Home Can the Washington Post Create the Killer Political Database?

Can the Washington Post Create the Killer Political Database?

The Washington Post launched a new political database site today, lead by a top political blogger it snapped up this month from a leading new media site. Are these the types of steps that can help struggling newspapers thrive in the future? The Post could join the trailblazing efforts of organizations like the New York Times and the UK Guardian in making the newspaper of the future a database of public information, layered with analytic, visual and programmatic added value. That’s what we have hopes for, but it’s not clear yet that the Post knows what to do with its new site.

WhoRunsGov.com is the Post’s new site where readers can learn background information about the new Obama administration, members of congress, prominent military officials and others who now “run government.”

Old Media, New Guts?

WhoRunsGov is built on a Mindtouch Dekiwiki, the same sophisticated platform used by many other organizations to assemble data-centric application sites built largely on mashups. We’ve seen some awesome work done by IBM with a Dekiwiki for example, pulling in data using Dapper and mashing it up with maps APIs.

WhoRunsGov, on the other hand, looks mostly like a content site right now. A mix of political news and a would-be search engine magnet in the form of 240 pages about high profile political figures. The site is a moderated wiki, it includes blogs and it aggregates relevant news coverage from the Post and around the web. That’s cool, but it sure could be cooler.

Earlier this month the Post hired political blogging star Greg Sargent away from Talking Points Memo to write the lead blog on WhoRunsGov. Sargent’s posts should be good and popular, but we’d love to see them augmented with content based in a paradigm fresher than the old broadcast media. There’s a lot of third party data that could be pulled in to WhoRunsGov and there’s outbound APIs that could make it a much more valuable site, ultimately increasing its draw and traffic.

Five Projects Doing It Better

What would that look like? For some inspiring examples, check out Little Sis, described as “an involuntary Facebook of powerful Americans, collaboratively edited & maintained by people like you.” If you remember the Flash visualization theyrule.net, Little Sis is of the same vein, but a living site.

Little Sis is getting a lot of love from the Sunlight Foundation and its grand slam site OpenCongress.

The UK Guardian is doing a lot of things in this direction, most notably their initiative Free Our Data, where they are agitating for release of public data for the purpose of mashups. That’s pretty hot.

The New York Times has released multiple APIs and just announced a conference called Times Open, “for developers interested in working with NYTimes.com as a news and information platform.” (Disclosure: the NYTimes is a syndication partner of this site.)

The coolest political tech initiative we’ve seen in a long time is Memeorandum Colors, a Greasemonkey script on top of some really innovative data mining to determine the political leanings of blogs participating in the hottest online discussions each day.

Compared to those kinds of initiatives, WhoRunsGov looks a bit boring so far. There’s a lot of potential though, and we hope to see the Washington Post’s new initiative develop with more impact than it had when it came out of the gate.

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