Democracy.io by EFF

A simpler way to send messages to Congress

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Sina Khanifar
Sina KhanifarMaker@sinak · Tech Fellow @EFF
Hey Product Hunt! Democracy.io is the product of about a year's worth of work by our team at EFF. Advocacy organizations have had paid tools to deliver messages to Congress for years, which results in them getting millions of spam messages. But Congress really wants to hear from regular citizens, not receive the same email thousands of times over - and they use complex systems to filter their mail. But their contact forms are clunky and difficult to use; we wanted to make them much simpler and easier to use. To do that, we first had to develop an open source dataset that describes to a computer the steps necessary to submit messages via each contact form for 538 representatives. That was quite a lift, but was made possible by about 100 volunteers who chipped in. The dataset is called contact-congress, and is online here: https://github.com/unitedstates/... Then we had to create a system to fill in the forms based on the dataset. The system we designed is called phantom-of-the-capitol and it does that by firing up 3 browser windows on an AWS instance each time a user submits a message. If the legislator has a CAPTCHA, we take a screenshot and return that to the user. The code for that system is here: https://github.com/EFForg/phanto... Down the line, we're planning on analyzing responses from Members of Congress so that we can hold them accountable. We'll eventually produce reports that rank each legislator by the timeliness and relevance of their responses. Of course, since it's EFF, everything we've built is free and open source software. Really excited to have this out in public, and looking forward to hearing your feedback!
Olivier El Mekki
Olivier El Mekki@oelmekki · maker
Wow, EFF on Product Hunt. That rocks :) Any plan to open on other countries? This could be filled quite quickly if you had some kind of posting process.
Sina Khanifar
Sina KhanifarMaker@sinak · Tech Fellow @EFF
@oelmekki No plans to open in other countries yet, I think we'd focus on doing state-level messaging first. But after that, maybe! We'd probably look to integration or linking out to http://poplus.org components to handle that far. Fortunately it's generally much easier to contact representatives outside the US than inside - they often have regular email addresses that you can use.
Kumar Thangudu
Kumar Thangudu@datarade · Technologist
Alright, so @sina I get that you're trying to change things. but isn't the fundamental problem a throughput problem, not an endpoint communication problem????? Why do you think this problem is relevant? http://kumar.party/2015/07/04/th...
Sina Khanifar
Sina KhanifarMaker@sinak · Tech Fellow @EFF
@datarade You're kinda right, we've made it easier to bulk email, and that means more emails to Congress. But the real reason we've done this is to make it easier to email full stop. Congress already has pretty complex systems from third party vendors in place to filter out the bulk emails. They get millions of them, and they don't really add a lot of value compared to a petition. The dataset and backend we've built make it easier for anyone to send bulk emails, so that organizations don't have to pay thousands of dollars to third party vendors (whose systems have low % completed submission rates). But what representatives really want isn't more bulk email. They want real, hand-written notes from constituents, and that's what we're trying to promote with Democracy.io. They filter those emails and respond to them more thoughtfully. We're also planning on releasing a report on the timeliness of responses by Members of Congress, and the relevance of their replies. Should really name and shame elected officials and help improve the quality of responses significantly.
Kumar Thangudu
Kumar Thangudu@datarade · Technologist
@sinak @datarade alright so the workflow is to physically DDOS their systems with physical mail using systems like maillift.com and lob.com? You're the infrastructure behind print DDOS systems. If they get a ton of mail, a congressman won't be able to ignore it??? Is that the basic idea??
Sina Khanifar
Sina KhanifarMaker@sinak · Tech Fellow @EFF
@datarade Right now we're submitting messages via their contact forms using a complicated form-fillings system. But we absolutely want to add something like lob.com and send paper messages
Brian Clark
Brian Clark@blaurenceclark · Co Founder, HDP Health
I agree with @kumar what do you think on that?
Kumar Thangudu
Kumar Thangudu@datarade · Technologist
@blaurenceclark no bias here.
Sina Khanifar
Sina KhanifarMaker@sinak · Tech Fellow @EFF
@blaurenceclark Hah, do you guys know each other or something? :).
Tom Masiero
Tom MasieroHiring@blendahtom · GM of LaunchBit
Love products like this and @Countable
Sina Khanifar
Sina KhanifarMaker@sinak · Tech Fellow @EFF
@blendahtom Thanks Tom! I'm a big fan of Countable too.