If you've been waiting to see all the standard Web 2.0 site features put to a socially significant use - wait no longer, check out OpenCongress.org. This beautifully designed site makes it far easier and more fun to track activities in the US congress than it's ever been since the organization was formed.

A project of the Participatory Politics Foundation and the Sunlight Foundation, OpenCongress is a site that anyone even remotely interested in politics should see.

The Feature Set

OpenCongress makes it easy to track particular bills, topics and congresspeople by RSS, a tracking page or an embeddable widget (see below, for example). A personal account can be created easily with OpenID, there's a perfect amount of AJAX making the site a joy to navigate and all kinds of outside news and data is pulled into the site, rated by users and actively discussed.

The widget above, about a particular bill in congress, is just one of many widgets you can choose from.

I don't usually pay much attention to politics, but within five minutes I built and subscribed to an RSS feed displaying the most recent votes of congresspeople from my area, news stories and blog posts about them and news about a few bills of particular interest to me.

I voted in favor of one bill myself and left a comment on the site about it. There were already a couple of other comments on the same bill and though most of them were worthless - I could hide those ones by turning up the rating criteria on a slider!

This is a really well put-together site that makes me want to pay attention to politics because the user experience is so smooth and compelling.

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Dream Features

What more could OpenCongress offer? There's so much there it's impossible not to ask for more - it really feels like the people behind the site might deliver it! I'd love to see live embedded video of discussions about bills of interest to me and IM alerts when those discussions are about to happen.

Right now the site uses Technorati to bring in blog posts about any bill you're looking at and then users click back to the site to rate the posts they've read. It would be nice to see some AideRSS integration so that we could subscribe to just the most commented on and linked-to posts in that feed.

Finally, I'd like to be able to configure what gets delivered in the feed I subscribe to; an option to opt-out of certain information sources like news stories would probably work best.

More fun with Congress

See also this cute little widget the Sunlight Foundation launched yesterday, displaying the most used word of the day on the floor of congress. Very interesting! A tag cloud is in the works and at that point it will prove of more actual use. Congress - it's not just for stuffy people any more!