White House hosting hackathon to improve petition site

White House hackathon
We the people like to hack

The Obama administration is taking its commitment to transparency to “We the People,” with a hackathon that is meant to usher in the second version of code for the online petition site.

The first-ever White House Open Data Day Hackathon will host a small group a skilled API developers who signed up for the event on the White House website.

“Participants will come to the White House to share their work, talk with the API developers, and submit examples to be included in a software development kit,” said Peter Welsch, the White House deputy director of online platform.

“In the weeks before the event,” he continued in a White House.gov blog post, “we'll give participants access to We the People's Read API methods so they can use them, ask questions, provide feedback, and build cool stuff.”

White House hackathon invites

Invites to the Feb. 22 hackathon go out by Friday. Even if you didn’t get a chance to apply or don’t get picked by the end of the work week, you’re not missing out on a paid-for jaunt to Washington, DC.

“You will bear any costs associated with travel and lodging,” states the White House hackathon application. “If you cannot come to the White House in Washington, DC to attend in person, you should not apply to take part in this event.”

In other words, the developers attending the hackathon are doing it for the love of open API, not for a taxpayer funded free trip.

We the People improvements to come

The White House hackathon is meant to be a “sneak peek” at the Petitions 2.0 Read API, which is scheduled to be released to the public in March.

This API will allow anyone to retrieve data on petitions, signatures, and responses.

The Read API will be followed by a Write API so that other websites and apps can collect and submit signatures without forcing users to visit WhiteHouse.gov directly.

“With this API in place we'll be able to decouple the presentation and data layers of the application and build a new, streamlined signature process,” said Welsch.

“Between that and our continued work on a white label theme, Petitions 2.0 will be easier for others to contribute to and reuse.”

Petition site’s success to move ‘Forward’

The flexibility of a Read and Write API should be able to afford We the People 2.0 to dramatically expand on the more than 10 million signatures logged by the system so far.

Approximately 6 million people have registered for the petition site, according to Welsch, who said that two million of them signed up in the last two months of 2012 alone.

“That's a lot of citizen engagement for one application to handle, but it's done well, and we continue to release updates to the source code on GitHub and Drupal.org.”

Sure, a small fraction of those registrants were likely just to inquire about building a real-life Death Star - probably by the same people who sent Pitbull to a Walmart in Kodiak, Alaska.

But the We the People team has since raised the signature threshold from 5,000 to 25,000 before a petition receives a reply, and gave a spot-on touche response to the whole Death Star matter.

Matt Swider