MuckRock now rocking in 11 states

1 Comment

We’ve been working hard to update things on the backend for the past few months, and are happy to announce that we now cover 22 percent of the United States by state (including all of New England), plus DC and Federal level requests.

Specifically, you can file in:

  • Arizona
  • California
  • Connecticut
  • Florida
  • Maine
  • Massachusetts
  • New Hampshire
  • New York
  • Rhode Island
  • Vermont
  • Washington

If we don’t cover a city you’d like to file in in one of those states, just shoot me an e-mail. Most cities can be added in less than 24 hours. We eventually plan to expand to all 50 states as well as the territories, and then who knows: Maybe we’ll head to Canada.

MuckRock.com: Now with 50% more features, free!

Leave a comment

We’ve been pretty quiet lately (ok, extremely quiet) but that’s only because we’ve been hard at work behind the scenes to improve the MuckRock experience for you, and the past two weeks have seen a number of important features roll out. I’m highlight the biggest ones here, but there have been lots of smaller surprises that you’ll just have to come across yourself. We hope you enjoy, and huge kudos to Mitch for pushing these all through.

Instant Filing

While this has almost zero impact on the visible user experience, Instant Filing is probably the biggest new feature. Previously, every request submitted through MuckRock was hand copied-and-pasted into an e-mail program or fax software before being sent out. Now, that’s all automated. This means less downtime between when you want something and when it gets to the agency, and it covers about 96% of the agencies we have in our database. Those pesky remaining 4% only accept mailed-in requests, but since we have less administrative busy work, we can get to those faster, too. Better yet, replies to these instant requests go directly to the request page (each request now has its own secret e-mail address), speeding up the whole process by hours or, in some cases, days.

Tagging Requests

Working on a big story? Want to quickly see all the documents that the government used a particular exemption on? Want to share a collection of requests on a particular topic? Then are tagging tool is perfect for you. At the top of every request you’ve submitted will be our intuitive tagging tool, which lets you quickly just type in whatever category you want to place this request in and hit enter to start your collections.

Each tag also has its own landing page, giving you a new way to share or review multiple requests.

Improved Request Management

Speaking of reviewing multiple requests, we’ve vastly improved the “inbox” view of all your requests. Now, with one click you can see all of your completed requests, drafts, items needing attention and more. You can also pull up all of the requests you’ve sorted into a given tag, or tag multiple requests all at once. We’re pretty excited about this update: MuckRock made managing a few requests much easier right from the beginning, but for our power users juggling dozens of requests, things could get hairy. We think this puts much more power at your fingertips minus all the confusion, and we’d love to hear what you think.

Better Error Reporting

Previously, when you noticed something wrong on the site or if you wanted to perform an action the site wasn’t yet ready to handle, you had to fire up your favorite e-mail program and send us your request manually. No longer! Once logged in, every request page now has a “Submit Correction” link right next to it. Want to submit an appeal or clarification when the request is marked “Processing”? Worried your document is missing a page or two? Need some help crafting an appeal letter? Just click “Submit Correction”, tell us all your worries, and we’ll help you get back on the right track. Eventually, flagging typos and other errors will even earn you accolades, but for now you’ll have to settle for the warm fuzzies of making the site better and getting your own problem solved.

Follow Other Users’ Requests

See something you wish you’d filed? Or maybe it just piqued your interest? Happens to us all the time. Now, after you’re logged in, you can click “Follow” on any public request, and you’ll get instant updates as soon as there’s something new going on, just as if you’d filed it yourself. Never miss a breaking news flash again!

Improved Deadline Handling

Previously, our deadline handling was fairly “stupid”: We set the date 5, 10 or 20 days in the future after submitting your request, and simply counted down. This missed out on a lot of realities: Holidays, responses from the agency that required a “fix” and any other number of odd cases. We haven’t addressed them all quite yet, but we’re now a lot better about not counting holidays against the agency time frames and, when the requests require you to submit a fix or pay a fee, we put the timer on hold until you respond. This is very helpful when you later want to appeal onerous fees.

But wait, there’s more!

We don’t want to spoil all the surprises, but we’ve also added:

  • Alternate embedding options if you can’t include IFRAMEs.
  • Spam filtering on blog comments.
  • Non-document files (Images, Excel databases, etc.) now get attached inline, instead of up top where it was hard to see where they came in, or that they came in at all.
  • Unread updates are now highlighted when you check in on your requests page.

This is by far our biggest feature update in some time, and we’re already finding bugs to squash on it so please let us know if you come across some, either by using the “Submit Correction” button or simple e-mailing us at info@muckrock.com. We think the new tools go a long way towards our vision of empowering citizens to effectively ask the questions they want to, but if you have more ideas we’d love to hear from you.

In the meantime, keep digging up more great data! I can’t wait to see what you come up with next, particularly as we head towards to the 10,000 page mark.

How MuckRock handles deadlines, and how we’d like to improve

Leave a comment

I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by.
-Douglas Adams

When it comes to FOI-jitsu, deadline mastery nearly tops the list when it comes to important skills. It’s one of the things we really liked about MuckRock: Computers are really, really good at keeping track of dates. People, on the other hand, are all over the map (P.S.: Mom called with a gentle reminder that Mother’s Day is just 192 shopping days away!).  So helping you keep track of the dates a request was filed, updated, and answered are things we’d like to make sure we’re getting right.

We still have a bit to go, as one user recently pointed out. Currently, we hand enter submission dates and due dates based on our best guesses. For Massachusetts requests, we try and mark the “Due Date” as 10 business days after the request is actually filed. For Federal requests, we mark it 20 days. That’s something of a simplification, though, since we’re not really right now at tracking holidays, which can also push back deadlines, or knowing the exact date the request was received (a frustrating number of agencies still accept only snail mail, which can take 2 – 5 days).

We also don’t typically “pause” deadlines, even when the agency requests extra time. Under national FOIA laws, for example, “unusual circumstances” can merit a request taking 10 extra days. Some agencies have backlogs of months. None of this is reflected in our color-coded status tracker, which just marks things as late when they’re past their original due date. That’s not quite fair to the agency, but users can always quickly see when and where updates happened by simply clicking on the request itself, where each message is logged.

We’re currently working on better handling this (remember, computers are better than humans when it comes to dates!), but in the meantime, we’d like your feedback on how you think we should handle it. In the meantime, if getting this tracking feature right is important to you for a particular document, you can always just e-mail me at Michael@MuckRock.com and I can fix it up for you directly. If you have suggestions or just want to see more progress on it, go comment and vote in our feedback forum: We do listen!

Follow

Get every new post delivered to your Inbox.