Personal Democracy Plus Our premium content network. LEARN MORE You are not logged in. LOG IN NOW >

White House Announces a Major Upgrade to "We the People" Petition Site

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, February 5 2013

The White House's "We the People" online petition site will soon get a read-only application programming interface, with a write API in development, White House Deputy Director of Online Platform Peter Welsch announced Tuesday in a blog post.

This means that developers will soon be able to build applications that display information about petitions, signatures, and responses. When the White House releases its write API, organizations like SignOn.org or Change.org will likely be able to collect and submit signatures to a White House petition from their own websites — potentially keeping copies of the email addresses for themselves.

Launched in 2011, We the People allows users to submit a petition to the White House and then go out to drum up supporters. When petitioners reach an ever-changing signature threshold, now at 100,000 names, the White House promises to get back to them with a response. The official answer is emailed directly to them and posted on the White House website.

Critics have sniped at the project recently because, as more people have found out about the platform, some fundamentally unserious petitions crossed the threshold. But the White House has been using some communications jujitsu. A petition calling for the U.S. to build a Death Star became an opportunity to flog NASA's space program. Responding to another one that urged CNN host Piers Morgan's deportation for his comments on gun control, White House Press Secretary Jay Carney asked for a little more faith in the First Amendment — and snuck in a note about President Barack Obama's support for the Second Amendment, too.

The promise of an honest-to-goodness interaction with the White House has drawn two million new users in the last two months of 2012 alone, Welsch wrote. But it hasn't allowed organizations to link their users into the White House system, keeping the time-worn practice of online petitioning to little more than email list-building exercises. Beyond all the ways a developer could make use of the read API — tracking petitions that are removed, for instance, displaying brand-new petitions, or analyzing petitions and connecting ones with common characteristics like similar keywords — a write API would change that.

The read API is scheduled for release in March 2013. The White House has not announced a release date for the write API. The administration is hosting a hackathon on Feb. 22 and will offer API access to developers taking part, Welsch wrote. The deadline to apply is Feb. 6 at 5 p.m.

This post has been updated to fix a typo.

News Briefs

RSS Feed thursday >

NYC Open Data Advocates Focus on Quality And Value Over Quantity

The New York City Department of Information Technology and Telecommunications plans to publish more than double the amount of datasets this year than it published to the portal last year, new Commissioner Anne Roest wrote last week in an annual report mandated by the city's open data law, with 135 datasets scheduled to be released this year, and almost 100 more to come in 2015. But as preparations are underway for City Council open data oversight hearings in the fall, what matters more to advocates than the absolute number of the datasets is their quality. GO

Civic Tech and Engagement: Announcing a New Series on What Makes it "Thick"

Announcing a new series of feature articles that we will be publishing over the next several months, thanks to the support of the Rita Allen Foundation. Our focus is on digitally-enabled civic engagement, and in particular, how and under what conditions "thick" digital civic engagement occurs. What we're after is answers to this question: When does a tech tool or platform enable actual people to make ongoing and significant contributions to each other, to a place or cause, at a scale that produces demonstrable change? GO

monday >

Tweets2Rue Helps Homeless to Help Themselves Through Twitter

While most solutions to homelessness focus on addressing physical needs -- a roof over the head and food to eat -- one initiative in France known as Tweets2Rue knows that for the homeless, a house is still not a home, so to speak: the homeless are often entrenched in a viscous cycle of social isolation that keeps them invisible and powerless. GO

More