One of our team is a student at Harvard Law, and every semester she takes classes with students from around the world, some of whom have never studied American law before. The professors always have to recommend basic materials on the structure of American government, but these students don't always have the time to read them, and it can be hard to absorb so much material from a book. We all know how complicated questions about the Constitution can be. What if there was a web app that not only told you what the Constitution says, but does so in words you can understand, and with helpful context and explanations to go along?
What it does
Our app allows users to browse the Constitution by clause, providing interesting facts, outside resources, and definitions of terms along the way. In addition, it gives users the chance to simplify any clause into modern language.
How we built it
Our app uses TNLP (Truly Natural Language Processing) to simplify the Constitution. We use Bing Analytics to locate patterns in the archaic language that can be programmatically transformed into more familiar phrases.
Challenges we ran into
Lack of sleep, of course (and the resulting code confusion). It was difficult to set up the initial architecture, given the multilevel tree structure of the document. It also took a while to interface with the three different Microsoft APIs that we used.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
We think we've come up with some clever linguistic adaptations to clarify the language, and we think our app is beautiful.
What we learned
What's next for The Visual Constitution
We'd like to keep building content and increasing the sophistication of the language processing. We think the app could be very useful for students of all ages and backgrounds.