The White House recently hosted its We The People API hackahton. The twenty-one people gathered there is not the usual kind that you would at a hackathon. Still, these folks were there to support a great cause: increasing access to the White House petitions system.
We the People is based on the First Amendment principle that every citizen has the right to petition the federal government “for a redress of grievances.” The We the People website and API attempt to bring that principle and promise into the current and future centuries by digitizing tools for submitting and circulating petitions.
From the White House’s official blog post:
By the time the sun set over Washington on the 22nd, sixteen people got up to share their projects with a room packed with other hackers and guests from around the White House. Among them was Mick Thompson, who created Where the People, a time-lapse visualization of zip codes where petitions are being signed, weighted for signatures by percentage of population. Douglas Back built Widget the People, a tool that lets you create an embeddable thermometer showing how many signatures your petition needs before it reaches the response threshold. Catherine D’Ignazio developed an embeddable map that shows where signatures came from, right down to the zip code level. Yoni Ben-Meshulam’s R We the People is a package for the R statistics environment that allows users to generate word clouds and visualize the issues that petitions are created about over time. Other projects included a dashboard that predicts when petitions will cross the 100,000 signature threshold, documentation and step-by-step primers on using the API, email alert systems that inform you when a petition on an issue you care about has been created, and more. …
By letting this group of smart people work with an early version of the API, by helping them come up with their own ideas and bring them to life, we found ways to make both We the People and its API better. Some of the projects from the hackathon will be released as open source code, or incorporated into We the People itself, but all of them helped the team from the White House find ways to make the API more flexible, better documented, and easier to use when it’s officially released.