Eyes on the Ties

Watch out, Big Brother—LittleSis is here. LittleSis is a new website that seeks to collect, assemble and analyze relationships among members of the corporate and political elites. Kevin Connor, a veteran researcher-campaigner for labor unions and community groups who co-founded the site, calls it “an involuntary Facebook for powerful people…It opens up elite networks for inspection.”

Like most ambitious web projects these days, LittleSis is based on “crowd sourcing”—the idea that you can depend on a large number of volunteers contributing small bits of information to create an effective information resource. The site welcomes all contributors but insists that any data posted be linked to a reputable online source. In a post on the site’s “Eyes on the Ties” blog, co-founder Matthew Skomarovsky said that references to Wikipedia, for example, would not be acceptable. The aim is to use primary source material as much possible.

While still in preliminary Beta form, LittleSis boasts that it has entries on more than 27,000 individuals. Searches can also be done on institutions, companies and other entities. Connor pointed me to the material on the exclusive Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia (reached by putting the club’s name in the search box on the main page). The names of 211 members are listed. You can either click on a person’s name to see his (the club is all-male) other affiliations, or you can click on one of several tabs to see summary data such as which political candidates club members have contributed to and which universities they attended.

Funded by the Sunlight Foundation, LittleSis is programmed to highlight relationships, so that, for example, any data added to an individual’s entry mentioning an institution will automatically also post to the entry for the institution.

LittleSis is an exciting project that reinvigorates the tradition of power-elite research pursued in the pre-internet era by authors such as Gabriel Kolko and William Domhoff. It also builds on previous online efforts such as TheyRule. It could become an invaluable tool to help us understand the powers that be and pursue campaigns that make them less powerful.

Note: Connor tells me that the LittleSis team is willing to make presentations about the site to organizations (presumably those with lots of researchers will be high on his list) to explain how it works and to encourage people to contribute. Contact him here.