Guardian exposes MPs expenses to crowdsourcing

The Guardian has launched...

The Guardian has launched an experiment in crowdsourcing following the publication of thousands of MPs' expenses receipts.

The House of Commons has published 700,000 individual documents in 5,500 PDF files on 646 MPs at parliament.uk.

It covers four years' worth of expenses and claims outlining MPs' mortgages, second home purchases, moat cleaning and garden furniture.

The newspaper has uploaded the documents to its own microsite and is allowing people to investigate and analyse the data.

The tools enabling people to investigate MPs' expenses were build by developers at the Guardian, as a Django application running on Amazon EC2. Developers said a major challenge was making each page of the documents available for independent review.

The newspaper said it wants the public to help analyse the information and potentially discover more news stories buried within the material. It is hoping to build a picture of how MPs' claims have changed over time, and find MPs who claimed small amounts.

Janine Gibson, editor of Guardian.co.uk, said: "It's a huge release of information, which manages to be both extremely open and terribly closed at the same time. Open because it allows the public unprecedented access to MPs' claims over a huge amount of time. Closed because key address and personal details are blacked out, and the information is impossible to analyse electronically."

She added that even if the documents do not lead to more stories, it is hoped the site will help make the information more transparent and more useful to users.

The site allows people to add narrative on individual expenses, highlight documents of interest, tell the newspaper the context of a receipt and how interesting it is, and enter the relevant expenses figures and dates on each page.

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