Waldo’s itch

In his latest web creation, blogger Waldo Jaquith has turned his attention on a place where the sun never–-okay, well, rarely shines–-the inner workings of the Virginia General Assembly.

His new website, Richmond Sunlight, which debuted this week after five months (and after about 100 people tested it, says Jaquith) in the 28-year old website developer, and self-styled political commentator, DMB fan, and local enfant terrible's web workshop, allows users to easily find and track legislation, make public comments about it, and even vote on a bill's popularity.

The site also features such exclusive web language as tag clouds, popularized most widely by the photo sharing website Flickr, in which an alphabetical list of words or terms (tags, as they say) most often used by users serves as a kind of visual search engine, the font size of each word indicating the topic's popularity on the site–-the fatter words being the more popular. In Richmond Sunlight's case, the bigger the font size on a certain word or phrase, the more bills there are on that topic. For example, the term "commendation" looms like a dramatic cumulous cloud on the page. Sure enough, click on it, and you are presented with a long list of bills seeking to commend someone or something.

"Building this website was mostly a case of scratching an itch," says Jaquith. "I use the General Assembly's website to keep up with what's going on in Richmond, and I saw so much possibility there. Being a believer in the power of the free market, I figured I could build something better that would be more useful to me and others."

If you've visited the site, you may have noticed the Virginia Interfaith Center for Public Policy's logo and link top right. That's because Jaquith gifted his creation to the self-described "nonpartisan coalition of faith communities," a political advocacy organization that seeks to educate people of faith about their government, help the most vulnerable, and provide a "spiritual presence" in the Virginia General Assembly.

"It seemed to me that the site would benefit from being owned and operated by a nonpartisan organization, rather than me," says Jaquith, mentioning that Interfaith's executive director, Rev. C. Douglas Smith, was a friend and former classmate of his at the Sorensen Institute. "The Center will be around long after I'm sick of running the site, they'll have access to grants and partnerships with groups that otherwise wouldn't be interested, and they remove any question of partisanship. So I gave them the site. I'll operate it for them for the next six months, and then I'll transition it over to an editor and a web-master that they'll hire."

Of course, Jaquith hopes the website will make it easier to see what exactly legislators are up to in Richmond, but he also hopes the site will result in increased governmental transparency, greater citizen awareness of proposed legislation, and more give-and-take between constituents and their legislators.

"There's a wealth of information among the populace, those affected by the bills, in particular, and providing a venue to share that information could well prove valuable," he says. "I'm enamored by the statistics that I've been scattering about the site, with things like the average number of bills introduced per legislator, the top ten bill filers, and the most popular bills based on votes from site visitors."

3 comments

I just spent some time checking out this site, and I find it fascinating and just about irresistible. The commentary is mostly intelligent and not personal (hopefully that will continue), and some of the bills being introduced just defy all common sense. My favorite is the law that makes it illegal to commit illegal acts. How stunningly inane.

Great site - nice work. Exceedingly usable - bravo!

So when does the Federal version come out? ;-)

If you've experienced "Waldo's itch," please consult your physician. Especially if it's affecting where the sun never shines.

Waldo rocks!