Friday, January 9, 2009

NYT Quietly Launches New "API" That Shows You How Congress Votes. It Looks Pretty Cool.

Yesterday, The Times launched its third, "Congress API" for developers, which lets you track the way congressional representatives vote, and offers substantial information about the way government works.

We're not developers so we can't log in, but it looks very cool -- and it's clearly another clue into the ways the Times hopes to serve its audience in the future, with ways to access significant amounts of information about the world without ever leaving the Times website.

Last year, the Times launched a similar "API" (that's an application performing programming interface, stupid Nytpicker!) for people gathering information on political campaign contributions, and another for movie reviews. These applications allow users to find, sort and read through vast amounts of data and information with speed and ease.

This latest venture, revealed yesterday on the Times's "Open" blog, offers a comprehensive way to watch the votes of a particular member of Congress, or a specific piece of legislation:

The initial release exposes four types of data: a list of members for a given Congress and chamber, details of a specific roll-call vote, biographical and role information about a specific member of Congress, and a member’s most recent positions on roll-call votes.

The four work together, so you can start by retrieving a list of members, find the one(s) you’re interested in and then fetch additional details through other calls. We built this service to work with other publicly available data sources, so you can identify members of Congress with a seven-character code from the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress. For individual member responses, we included the numeric ID assigned by GovTrack, a free and open-source service that monitors legislative activity.

If you didn't quite follow that -- it's okay, we had to read it three times -- basically the deal is that you type in a number for your representative, and up pops about as much information about their voting record as you could gather in a week at the public library.

Why is the Times squirreling away these rad applications, and launching silly opinion blogs on the front page of its website? These APIs deserve their day in the sun, and not just for developers who gain permission to enter. We're ready for the future, and we like what you're doing. Bring it on.


Anonymous said...

They're just trying to figure out how and how much to charge for it.

Anonymous said...

I'm not calling you stupid (honestly, I'm really pleased you're highlighting APIs), but API is short for Application Programming (sic) Interface


Thanks for being so kind, but we actually are stupid when it comes to these things. Correction made and stupidity acknowledged, above.

Anonymous said...

"We're not developers so we can't log in" - the login for the times api pages is the same as your login. also, there's nowhere to "type in" a number once you do login. apis are for building your own apps. theyre not actually apps. not trying to criticise, just trying to help!


Okay, we admit it: we don't get this API stuff. If someone from the Times wants to send us an explanatory email at, we'll be glad to print it verbatim as an update.

Meanwhile, please forgive our feeble attempts to chronicle things we do not understand. We swear, we went to college, got A's in math, and even know what an "app" is.

Anonymous said...

Don't despair at the technical nitpicks (or nytnitpicks I guess). It's awesome to see you highlighting these API efforts.