Tuesday, September 25, 2007

An Interview with Scott Yates of LGDB.com

Recently I alerted you to a new database available for research on state legislation, www.lgdb.com. I've been having a lot of fun kicking the tires and giving it test runs on various topics. The people at lgdb were really great at answering questions so I thought perhaps an interview would be in order. Scott Yates, the founder of the company, was willing, so here you go:

There is a Pro version but I am focusing on the currently free version.

Right now I can access the database for free. Are there any immediate plans to make it for fee only? Will accounts be required for searching, even if there is no fee (in other words, will I have to sign up to search the database)? Are there free options that one must sign in to access?

No, we'll never charge for looking at the data. Our philosophy is that governmental data should not only be available, but easy to use. It also helps our business that everyone can find everything on our site so easily.

We charge for the tracking and notification tools typically used by associations or lobbyists who have at least one full-time person tracking legislation.

Puerto Rico isn't on your list of states. True, it isn't a state, but do you plan to include them in the future?

Yes, and we also get a lot of requests for Canadian provinces, so we'll be getting to those as well. Also the District of Columbia.

How many states are included in the database presently and what is the planned rollout date for future additions?

As of today we have nine. We are on target to have all the states that have legislative sessions in 2008 online before the next session starts. That is, there's no plan for a legislative session for Texas in 2008, so Texas may be a month or so behind the others.

Any plans for retrospective additions?

I think what you mean is, "Will we have legislative histories going back in time?" If so, the answer is yes. This is crucial for us.

You don't highlight search terms in results or in the text of bills pulled up. It is easy enough to search using the "find" function in the browser but any chance of this being an enhancement?

We have had this request, and it's on our list. We always have a bit of back and forth between filling out the database and adding useful features. Right now the focus is on getting all the states on line, but we expect to start adding more features early in 2008.

I found that the ? works as truncation symbol but this isn't explained anywhere. Does it only do plurals or only one letter or is it a true truncation symbol? For people who are not familiar with such things, how would they know?

You are way ahead of 99.9 percent of typical users, who will find our Advanced Search feature meets their needs. To get to that you just search for anything and then on the results page click the brown "advanced search" button. We will be adding a link to that on the home page soon.

All terms are "anded" so all terms must appear. Is it possible to "or" synonyms or create more complex search strategies? In searching for Pennsylvania's HB 1093, which concerns loan forgiveness for physicians, you cannot find it searching for loan forgiveness and doctors.

Here again I recommend using the advanced search to do an "or" search. That said, if you do a search for "forgiveness doctor pa" in the regular search bar, that bill does come up. http://lgdb.com/search?q=doctor%20forgiveness%20pa

If a bill passes or doesn't get out of committee during a legislative session, how long will it stay in the database? Will there be a moving wall, where data is deleted after it is so many years old or will the database eventually build up a significant backfile? Will date searching be available then?

We're working on that now because we have nearly 50,000 bills from 2007 in our system, and we'll have many more than that coming in 2008. We will keep the old bills, but allow our pro users to display just current bills on their "bill sheets." You can already limit your search to just current bills in the advanced search.

You have several instructional videos imbedded in the site. Have you had any feedback on them?

Most people think I have movie star good looks. Well, two people. Well, OK, really only my mother. My wife doesn't like my hand gestures.

Some people have found them helpful. We did a kind of a seminar here in Colorado that people found useful, so we are planning on doing another one of those and taping it so everyone can see. We are also planning on doing some live web training. Other people just like the free two-week trial so they can try it for themselves. There are probably as many techniques of getting the information transmitted effectively as there are people.

It's really a trick because LgDb really does ask that people radically rethink how they interact with legislative information. Legislatures in general are so bound by tradition that I think that carries over to people who work with legislative information. They think that they have to spend hours cutting and pasting client reports together. We don't just make it easier, we can eliminate that job all together.

What other enhancements would you like to add?

Zillions. On the data side we want to have it all, city and county governments, and then other governments around the world. On the feature side we want to have more social interactivity, more ways to compare bills, more tools for bloggers and anyone with a web page to show what's going on with the topic that the blogger is interested in. It's a long, long list.

We've come a long way in a year, but we still have a long way to go.

Each week when the legislature is in session I compile a list of bills that passed the state house or senate. Any chance lgdb would ever let me do that with a few clicks?

Maybe. We've never actually had that request before, typically people have a list of bills they are interested in. We do have a list now http://lgdb.com/states/pa of all the active bills for a state, and that can sorted by last action, etc., so I think that might show you what you are interested in. Try it out, that's all part of the free side of the site, and you can't break our site by clicking on anything, so just click everywhere and try stuff out.

Thanks, Scott!

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