Tuesday, June 30, 2009

Congress 2.0

“Web 2.0” technologies (like blogs, wikis and social networking sites) can be identified by their emphasis on dynamic content and user participation, as opposed to the more static websites that populated the early years of the World Wide Web. Although the term “Web 2.0” is now a decade old (original coinage), the technology continues to gain traction among all segments of the population. In February, marketers noted that Facebook’s fastest-growing demographic was women over the age of 55.

One such Facebook user is House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, whose official Facebook page communicates with constituents on political news and issues. Speaker Pelosi is just one of many politicos who have established a presence on social-networking sites. Other members of Congress have also embraced the popular micro-blogging service Twitter, including former presidential candidate Senator John McCain and former Senator-turned-President Barack Obama. Senators and representatives have also created YouTube channels and blogs.

As members of Congress continue to employ social media to disseminate their political views, it has become increasingly difficult to keep track of their online activities. Several websites aim to corral the social media activity of Congress into one convenient location.
  • Legistalker (http://legistalker.org) culls updates from legislators’ Twitter accounts and YouTube channels, as well as news feeds. The result is a real-time stream of congressional activity, which users can sort by Congressperson, media type, or popularity.
  • TweetCongress (http://tweetcongress.org/) is one of many directories of “Congresstweeple” (or, “members of Congress who use Twitter”). TweetCongress provides a “stream” of constant Twitter updates from Congress members, and allows users to locate individual “tweeple” by name or location.
  • Capitol Words (http://capitolwords.org) is a bit different from the previous two sites, which show examples of individual members of Congress using social media. In contrast, Capitol Words uses 2.0 technology to illustrate the work of Congress itself. The site presents the most popular words from the Congressional Record in a “tag cloud” format, where the size of individual words represents the frequency of their use. It’s an interesting way to track trends on the floor of Congress, and allows options for historic comparison.
Congress isn’t the only branch of government which has embraced 2.0. For examples from other federal agencies and departments, check out Connect with Government on USA.gov for links to blogs, RSS feeds, Twitter, video, and gadgets (a.k.a. widgets). Recent additions include the U.S. Government’s YouTube channel and the White House’s Facebook page.