BillTrack50 wants to make it easier to search, engage with legislation
20 Feb 2013
Karen Suhaka shares her vision for BillTrack50.
Give us the BillTrack50 elevator pitch.
BillTrack50 provides convenient and user-friendly 50-state legislative data to both citizens and those with a professional interest.
What civic problem does BillTrack50 solve?
We are making it easier for citizens to research what their state legislature is doing about topics of interest to them, and look at trends and across the country generally. We’ve also given them the information they need to follow up with their representative, if they like. More importantly we have tools to help individuals and organizations more easily share information about pending legislation. For example see: http://missoulainsession.com/stakeholder.php The embedded bill tracker is our stakeholder page tool; we keep the basics updated – add relevant bills that get introduced, keep up with the latest status, votes, etc. Then the mayor of Missoula can add whatever additional information they would like to share with their residents, such as their position on each bill.
What's the story behind starting BillTrack50?
I am a serial entrepreneur, and most of my businesses have revolved around compiling publicly available data from state governments, and making it useful to consumers and businesses. After selling my last company I started looking for ideas for a new business. I came across the concept of online legislation tracking, and thought it would be great to break it wide open, and make it available for free for everyone.
We launched in March of 2012, and already have close to 2,000 registered users. However anyone can read bills on the site, registered or not, and in January of 2013 we passed 1,000,000 bills read on the site. People are embracing the ability to share bills they think are important; some share privately to an internal group, but most share publicly.
I think there are lots of smart people in our country, and somewhere someone has a good idea about every challenge we face. I want to get those people informed, and connected, to build a better country for everyone. It especially behooves people in government to stay aware of, and participate in, the democratic process as it relates to their area of expertise.
What are its key features?
Anyone can search for bills or legislators for free, and get a wealth of up-to-date information. Subscribers can save searches, set up alerts, and share their bill feed with others. The key feature that make all of our services useful is that the bill text and other information is open to everyone. So it’s easy to put our widget on your page to share bills you care about, and your readers can click through and learn more without any barriers. We also have a tool to make it easy to rate legislators and create a graphical, interactive scorecard on your site.
We have also processed all of the bills into uniform structured xml, which allows us to so some neat tricks, like comparing bill texts to see what has changed between revisions. Having the bills as data also allows me to do fun mathematical analysis, which I share on my blog.
What are the costs, pricing plans?
Basic access is free. Searching for bills requires you to register, which is free, you just need to give us your name and email. Subscriptions to save searches and user our other tools start at $500/year. See our product comparison matrix for more details.
How can those interested connect with you?