Keeping track of an issue within the U.S. government can be daunting. The government is gargantuan, with thousands of entities publishing a constant flow of news and information across many thousands of websites and social media platforms.
Say you have a client who has an interest in food labeling law. To track everything concerning food labeling that the government is putting out through press releases and policy statements and speeches and through Twitter and Facebook and YouTube would be a full-time job, if even that would get it done.
A new web platform developed by a lawyer, Voxgov, aims to make it easy for users to track and analyze this constant flow of U.S. government news and media. It describes its mission as becoming “the established site of record for unedited media, news and information from all official government sources.”
What that means is that it aggregates in real time all the information flowing out of the federal government and delivers it to you in a single platform. If the Federal Trade Commission posts a press release, it shows up in Voxgov within three minutes, they say.
Voxgov came out in beta six months ago. It will formally launch out of beta on Jan. 6. And while it currently collects only federal government information, it plans to add all 50 states by the end of March.
Useful and Intuitive
I have been using Voxgov for the last two weeks and I am impressed by its ability to pull together information from sources spread across all three branches of government, including social media, and serve it all up in a useful and intuitive interface.
Equally impressive are its analytics and filtering tools that let you slice, dice and filter information in multiple ways.
The best way I can explain how it works is to walk you through an example. In the screenshot above, I have searched for the phrase “food labeling.” The main results are in the center column, where you see press releases, legislation, Congressional documents, Federal Register entries, and other sorts of media. Check boxes at the top of the center column let you choose what sorts of media to display. Uncheck “Releases,” for example, and they will no longer appear in your search results.
The right-hand column shows social media results from Twitter, YouTube and Facebook. These results are shown in a separate column to keep from cluttering the center-column results. However, if you’d prefer to see Twitter results in the center column, simply check the “Twitter” box there.
Across the top of the screen is a timeline graph showing levels of activity related to your search. The green line shows activity by federal agencies and the blue and red lines show activity by political party. Here again, any of these lines can be removed by unchecking the box above the graph; if you want to see activity only for Republicans, uncheck the other boxes.
Down the left-hand column are the “facets” or filters by which you can narrow your search results. If you want to see results only for female legislators from Massachusetts, you can do that. In the screenshot above, you cannot see the full list of filter categories. The full list includes:
- Entities, such as by name, organization or place.
- US Legislature, including broad categories such as House and Senate and narrower ones such as House Republican Leadership.
- Party Affiliation.
- State Delegations.
- Sources, listing all sources that produced matching results.
- Congress, to filter by “113th Congress” or “104th Congress.”
- Categories, such as health and medicine, labor and employment, and education.
- Content, to filter by specific content type, such as newsletters, speeches, bill amendments and the like.
- Branch of Government
As you search, the history of your search results are shown in a “breadcrumb trail” that lets you easily click back to any previous point in your search history. You can also search within your search results or start a new search from any page.
A couple of other noteworthy points about searching within Voxgov:
- You can save any search. Once you do it, you can view it on your “My Voxgov” page, where it will stay until you delete it. You can view results for all your saved searches as a single stream or by individual search.
- To follow a particular source, simply click the plus sign that appears in the top right corner of any source photo.
- You can bookmark a particular piece of content. It can then be viewed from your My Voxgov page.
- You can create reports by using the “Add to Report” button to add individual items.
- You can create email alerts for any saved searches and followed sources.
Ask the Librarian
On almost every page of Voxgov is a prominent red button in the upper right corner that says, “Ask Our Librarian.” Click this anytime between 8:30 a.m. and 5:30 p.m. Eastern time and you reach real person. The librarian’s job is to help you with your research on Voxgov. If at any point you are stuck, lost or confused, click the red button.
Just as the search page provides a variety of information and filters, so do the results pages, as the screenshot above shows. The main heading identifies the source, the date and the media type and provides a link to the original source document. You also get a summary of the document and the full text.
Compare Handling of an Issue
Another nice feature of Voxgov is the ability to compare how any two parties, groups or people dealt with an issue over a specified timeframe. The above comparison shows House Democrats versus House Republicans on the issue of food allergies. The chart shows their relative levels of activity and the two columns show content from Democrats on the left and Republicans on the right.
Scope of Coverage
So what type of content does Voxgov track? It includes:
- Official releases, including press releases, decisions, opinions, orders, media advisores, op-eds, blog posts, speeches, transcripts of testimony, newsletters and several other content types.
- Legislation, including bills, amendments, resolutions and laws.
- Congressional documents, including committee reports, conference reports, joint reports, Congressional Research Service reports, and more.
- The Federal Register
- Social media from more than 4,000 official government accoutns.
As I noted earlier, Voxgov says it will add content from all 50 states by the end of March.
If I’ve so far tempted you to try Voxgov, now comes the sticker shock. The price to subscribe varies depending on a number of factors, including number of users and the nature of the end-user. Roughly speaking, it works out to $450 per user per month. The more users you have, the less the monthly fee, and pricing is different for academic institutions than for profit-making enterprises. Pricing in that ballpark is in line with at least some other government and legislative tracking services.
As I noted at the outset, Voxgov is slated to come out of beta and formally launch on Jan. 6. Already, it is a refined and well thought out product. It is extremely easy to use, both when searching for results and in filtering results, and includes a number of useful features for tracking, analyzing and comparing specific sources. And when all else fails, it has an actual human available to help you at the click of a button.
Voxgov would be a useful service for lobbyists and government-affairs lawyers, general counsel, and any lawyer with a significant need to track government activity on specific topics across a range of sources and in real time. I say “significant need” because of the price. There are cheaper and even free ways to monitor government goings-on (see, for example, the various Sunlight Foundation tools), but I’m not aware of anything that compares to Voxgov in its ability to monitor a broad scope of government media in real time and deliver it all in a simple and intuitive interface.
[Note: This post was corrected on Jan. 2, 2014, to reflect that the pricing is not a set, per-user amount, but varies based on several factors.]