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Letter to the House of Representatives

Regarding RSS feeds. Submitted via email 21 April, 2003.

To the Office of the Clerk
U.S. Capitol
Room H154
Washington, D.C. 20515-6601
techsupport.clerkweb@mail.house.gov

Thank you for your hard work and development on the U.S. House of Representatives web site. I find it to be an excellent, up-to-date resource for learning more about the House.

I have a suggestion to make regarding the site. I think you should make the floor summary, information on recently passed bills, and all other time-based information regarding the house available to the web in RSS format.

RSS is an XML format for web site syndication. It lists the most recent files added to a web site, and is updated whenever a site is updated.

RSS files or "feeds" are then downloaded on a recurring basis by two groups of people: those who read the items in an RSS file inside of "news aggregators," and web sites that display items in an RSS file as headlines. A web site that both displays such headlines and makes them available to other sites is Slashdot.org.

(You may know all about this already. If you don't, a good place to start in learning about this topic is this web site....)

I suggest this course of action because, by adding RSS feeds to the site, you would allow thousands of individuals (and, in the next few years, millions) to have regular, daily access to the latest information about the actions of the U.S. House of Representatives, and you would allow personal web site publishers to include House headlines on their own web sites.

I believe this would be a marvelous use of the Internet to encourage a participatory public and open flow of information regarding the actions of the House. I publish a web site, Ftrain.com, which has a regular audience of civic-minded individuals. Many of my readers, I know, would welcome an opportunity to skim through recent House actions. An RSS feed would make it easy for me to include House activity on the front page of my site. It is a small thing, but I believe it would be a low-cost effort that would increase the ability of American citizens to engage more fully in understanding the actions of the legislative branch of our government. Sort of like a really simple, low-budget, XML-based version of C-SPAN.

In researching the issue, I have found that I am not alone in this desire. The supreme court of appeals of West Virginia, for instance, makes their RSS feeds available with recent opinions, and civil, criminal, and family topics.

I am by no means an expert in all aspects of both House process and the dynamics of XML syndication, but I understand enough to help you in planning your RSS feeds. If you would like me to act as an informal advisor for this effort, or explain my ideas further, I would be glad to volunteer time via email or over the phone. Please send me an email if I can be of any assistance.

Paul Ford
http://ftrain.com
188 W 9 St #5
Brooklyn, NY 11231-3954


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About the author: I've been running this website from 1997. For a living I write stories and essays, program computers, edit things, and help people launch online publications. (LinkedIn). I wrote a novel. I was an editor at Harper's Magazine for five years; then I was a Contributing Editor; now I am a free agent. I was also on NPR's All Things Considered for a while. I still write for The Morning News, and some other places.

If you have any questions for me, I am very accessible by email. You can email me at ford@ftrain.com and ask me things and I will try to answer. Especially if you want to clarify something or write something critical. I am glad to clarify things so that you can disagree more effectively.

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