apparently on the table. Go to this link for today’s full list.

In other words, rejoice, wonk and non-wonk, for you may can now see what your government is doing. In fact FedThread offers some rather great features including:

* collaborative annotation: Attach a note to any paragraph of the Federal Register; start a conversation.
* advanced search: Search the Federal Register (back to 2000) on full text, by date, agency, and other fields.
* customized feeds: Turn any search into an RSS or email feed, which will send you any new items that match the search query.

As I understand it, one can set up a search and receive updates about the topic. Policy makers, academics, and engaged citizens should take advantage of these features. It should allow one to see how the law is evolving and take action much more quickly than before.

One point for those who may confuse making a note with a comment. FedThread is not affiliated with the U.S. government. Notes appear on the FedThread site but are not part of the Federal Register. Formal comments must follow the proper procedures related to commenting on whatever particular topic upon which one wishes to comment. In addition, the notes are just that, notes of those who wnat to share their views about a topic. It should open debate and discussion, but as with many areas of the Web, one will have to sort between useful and irrelevant notes.

I am sure I will learn more from my colleagues here at CITP as the project moves forward. For now, I hope people enjoy the offering.

For those interested in “some of the driving principles behind the project,” this paper Government Data and the Invisible Hand is a good place to start. Last, I want to call out the people involved in building this project. Joe Calandrino, Ari Feldman, Harlan Yu, and Bill Zeller developed it. Calvin Lee at Princeton’s Student Design Agency handled the graphic design. Prof. Ed Felten and Stephen Schultze led the project. You can contact FedThread at info@fedthread.org.

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