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SOPA: In Congress, Who's For And Who's Against, And Why? Mashing Up Public Data, SOPAOpera.org Offers Suggestions

BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Tuesday, January 10 2012

SOPAOpera.org, a project of ProPublica Developer/Journalist Dan Nguyen.

Quick: Which members of Congress support or oppose a pair of controversial anti-piracy and anti-counterfeiting bills currently speeding through both chambers?

Can't name them off of the top of your head? There's a new site that can not only help you to quickly keep track, but also enables you to visually sort those supporters and opposers with a few simple clicks.

The site, aptly, is called SOPAOpera.org, in honor of the name of the House version of the legislation, the Stop Online Piracy Act. (The Senate version is the "Preventing Real Online Threats to Economic Creativity and Theft of Intellectual Property Act of 2011," or PROTECT-IP.)

"I created this site because while I had read a lot of rhetoric about these laws, I found it extremely frustrating to find exactly who supported these laws and for what reasons," ProPublica's Dan Nguyen writes as part of the site's mission statement.

He further explains on his personal blog:

I’ve always been interested in exploring the various online Congressional information sources and the recent SOPA debate seemed like a good time to put some effort in it…also, I’ve always wanted to try out the excellent isotope Javascript library.

Nyguyen noted what many government transparency geeks have long bemoaned: the "official" government web sites don't make it easy to track and correlate basic facts and information about legislation. Hence SOPAOpera.org.

Visitors to the site can immediately see that there are 81 supporters of the two bills in both chambers and 25 opponents. But they can also click on links to the specific bills and get a list of supporters of each bit of legislation in both chambers.

Nguyen has used mug shots of each member of congress to form a sortable matrix on the site's main page. This makes it visually easy to see the different configurations of support and opposition to the legislation.

For example, clicking on party affiliation reorganizes the tiles to show that the majority of supporters of the legislation are Democrats (42 v. 38 Republican opponents.)

Supporters are classified as those who have co-sponsored the legislation, voted to move the legislation forward and "goes out of his/her way to defend the law in public" according to the web site. Opponents are those who've spoken out against it, withdrawn sponsorship of the legislation, support amendments or competing legislation that would "undermine" the legislation.

Other interesting ways to sort the supporters and opponents in Congress are by age, state, industry contributions and by years served in Congress.

Given that there are so many activists out there trying to reach their members of Congress on this issue right now, the site should serve as a useful reference point for them, and anyone interested in what all the fuss is about.

It's also an awesome example of the power of all the hard work that open government activists have poured into making congressional data accessible in the past few years. The site draws on data sources from The New York Times, the Sunlight Foundation, Open Congress, GovTrack.us, the Center for Responsive Politics' OpenSecrets and, of course, THOMAS.

Back in July, Nick Judd wrote a guide to how to reach your member of Congress, online or offline.

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