Thursday, January 15, 2009


As a response to Big Brother, the Public Accountability Initiative has launched a new website called - naturally - LittleSis. LittleSis describes itself as "an involuntary facebook for powerful people." It's a data aggregator which takes lists of public officials, Fortune 1000 companies, lobbyists, and the like, and then traces their connections by noting who has shared membership in a group with other people in the database. As an example Henry Paulson is automatically linked to people who've also worked in the Treasury Department, Goldman Sachs, or the Nature Conservancy (didn't know that!).

LittleSis is intended to be nonpartisan and the automatic linking of names from various lists will go a long way in ensuring that it remains so. The bias they have is their antipathy to the link between economic and political power. So far, no Screen Actors Guild listings, but they particularly like to assemble lists of who a person has donated money to, and from whom they've received donations (of the kind that would show up on public lists, anyway). If SAG is an active enough lobbyer, they'll surely show up.

It's early and incomplete, but this site has great potential for helping investigative types of all stripes. It works more or less automatically, once a name or a list of names has been added to the database; names and lists can be added by any registered user in a wiki-like fashion. Therefore, it's techno-economically* viable. Having just finished reading Gellman's book about Dick Cheney, I'm keenly aware of the power of information and just how difficult it is to maintain control of it. Now the common man can mine data, too. A more transparent world is likely to be a better world.

[PS. Major blogging faux pas - I forgot to link to my source for this. I learned about LittleSis from if:book, a terrific blog where I routinely find postings that are creative, thoughtful, and substantive. Be sure to check it out.]

*Is that a word? Sounds like something Neal Stephenson or William Gibson might already
have used.

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