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Yesterday's Word Was "Defense"

BY Dave Witzel | Thursday, September 11 2008

And the day before it was "energy." At least it was in the Congressional Record according to the Sunlight Foundation's Capitol Words project. (Disclosure: PdF's Andrew Rasiej and Micah Sifry serve as senior strategic advisors to the Sunlight Foundation.) On Tuesday I moderated a panel about sharing web content at the National Press Club where Sunlight's Clay Johnson gave a great overview of this fun and useful tool.

Capitol Words gives you a "the most common word used that day" perspective into what is happening on Capitol Hill. It uses data from the Congressional Record as compiled in Louis (which happens to be down right now. Something about the Louis server having an unfortunate encounter with a pot of coffee.)

Data goes back to January 2000 opening up the opportunity to see topics change (or not), over time. Clay gave this example of June 2008 when energy policy was clearly the focus of much debate.

Of course, as he pointed out, energy was also the topic of conversation in June 2007 and even before, in June 2005. Is there something we need to learn from history here?

Inspired by Clay's talk I had to see what the Congressional Record looked like with the text visualizations at IBM's "many eyes." So I scraped the Congressional Record for the House for one day (giving me new respect for the value of Louis!) I ended up with a tag cloud, a "wordle" (kind of like a tag cloud) and, my favorite, the word tree.

I'm convinced -- the potential for using new visualizations and smart database manipulation to improve the work of government is a rich arena.