The government is awash with acronyms. New acronyms are created daily. Acronyms create a barrier to understanding if they cannot be easily resolved, where easy = universal and universal = URL. There are many online dictionaries with entries that are found in Web searches. However, these return results only in highly formatted, not-well-formed HTML that is not always accessible through simple URLs. Furthermore, these dictionaries provide no way for the community to create and share new entries as they are needed. A simple solution to this is:

  1. Use the cloud to store terms and definitions
  2. Use Web services to return definitions through URLs as XML, JSON, and XHTML
  3. Provide a simple form that lets registered users add and edit terms

We have created a proof of concept here using XAMPP and
: http://dev.os.bridgeborn.com/wiktionary/

It’s not perfect or even complete. For example, the XHTML returns errors from the W3C validator. But I think this is a solid start and I’d like to open it up and see it go further. To that end, I submitted it as an idea for Sunlight Labs. We’ll see if it garners any votes of interest…

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Pretty cool. I’ve seen some lists of government acronyms which I think are useful. I know whenever I started a new gov job I had to learn a whole new list of acronyms. The problem is government has so many acronyms often they duplicate so we’ll have to make sure we de-conflict.

Kevin Curry


I agree that deconfliction is a tough challenge. That challenge has both human and technology facets. My hope is that domain attributes and source references will help. Source reference are URLs that point back to a site where the acronym was found. I’m not sure yet how best to support domain attributes. For now we treat them like tags, meaning users are free to assign whatever domain key word they want. At the very least each new definition for the same acronym gets its own domain(s) and source reference. Given that government is rigidly hierarchical, there may also be an opportunity to relate terms to something like the “Listing of OMB Agency/Bureau and Treasury Codes” (too shallow) or similar kind of org chart. When creating an acronym within a government office, one would hope that you could use the office as an identifier, even if informally, i.e., like a tag.