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It Takes A Website of Millions: Popvox and the Modern Congress

Do you want to see change in your community?

PrintCommon knowledge tells us the action to take when we’ve got a bone to pick; grab the phone and call your senator or congress person. Or, even older wisdom: write them a letter. These methods might have been sold to us wholesale as schoolchildren, but in the 21st century we all know the sharp disconnect between the average American and the government. Currently, congress receives over 300 million e-mails every year. Imagine sorting through that inbox.

Fortunately, technology has advanced to benefit the democratic process. This year’s SXSW festival ushered in a new entrant to the Online Civic Engagement space, with PopVox emerging the winner of the SXSW Accelator award in Social Media and Social Networking Service. PopVox aims to be the most direct way of helping constituents support the bills that matter to them, as well as serve as a portal for organizations to publicly support or oppose bills that are currently active in Congress.

Using data from GovTrack, Popvox shows the average user bills with recent activity, highlighted bills tailored to your interest, and even what bills are trending in activity. Netflix-like longtail recommendation allows for Popvox to show users the bills that involve their interests or are related to previous bills they supported, opposed, or commented on. This in-depth functionality allows for bills that may have previously flown under the radar to get the attention and public scrutiny that they deserve.

For organizations, Popvox offers even more usability. Currently boasting involvement by 500 different organizations, Popvox serves as a platform for organizations to organize, publicize, and coordinate their advocacy campaigns. After completing an approval process, organizations can create a profile with contact info and a mission statement. They can also use the downloadable widgets to display their stance on bills directly on their own sites. This is where the true strength behind Popvox lies; not only in providing the ability for citizens and concerned organizations to voice their opinions directly, but in enabling the sharing capabilities and meme-tastic viral potential of the internet to grasp something actually important.

So the benefits are myriad for the average constituent. How, you might think, can this actually impact our Congress though? Take a quick spin through one of the bills on Popvox, and you’ll see how direct interaction can occur. The congressperson, sitting in a tony Washington office and torn by guilt over which way to vote on an important bill, can instantly see through data visualization, opposing and supporting comments, and the sponsor of the bill, how to make their decision.

So now that the people in charge can use tools such as Popvox and no longer have to wade through swaths of e-mails and deflect snail mail and endless calls, will we actually see pro-active, open source change? Only time can tell. Until then, make your voice heard.