“…Yet we should be wary of getting wrapped up in the practicality of it all. For that hardly explains the mythology, the fact that this or that feature of the landscape is a sacred place, that the Songlines were traced by culture heroes of animal nature. None of that is necessary for the merely practical end of accurate time-keeping, though it might be useful to have a story to give some content to the narrative stream. To measure a long stretch of time, and thus a long distance, one could simply count to some sufficiently high number while walking and singing at a steady pace. Counting to an arbitrarly high value, however, is a relatively recent human accomplishment, one not present in preliterate cultures. One could also use very long strings of nonsense syllables, but they are very difficult to memorize accurately, as thousands of undergraduates in decades of psychological experiments know all too well; such things simply don’t have much purchase in the human brain. So one sings the song of a culture hero’s journey, while tracing that journey oneself, and in the process, one becomes that hero. We are in the world Val Geist hypothesized, in which our ancestors imitated the calls of animals in order to manipulate animal behavior. In the process of imagining the wilderness though the persona of an animal one assimilates that wilderness to the categories and needs of human culture.”
What is the biggest impact Open States has had to date?
I suppose it depends on what kind of impact we’re talking about. Governments are slowly coming to terms with this and we’ve seen states like Minnesota and Kansas start to move towards machine-readable access of their data—and I think we can take some of the credit for that. A big part of it is that they just have smart people working there that get the importance of making this data available in as many ways as possible.
I’m particularly partial to the impact that the project has had on individuals. Sunlight open sources everything we do, and as a result, we have over 130 projects on GitHub. Most of these projects aren’t things that the average developer uses, so they don’t see a ton of attention from outside developers. Open States has been a real success in a unique way—it has gotten developers that were otherwise unaware of open government involved. We’ve had contributions from approximately 50 developers, ranging from minor tweaks to a parser to fix an error that a user noticed to entire states contributed. I think it has made a real impact in providing a gentle introduction for developers looking for a way to contribute.