Dear Speaker: Carl Malamud at It Again

Carl Malamud just posted his open letter to Nancy Pelosi on the subject of public archives of all congressional hearings:

I write to you today with the results of two years of research on the subject of the creation of broadcast-quality video of congressional proceedings for download on the Internet. My conclusion can be summarized as follows:

By the end of the 110th Congress, the U.S. House of Representatives could achieve the goal of providing broadcast-quality video of all hearings and the floor for download on the Internet.

Carl proved his point, as he has done in the past, with a demonstration project:

My investigation into the question of whether broadcast-quality video from all congressional hearings can be made available on the Internet for download was conducted in two stages. In stage 1, I conducted an extensive feasibility analysis, examining all the technical and financial issues involved. In stage 2, I created a proof-of-concept prototype to get hands-on experience with the current congressional webcasts and to demonstrate how one might apply more systematic techniques towards creation of an archive….

For two weeks starting February 26, 2007, I set about systematically “ripping” webcast video streams from congressional committees, transcoding the data, and uploading the hearings to the Internet Archive and to Google Video. (“Ripping” is the process of converting something that is only available as a webcast stream into a file. “Transcoding” is converting the format of the video.) I picked the Internet Archive and Google Video as examples of one non-profit and one for-profit entity, but they are simply examples. There are literally hundreds of services–from YouTube to universities and everything in-between–that would be able to use this data.

In the course of two weeks of processing congressional hearings, I was able to download, transcode, and upload 63 hearings for a total of 160 hours and 43 minutes of video. You may see the Internet Archive version of this video here:


You will notice that this particular service has some features that are not available on congressional web sites. For example, users are able to annotate hearings with ratings and reviews. The site allows users to both download and stream video, and the video has been converted to a non-proprietary standard that works across all different operating systems and players. And, because I am drawing on hearings from several different committees, it offers a degree of unification not available from the sites, which are all administered seperately.

In addition, users can easily navigate the archive by a series of keywords. For example, one can search for all hearings from a particular committee, such as the Committee on Appropriations:


The Committee on Appropriations illustrates the importance of maintaining an archive. Appropriations, along with Foreign Affairs, Ways and Means and several other committees have a current policy of offering a live webcast, but not maintaining an archive of their proceedings. This means that the prototype that I have built contains the only video archive on the Internet for these committees, making me the point of origination for the data. I do not believe that it is appropriate for a private citizen such as myself to be the point of origination for the public video record of these committees.

That last little twist of irony is so Carl. He is a great example of the modern citizen activist, who uses technology to remind government both of its responsibilities to its constituents and the new means that it can use to satisfy those constituents.