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Efooing TheyWorkforYou.com

Sat listening to Stephan Magdalinski talking about TheyWorkForYou.com, and the data from FaxYourMP - it turns out that since FaxYourMP was launched, the response rate of MPs to letters has improved by 30%...

It turned out that the back end of the UK Parliament web site is flat files, which can be scraped and then worked with by software. Point 4 of the original objectives for the site is fun "makes it painfully obvious how useless and wrong-headed most government thinking in the  area currently is, by doing it so well, so fast and so gloriously that we throw the existing offerings into sharp relief".

The site also allows people the ability to comment and to add context to MPs statements - retrofitting the web to Hansard. There are RSS feeds of speeches and the like, along with a glossary of Hansard, which can be built using Wikipedia links, with peer moderation. The intention is that if there is a link to the outside world it is automatically added to the site, using the glossary as the key lookup. It's also intended that the site becomes a Google injector for UK Parliamentary information. The post code lookup for both TheyWorkForYou and FaxYourMP comes to about £1000 a year. The green colour on the TheyWorkForYou site is the same shade as the House of Commons official colour...

Comments have been an interesting feature, and are turning the site into a social software application. They can be used to add information to debates, such as the actual members' interests when they are related to the debate in question. There are plans for dealing with people who game the system - but nothing revealed...

The Hansard feed itself is very, very dirty. It's probably the result of stenography, with the addition of Perl scripts, badly-written Word macros and hand editing, with some hand-mark-up. This makes the whole parsing process rather difficult, and made the development longer than expected.

There's a lot still do - there's a need to handle Parliamentary committees and the House of Lords, as well as debates in Westminster Hall. They'd also like people to build new applications on the APIs they've developed - someone has built a tool that uses the XML interfaces to do keyword analysis by party affiliation.

There's even one MP, Richard Allan, actually working on the codebase! The code itself has been open sourced...

[Launch date is November 5th]