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Smartphone friendly, congressional search site unveiled

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This story has been updated to add additional comment.

The Library of Congress unveiled a new Web search tool for bills and other congressional records Wednesday that eventually will replace the 17-year-old Thomas.gov website.

Congress.gov, which was launched in a beta form, will automatically adapt to fit computer, smartphone and tablet screens and will include live video streams from the House and Senate floors, according to tweets from the Library of Congress.

The new site will make it easier to search across different categories of congressional information and to narrow a search, according to the agency. It will also link to floor debates and other video related to a particular bill.

Librarian of Congress James H. Billington in a press release described the new site as more robust. “Continual enhancements to and now reinvention of this resource reflect the library’s commitment to Congress’ goal to open the legislative process to the American people and promote an informed democracy," he said.

Some Congress watchers, however, were less bullish on the site. Sunlight Foundation Policy Counsel Daniel Schuman lauded some of the site’s upgrades in a blog post but criticized designers for not inviting public comment on the design process and not giving citizens access to bulk Congressional data.

Open government pundit and O’Reilly Media writer Alex Howard argued designers should have released the new site's data through an application programming interface -- essentially a machine-readable data stream -- so non-government developers can build new sites and applications with it.

The beta site includes legislation dating back to 2001 and profiles of all members of Congress stretching back to 1973. Information will be added to Congress.gov during the next two years -- such as the Congressional Record, congressional reports, and House and Senate calendars -- until the site includes all the information currently on Thomas.gov, the agency said.

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