“You Talkin’ [about] Me?”

This is a guest post by Tom Steinberg, Director of mySociety, a not-for-profit social enterprise based in the United Kingdom.

If the mayor of your city started talking about you in speeches, would you want to know?

Or if the planning committee in your town started to talk quite a lot about your house, or your street, would you want to know that?

Or if the people immediately responsible for funding your child’s school started to discuss whether or not to cut funding to it, would you have any interest in knowing what was being said?

I don’t think it’s too radical to suggest that basically anyone with normal human curiosity would probably want to know these things. And yet as of today the internet really doesn’t help much with this problem at all. In the U.K., where I live, we run a service that helps a little bit: we send about 30,000 custom mails a day telling people whether certain keywords were spoken in Parliament yesterday. But this sort of service basically doesn’t exist anywhere else.

And that is why we’ve built SayIt — an open source Poplus component that’s all about making, storing and sharing the words that powerful people say in ways that mean normal people will actually get to hear about it.

Here’s a demo of it featuring JK Rowling being interviewed about media intrusion.

And here’s a version that’s been built inside a new South African website for monitoring what goes on in their Parliament. SayIt is, basically, a modern way of handling transcripts — suitable for the era of sharing, searching, alerting and other normal web activities.

Code for America has very kindly let me blog today because we’re looking for people and organizations in the U.S. that would be interested in setting up some demonstration deployments of SayIt, either within existing websites, or as new services.

We’re looking to collaborate with people who think that a service that would let citizens find out what certain kinds of powerful people had been talking about would be a really positive contribution to life in their city or state — something they’d be genuinely excited to be part of. And thanks to the ever-generous Knight Foundation, we even have some funds to help things run smoothly.

We’re very happy to talk to people working for governments, who we very much hope will become users of (and contributors to) SayIt over time. But the easiest place to get started is actually collaborations with citizens outside governments, who aren’t so constrained by officialdom. If that sounds like you, or you’re interested in any way, then please do drop us a line. We look forward to hearing from you, and to helping you get cool new services online in your city or state.

Questions? Comments? Hit us up @codeforamerica.

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