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Programmers launch new bill-tracking site

Bradlee Chang and Grant Vergottini built much of the state’s free bill-tracking system. Now, the two San Diego-area programmers have ventured out on their own, hoping to find their niche in the world of paid bill tracking in Sacramento.

Since 2005, Chang and Vergottini’s company, Xcential, has contracted with the Legislative Counsel’s office to help reformat the Leginfo Web site, which is used by thousands of visitors interested in tracking current and past California legislative information.

“We publish the bills, the chaptered bills, the amended bills,” says Chang. “If you look on Leginfo’s homepage, we’ve built all the documents you find there. From 2005 on, all the data you see there came through our system.”

While Chang says his compa ny still does some contract work for Legislative Counsel, he and his partner are launching a new bill tracking site, LegisWeb. The site, which can be found at www.LegisWeb.net, is currently free to anyone looking to track and manage a portfolio of California legislative information including bills and code changes.

Chang says he and Vergottini are programmers first and foremost, but working in the world of bill tracking has given them an understanding of the legislative process, and the kinds of information professionals need to monitor state legislative and regulatory information.

“Working for leg council gave us the understanding of the process and the technology required,” he said. “We got to see how it worked, and that it could be done so much better.”

In essence, LegisWeb signifies a fundamental shift in Xcential’s business model. Instead of receiving a contract from the bill authors, the Legislative Counsel, they will now try to generate revenue from the readers–the political and business insiders who need to closely monitor the Legislature’s activity.
“There will be one author of a document, but you could have thousands of readers,” said Chang. “If you can capture some value on the reading side. We were looking for a bigger market.”

Chang also says he saw shortcomings, not only in the free service offered on leginfo.ca.gov, but also with paid bill tracking services like Capitol Track.
Unlike other bill tracking services, LegisWeb is designed to help readers compare multiple versions of bills side by side. Readers can call up a bill and see all the different amendments and changes that have been made to the bill at once.

“The whole idea is to further this integration of the content, allowing users to get from one piece to the other, and to be able to see quickly how these bills or codes have changed.”

Chang says he also helps LegisWeb will become a place where interested parties can offer comments on current legislation.

“We didn’t see any place for people to gather and discuss and build a community around legislation,” he says. “We’ve just added a public comment area for bills. It’s sort of a Web 2.0 model applied to bill tracking. I don’t know if we’ll be able to make any money at it, but we think it’s exciting to get the public involved in it.

And, he said, the pace of state government ultimately made it frustrating for Chang and Vergottini’s entrepreneurial ambitions.

“I wasn’t happening fast enough,” he says of the changes he hoped to make at leginfo. “So we decided to do it ourselves.”


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