MuckRock now rocking in 11 states

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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’s getting better at filing FOIA over time

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One of the hypothesis we had when we launched the site was that, by watching hundreds and hundreds of requests, we could help our users be more successful in filing requests that get answered.  I’m happy to report that, so far, it seams we were right:

Sorry for the jaggy graph, but the trends are pretty clear: We’re doing much, much better lately when it comes to getting requests actually answered, thanks to regularly tweaking the template system, the FOIA contact database and the suggested requests, as well as by deploying the new follow up tool.

None of this would have been possible, of course, without the amazingly talented community of requesters who have been helping us pave new ground in transparency on all sorts of issues. You can download the data set I used to make the above graph in .CSV format, which you can open in Excel. As a bonus, the data set also includes total requests filed via MuckRock and the total pages we’ve published. An important caveat about the latter: Our counting mechanism was, up until relatively recently, fairly bugging and drastically undercounted the amount we had published. The big spikes the past few weeks are the result of us fixing those bugs. One other, slightly smaller caveat is that “Total Pages” also includes some material that is still embargoed and is not publicly viewable yet.

Thanks again for helping us slowly fine tune government transparency: We couldn’t have done it without you.

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

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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.

MuckRock, Now with More DocumentCloud Goodness!

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The MuckRock team has been playing with DocumentCloud integration, and we’ve found a happy medium in terms of balancing the “request” view and “document” view. Now, whenever you have a request that has  a group of documents attached to it, you can just click the document name you’d like to view, and you’ll be taken to the beautiful DocumentCloud/New York Times’ viewer:

The viewer lets you easily scroll around and read through a document, download the original PDF, search through text and much, much more, and we’d love to hear your thoughts. A bit thanks to the DocumentCloud team for their incredible work, and for letting us take part in their own beta!

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