LexFeed helps tracking legislation

LexFeed looks like a very interesting new service that helps to follow-up the legislative work of parliaments in several countries. Using online tools like Feedburner, page2RSS and changedetection LexFeed is a good example for the benefit of mashing up and enriching content: The service notifies via RSS oder via email about new proposals for law and about progress of the legislative process of selected files. This might be interesting for journalists as well as for lobbyists of companies or NGOs, alliances, lawyers, and of course for politically interested citizens.

LexFeed offers information on the work of US Congress, the European Union, and the parliaments of Belgium, France, Germany, Netherland, and UK. Since the service is brand new, I hadn’t the possibility to test it for a while. But the first impression is good: You can subscribe to lists of the most recent bills submitted to the parliaments as well as to individually selected bills. A separate feed is offered for the updates of every bill.

Since I did not find many details on the project and the people behind I had a short email conversation with Vic Mortelmans who is responsible for the project. Here’s a short interview:

Vic, who is standing for LexFeed?

Vic Mortelmans: LexFeed is a one-man initiative that started a couple of months ago. I’m 33 years old, located in Antwerp, having a university degree for engineering in computer science and working for an international company. I’m interested in politics, explaining the drive for this side-activity.

What was your motivation to start the service?

Vic Mortelmans: The motivation to start working on this was the blunt finding that the site of my national parliament (Belgium) didn’t provide any means to stay up to date with the parliamentary work, while there were a couple of proposals which I was interested in. The parliamentary process can take months, so regularly logging in  to the site to check for updates would be quite tedious. Bumping into other services, like page2rss, it became obvious that it would be rather easy to setup automated tracking for the parliamentary information. Once this effort was spent, other parliaments could be added more efficiently, as long as they provide some means to list recent proposals and access to legislative files.

Who should use LexFeed?

Vic Mortelmans: Target group of the service is anyone who’s interested in the parliamentary work: political journalists and bloggers, lawyers, politicians and (hopefully) citizens. Note that it’s quite interesting how none of the parliamentary websites which I visited, did offer the same tracking service!

Please tell us a bit about your efforts to set up the service.

Vic Mortelmans: As for the financial aspect, there’s mainly the domain name and some professional translation services to budget for, since all work is done in free-time, and once the setup is done, all updates are running automatically. Also the 3rd-party services involved are free of charge. Only maintenance required is in case the structure of the data offered on the parliamentary website changes, or if one of the tracking services (page2rss, changedetection) causes problems. These services are a keystone to the project, as they allow me to deploy the project with very limited effort (and maximum re-use of existing services). I believe this kind of interaction between online web-services is a quite interesting model for webservice development, the only drawback being the dependency on 3rd-party providers that may change or abort service without notice. As for page2rss, I’ve had contact with the developers of this service to implement some features that were specifically of use for LexFeed.

The commercial ads on the site, I hope, will cover the expenses for the domain name and the professional translation services used to create the foreign pages.

What are your plans for the service?

Vic Mortelmans: At this moment, roll-out is going on (more or less in sync with the different parliaments starting their activities after recess). I’d like to see if the service is stable and then check further development for other parliaments like Austria or Ireland, and also state parliaments like Scotland. The main barrier to further proliferation is language, being limited to understand dutch, english, german and french.

I believe at this moment there’s no similar service in place, be it governmental or private, in any of the European countries that I investigated. In the USA however, there’s a similar service „http://www.govtrack.us„, which goes even far beyond what LexFeed offers (and will ever offer).

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