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A fair fight?

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Nesta have an interesting blog post up about big data at the next election. It’s painful reading: it makes it sound like the election campaign will be something done by politicians to the rest of us. (Again).

Tom Steinberg, founder of mySociety, reckons that in the long run this technological arms race won’t put any party ahead because they’ll all end up with equivalent tools that cancel each out.

The signs are there: in a battle for the silliest name, the Conservatives are revamping a big database called ‘Merlin’, while Labour have ‘Nation Builder’ and the Liberal Democrats have VAN (‘Voter Activation Network’).

But while the parties might all end up on a level playing field, where does that leave the rest of us? They can recall how you said you’d vote ten years ago, when perhaps you can’t. But can you recall how they said they’d vote? And, as they target their messages ever more closely, how do you know they’re saying the same thing to everyone? In 2010 the political parties spent £31 million on their election campaigns; that’s a lot of noise to make a dent in.

For the next few elections it might be a case of ‘do, if you’d rather not be done to’. They know about us, but what do we know about them? If we wait until the formal campaign starts it’ll be too late to come up with a decent answer.

We’ve already talked about mapping some of the civic projects that are planned for the election but we also need to map what data’s out there and which of it is in useful formats. There’s all kinds of interesting stuff already out there:

MySociety lead the pack, with the new tools PopIt and SayIt they blogged about here yesterday.

Journalisted, from the Media Standards Trust, lets you keep an eye on news published online, and provides an API. The Guardian also provides APIs to its content.

Word is that Ipsos MORI’s social media analysis platform developed with Demos and the University of Sussex might become available for others to use by the time of the election.

Party Election Broadcasts are now pretty reliably on YouTube, so you can do interesting things with like adding factchecks.

And at local level, for example, Adrian Short has shared the code behind his Sutton Elections site.

In America, a new browser plugin tells you where your representative gets funding from. Could we do that here? As far as I know party funding information doesn’t have a useful API yet.

What else are we missing? Come along to the Democracy Club unconference this Saturday and let’s work it out and work out how to fix it.