Thomas.gov will retire in July

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Thomas.gov was the public’s go-to website for information on congressional bills and information since it first launched in 1995, but it is finally being replaced after years of no updates and lackluster technology, Library of Congress officials announced Thursday.

The LOC will retire Thomas.gov on July 5 and replace it with Congress.gov, a more modern and reliable website that will meet the old site’s demand and more, Chief of Web Services Jim Karamanis said.

Thomas’ age greatly held the site back, causing the Library to move slowly towards Congress.gov as an alternative after its beta launch in 2012. The old site couldn’t be modernized or updated, wasn’t mobile-supportive, and depended on “old, spaghetti code,” he said.

“A few years ago, we reached a point where we could no longer modernize the site and the code became unsupportable,” he said. “The best solution was to restart, to build an all new site with improved tech and infrastructure.”

Now, Congress.gov features an easy-to-use interface with a better search system and much more available data, LOC’s Software Development Manager Mike Nibeck said. The site also uses multiple virtual servers, and encryption to ensure the integrity of its traffic. Developers tried to “re-think the entire experience,” he said.

Until its retirement, Thomas.gov redirects to the congressional site, which it has done since 2014, Nibeck said. Until recently, the Library depended on the old site to host large quantities of historical data it had not moved yet to the new site but now the Government Publishing Office is holding that data for them.

“This change is good news, and could be a revolutionary update to a greatly antiquated system that didn’t work as well as we needed it to,” said Daniel Schuman, the policy director of Demand Progress. “Thomas was 21 – it was old enough to drink. It was time it saw some change.”

For a long time, Thomas suffered from major technical issues, dated design, and lacked important information, said Schuman. Sometimes, bills would pass before they were even put on the site.

But Congress.gov is a major improvement and its updated infrastructure creates a site that is much more accessible and citizen-friendly, he said. For example, the new website allows users to access to underlying data to build their own programs or applications in case the LOC does not offer it.

Now, he would like to see the website add more searchable content, including committee hearings and amendments, he said.

The Sunlight Foundation’s Senior Analyst Alex Howard is also excited about the possibilities of new data and information, but said to expect some bumps during launch. He predicted issues, such as link rot, when bookmarks point to abandoned web pages, which could cause problems early in the site’s official launch.

But Karamanis said he is confident the site will be helpful.

“We built congress.gov with the future in mind, so we will easily be able to update and change the site as technology changes,” he said.

Contact the reporter on this story via email: Jeremy.Snow@FedScoop.com. Follow him on Twitter @JeremyM_Snow. Sign up for the Daily Scoop — all the federal IT news you need in your inbox every morning — here: fdscp.com/sign-me-on.

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Applications & Software, Congress, data analytics, Government IT News, open source, Tech
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