The First Software Release

Last Thursday, the source code for the State Decoded project went up on GitHub, from which it can be downloaded. It’s merely version 0.1 of the product, not at all pretty, but it’s an important milestone that mustn’t go unacknowledged.

The State Decoded started off as Virginia Decoded, a project that I spent nights and weekends on for a year or so. The Knight Foundation’s $165,000 grant funds taking that Virginia-specific code and abstracting it sufficiently to apply to other states, cities, or even countries. In the three months that this has been my full-time job, much of my time has been spent on the very specific task of de-Virginia-ing the code, so that it can work anywhere.

This v0.1 release is the result of that streamlining. It required some significant architectural changes. The biggest change was providing support for the widely varying structures of legal codes. The Code of Virginia is broken into titles, which are broken into chapters, which are broken into articles, and those are made up of individual sections.* Accordingly, I had tables in the database for each of these structures. As a result, the software could only work for legal codes that used the same three-tiered structural system. That had to be tossed out and rewritten. There were a series of changes of this nature, all of which simplified and normalized the software’s functionality.

Anybody looking to launch their own implementation of the State Decoded with this v0.1 release would be disappointed by the awkwardness of the process. There’s no installer, instructions, or clever administration system. But it is functional, structurally intact, and extremely informative for anybody interested in putting it to work.

I’m marching towards v0.2, scheduled for release one month from now, and working on getting Virginia Decoded using the live release of the State Decoded software, instead of the State Decoded software being merely derived from Virginia Decoded. The two should converge somewhere around v0.3, and that’s the next major developmental milestone in this project.

* The official SGML file of the Code of Virginia has no representation of articles and, as a result, they are not employed on Virginia Decoded. That is not a permanent problem, but that is the present state of things.