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Building a Congressional Member's Prototype Website

Fifteen Years in the Making

Having built over 30 congressional websites (only one Mouse award and a Top Ten award), as well as the first Democratic web template, written a law to help, and installed the first content management system (after a couple years of lobbying to allow content mgnt.), I have spent much of the last fifteen years working toward this idea of a tool to allow congressional staff to publish and communicate without needing geeks (or other bottlenecks). In the last couple of years I have attempted to get funding for this project. However I did create a few documents that mapped out what I thought a site should include.

Included highlights will be:

Every page will have related links to associated legislation and congressional actions automatically generated.

Include an automated search and deliver system for Congresional memos, including all generic CRS memos and Dear Colleague letters if they are available to all Members of Congress.

Offices will be able to automatically add roll call votes with or without their commentary.

Offices can add schedules, earmarks and other important information that can be grabbed by software right from the web pages/HTML.

Automatic syndication to Twitter and other social media platforms while always creating an official copy.

Help Members of Congress post videos to their own site that have closed captions.

Make it easier for constituents and advocacy groups forward constituent messages to be sent, received and considered.

Always abide by accessibility guidelines.


Content Management Software (geekspeak alert)

I also based this on using Plone. This was not a light decision. After having helped build a couple of proprietary content management systems, used a few others, and sketched out what was most important, I found Plone. Unlike most other systems, open source or proprietary, Plone is Section 508/accessible from start to finish and produces valid XHTML (as opposed to most CMS's that can not produce good HTML). Plone is based on an object database which gives it an unfair advantage since SQL based systems map poorly to web/XML formats, encoding/URLencoding, and datatypes. Based in part on using an object database, Zope, Plone produces valid XHTML and non-server/technology based URLs (Cool URIs). Although, I am hoping that one day there is a content management stack of XML/XHTML/CSS3/Javascript/AJAX/XSD/XSLT/XQuery/XPointer, but for now Plone seems to be the cleanest one.

Plus it is easy to use, build workflow, and integrates with OpenID. Note: test this site with the W3C validator, then try any others built with others. WordPress and other blog management systems are not bad choices as they at least put out fairly clean code. And finally, Plone has built in Section 508 compliance and internationalization out of the box (just click on the accessibility link at top of page).

See my checklist for a good CMS.


Prototype Documents

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