Version control for Congress

Version control for Congress

Summary: Tim O'Reilly recently asked Karl Fogel, the force behind Subversion, to talk about versioning at a conference and got back some interesting suggestions about why versioning is more important in the modern world than ever. Karl said: [G]ood version tracking is important in a world where more and more creativity consists of mixing existing things together.

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TOPICS: Microsoft, Software
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Tim O'Reilly recently asked Karl Fogel, the force behind Subversion, to talk about versioning at a conference and got back some interesting suggestions about why versioning is more important in the modern world than ever. Karl said:

[G]ood version tracking is important in a world where more and more creativity consists of mixing existing things together.

One suggestion that seems to have garnered the most interest concerns applying versioning systems to the legislative process. Tim said:

They say you don't want to see either laws or sausages being made, but I think they are wrong. Imagine how much more transparency and accountability our government would have if it were possible to see what changes were made by whom, who inserted extraneous riders into various bills, and generally to track the influence of various interests by the new visibility into their actual control over the knobs and levers of government!

This would be both easier than you think and harder than you might think. Here's why.

It's easier because it's not that big of a leap from what legislation normally is. If you look at a piece of legislation, it's rarely the actual law. Instead, it's a list of changes to current law. That is, it's already in the form of a diff.

The hard part is that legislative control systems are usually quite ad hoc. In many places, I'd bet they're nothing more than Word (or more likely Word Perfect) files on someone's hard drive somewhere. Congress has an XML initiative that may help other legislative bodies. And this doesn't have the usual qualities you'd see in a successful open source project.

In short, the technology is pretty well understood, but getting the various legislative bodies in the US to understand the problem and appropriate money to fix it will be a long road.

The Sunshine Foundation has some interest in this. I'd think Tim's extraordinary convening power might be brought to bear as well. Maybe a day-long session before the next Emerging Technology conference would be fun and start a spark?

Topics: Microsoft, Software

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  • Why waste money on this type of "transparency"?

    The bottom line on this would be that there would be just a lot more wasted time and money debating intermediate things that ultimately meant nothing. Yes, Senator X added Rider 1. But all sorts of changes are made for all sorts of reasons. Instead of having 4-5 versions of a bill you would wind up with THOUSANDS. It would just generate more fodder for the talking heads who are not on the inside and don't know the real details. Why waste taxpayer's money on that?
    Rick_R
  • Version Control;

    Laws are like sausages. It's better not to see them being made.
    ...Otto Von Bismarck, 1815-1898

    if you can't convince 'em, confuse 'em
    ...Harry Truman

    The surest sign that intelligent life exists elsewhere in the universe is that it has never tried to contact us.
    ...Calvin and Hobbes (Bill Watterson)

    A few simple thought.
    Our Government is Broken.
    The Warantee is expired and the Maytag repairman can't fix it!

    Any people anywhere, being inclined and having the power, have the right to rise up, and shake off the existing government, and form a new one that suits them better. This is a most valuable - a most sacred right - a right, which we hope and believe, is to liberate the world.
    Abraham Lincoln
    Jaytmoon
  • Documents management systems have version control...

    Good documents management systems (even CMS systems) already have versioning features (history, merging, etc). It shouldn't be that difficult to show a diff listing of the whole history of a given document.

    This is not new, and it is not new technology at all. Is realy not being done already?

    Regards,

    MV
    MV_z