By Conor Kenny on October 09, 2007

On Tuesday, the Center for Media and Democracy and the Sunlight Foundation launched a new collaborative, citizen-driven project on Congresspedia to build profiles on the hundreds of challengers for congressional seats, which will compliment the existing profiles on every member of Congress. The project is non-partisan and, in true open-source fashion, is free for anyone to participate -- even the candidates themselves.

Even for official party nominees, information on challengers is usually woefully inadequate and information on primary challengers is often nearly non-existent. The explosion of citizen blogging in the last few years has created a wealth of individual opinions and perspectives, but what has been lacking is a central repository of collaboratively produced, in-depth and accurate information. The Wiki the Vote project, due to its easily editable wiki format, will be just that.

It is our hope that by having citizens work together to collaboratively build fully documented profiles, a central profile of each candidate can be created that will serve not only to educate citizens but also to give bloggers and diarists useful information to enrich their writing. We are also providing support from professional researchers (who also do some fact-checking) to assist the citizen editors.

We've started with nearly 300 basic profiles of candidates that 2008RaceTracker has identified as definitely running. We've also created a series of state-based portals that list all the candidates from each state and all the local blogs we could find that cover Congress at least occasionally - while Congresspedia is limited to confirmed facts, we're a big believer in the blogosphere and want to direct as many citizens as possible to the blogs written by the folks that know the candidates best - the locals. (Know a blog that's missing? Help add it.)

How Congresspedia is different from Wikipedia: Wikipedia has a few restraints that, in our view, make it an excellent encyclopedia but less useful for citizens to both read and contribute to as part of participating in democracy. On Congresspedia:

  • You can write from your point of view - Wikipedia requires that articles be written from a ""neutral point of view", "representing views fairly, proportionately and without bias." Congresspedia requires only that articles be "fair and accurate" - they must be referenced to an outside, verifiable source and must use fair language that does not obfuscate matters. Practically, this means that citizens are not forced to go research the opposition's point of view; you can let them worry about that. While this may arguably result in some "bias of content" if one side is more active than the other, we don't want to restrict citizens by requiring that they find facts that support the other side's views and are fine with depending on both sides to balance each other out.
  • Candidates (and campaign volunteers) are free to contribute "fair and accurate" information about themselves - Unlike Wikipedia, Congresspedia has no rule to "avoid writing or editing an article about yourself." We feel that contributions are best judged by the character of their content, not the identity of the person who contributed it. As long as these folks identify themselves on their user pages and their contributions are fully sourced and "fair and accurate," candidates are free to contribute information about themselves (or their opponents) and, in fact, is a good way to reach more citizens.
  • Congresspedia is designed to cover politics - Wikipedia's profiles of members of Congress and candidates are generally considered biographies of those individuals, with an emphasis on their life story. We could care less where a member of Congress grew up or who they married (unless that spouse was a lobbyist). We have also set up custom feeds from databases of congressional information (with more to come in the weeks ahead!) to combine data with narrative contributions and employ professional editors both to assist citizen editors and to provide a fact-checking function.

Help us profile the challengers and incumbents from your area. Select a state of your choice and then dive in. This week's featured project is to find and post photos the initial set of nearly 300 candidates.