Introducing Cloakroom: Live, streaming news and open civic data

At its heart, Cloakroom is a civic data app. Our goal has been to combine social networking with legislative data to promote bipartisan policy discussions and to help each other get work done. The latest Cloakroom iOS update introduces a stream of news, polls, legislative data, and live congressional video tailored to your professional interests. Think of Cloakroom: Live as a firehose of data carefully calibrated by you and filtered by the Cloakroom community to deliver important and relevant information straight to your phone. 

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Introducing Cloakroom: Connect, matchmaking for informational interviews

Long-gone are the days of smoke-filled backrooms in Congress. Despite their merits, congressional ethics rules have eroded the bonds of community on Capitol Hill. Pile on the demands of the endless campaign season, and Members of Congress barely spend three days a week legislating. It’s no wonder our policymakers are incapable of reaching a bargain on anything; some don’t even know each others’ names.

Nevertheless, one important social tradition is still alive and kicking in DC: the informational interview. An informational interview is a face-to-face meeting with someone whose career or work you want to learn more about. In a recent Cloakroom poll of congressional staffers, 75% said they currently participate in informational interviews.

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Guest Blogger: Brad Traverse, the King of Hill Jobs

Brad Traverse joins us for a Cloakroom Q&A, Friday June 17th at 3:00pm EST. In order to help Cloakroomers prep for his visit, Mr. Traverse, wrote us a brief primer on his career path to becoming the King of Hill jobs.

Hi, I’m Brad Traverse, President of the Brad Traverse Group, the most comprehensive resource for anyone seeking a job on and off the Hill in the fields of government relations, public policy and affairs, PR, communications, and political campaigns. I’d like to talk today about getting a policy or PR job on or off the Hill: the importance of networking, resume review and social media assessment.

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Cloakroom Extends Members-Only Access to the 100 Most Influential Groups in Politics

The Capitol Bells team and I launched Cloakroom in 2015 with the ambitious goal of creating a community of policymakers dedicated to collaboration and consensus building over partisan brinksmanship. It was an idea I personally felt strongly about. As a former staffer, I couldn’t help noticing the divisions among staff from party line to committee — for all their shared experiences, they weren’t talking to one another. This wasn’t always the case: Once upon a time, Democrats and Republicans socialized and shared camaraderie when passing in the halls or working side-by-side. This led to more grand bargains, better legislation, regular order, and a Congress that WORKED.

Since Cloakroom’s inception, over 6,500 verified Congressional insiders have flocked to our social network, forming an active community of content creators and legislative debaters. We have hosted bipartisan Q&A's with some of the nation's leading policy and political professionals, like Grover Norquist of Americans for Tax Reform, Emily Bazelon of the New York Times Magazine, David Wessel of the Brookings Institution, Kevin Kosar of the R Street Institute, and even Bill Nye the Science Guy. Everyday our users are going head-to-head with each other and experts on issues no matter how controversial.

Because of Cloakroom’s success fostering discourse and acting as a sounding board for Congressional staff, we have decided to expand. Cloakroom will now be open to everyone working at the 100 most influential groups in politics, such as top think tanks, lobbying firms, media and PR companies, advocacy groups, and campaign organizations. Check out the full list of new members here.

We want to give more verified political insiders the ability to speak openly and freely, break down partisan blockades, and get work done. Cloakroom users can be as anonymous as they want to be. They get full control over their own data, the right not to be tracked, and full end-to-end encrypted chat to keep private conversations private -- even on heavily monitored government networks.

Opening Cloakroom’s doors to more insiders does not mean we are stripping our lively Capitol Hill community of their own exclusivity. Cloakroom is now organized into public channels shared by everyone on the app and private channels accessible only to specific groups, like Congress. However, we expect our current users will value the influx of new professionals on the network. For instance, the "Careers" channel will receive a fresh infusion of seasoned veterans offering advice to political newbies and hot job leads.

Connecting Capitol Hill to the rest of the political economy has the potential to harness the power of technology in politics like never before. Cloakroom includes tools that allow policy experts to share their positions on bills to virtually lobby their colleagues, generate big data about the best and worst policy proposals, and bring the secret discussions of back room deals to light.

Are you ready to bring politics into the 21st century? Download Cloakroom today!

We're Back: Congressional Shadowban Edition

After an 11-day shadowban by the House of Representatives, Members of Congress and their staff are now free to use Capitol Bells and Cloakroom on the House network again.

On Thursday, May 5th the House of Representative's Information Resources office (HIR) shadowbanned Capitol Bells and Cloakroom and every other Google AppSpot app on the House network in response to an 11-month old public intelligence FBI report. on Monday, May 16th, House IT laconically lifted the block:

From: Technology Service Desk
Date: May 16, 2016 at 1:35:21 PM EDT
To: "System Administrators, All"
Subject: System Advisory - Google's appspot.com is now accessible on the House Network

Based on Google’s corrective actions of removing suspicious applications from appspot.comInfoSec has unblocked access to appspot.com on the House Network.

If you have any questions, please contact the CAO Technology Service Desk at 5-6002 or 1-800-HIR-USER.

Resistance is Futile // We Have Adapted

At Capitol Bells, we think ahead when contemplating our team’s vision; how are people using our technology three years from now, who gets to vote in a virtual congress comprising of millions of people, how do we maintain the system’s integrity? As developers, we often consider far-reaching consequences of our designs for new products and features.

However, over-emphasizing such foresight can lead to it’s own challenges. Worse, it can lead to ignoring the concerns of users. In some cases, solving for a future problem can cause even more problems today, which is a position we have found ourselves in with Capitol Bells. In order to protect the integrity of voting in Capitol Bells far into the future when there are millions of people on the platform, we made it too hard for people to use Capitol Bells today, thus making it hard for the community to grow into that future in the first place!

We previously wrote about why we chose to use social networks in order to verify users. We understood that we would get some pushbacks on this issue, but we believed our implementation was frictionless and users would understand why and how we were using their social identities. We were wrong. Even though we do not share user data with third parties, we found that our users simply do not feel comfortable logging in through big social networks.

We have heard our users, and to remedy this mistake we are announcing the new Capitol Bells login. Anyone can now sign up for Capitol Bells using nothing but their own email address. That’s it! There are no tricks, no special hoops to jump through, no third party verification. Tapping into democracy through Capitol Bells should be as easy as possible.

We want to use this opportunity to thank all of our users and supporters. Our hope is to make this a community driven platform for the people and moderated by the people. We encourage each user to bring forward issues they care about in order have engaging and intelligent dialogues. As for us, we will continue to evolve with the demands of developing a mobile platform and continue to build out the most powerful features we can think up to connect you to Congress.

Have a minute? Try out our new verification system today by downloading Capitol Bells: www.capitolbells.com

Dirty Sexy Congress: Capitol Hill Gossip is Good for Democracy & Tech


Call it the House of Cards effect. For the last few days our small community on Capitol Hill has been lambasted by the voyeurs at Re/code, Vanity Fair,Gawker, and MSNBC over “horny, fratty, and nerdy” conversations about sex, race, and Donald Trump. Cloakroom is an anonymous social network used by thousands of mostly young professionals working on Capitol Hill. In a political year like this one, how can critics not be appalled that young people in government can be, well, just as crass and offensive as anyone else on social media?

These recent media reports missed an opportunity to reveal something else happening on Cloakroom that appears to be far more objectionable (and sadly rare) in Washington, DC: bipartisan debate and camaraderie. This “gossip app” is building bridges across the ever-widening partisan divide. And we are infusing technology into American democracy by combining this young internet-native Hill community with high-tech tools on our sister app, Capitol Bells, that allow constituents to track their representatives and translate their opinions into congressional code. That’s the story people should be writing.

When the right-leaning Heritage Foundation hosts an event on Capitol Hill, they don’t expect many liberals to attend, but our team of three developers on a shoestring budget is accomplishing what the multi-million-dollar No Label campaigncould only dream about in the form of aspirational press releases. Heritage Budget Director Paul Winfree conducted a Q&A for Cloakroom’s “Ask an Expert” series, and hundreds of Republicans and Democrats alike tuned in to learn about Mr. Winfree’s budget proposal, resulting in an intense back-and-forth bipartisan policy debate. When’s the last time you saw that on C-SPAN?

In a Congress that shies away from every controversial, third-rail issue, would you expect to see a Congressman Andy Harris staffer participating at a medical-marijuana legalization briefing? Yet when John Hudak from the Brookings Institution hosted his marijuana policy Q&A on Cloakroom last week, the anonymity of Cloakroom enabled legislative staff from even the most anti-pot offices to do just that.

The ability to introduce diverse and innovative policy proposals to Capitol Hill at-large is inherently valuable, but bipartisan productivity isn’t borne of wonky policy debates alone. Coalition-building depends on human relationships too. Last fall when a sexual harassment victim came to Cloakroom for advice on defending herself against her harasser, party lines didn’t prevent our community from offering her many helpful resources.Some even opened up with their own secret stories of harassment. Tech can break down the physical brick and mortar barriers between people to create more human workplaces, even in Congress.

The bipartisan success of Cloakroom bodes well for bridging the divide between Congress and voters too. Our congressional engagement app Capitol Bells is powered by high-tech tools to translate constituents’ opinions into legislative positions and measure their representation in Congress. As we integrate these tools into Cloakroom, young professionals working on Capitol Hill will have innovative new ways to tap into real-time trends in their districts and to collectively vet and promote the most promising bills introduced in the House and Senate. Just don’t be surprised when they still find time to gossip.

Reporting on congressional dalliances is great for clicks, but it’s not as sexy as the democratizing power of technology. In this case a little gossip has led to Democrats and Republicans eschewing partisan rancor to find common ground on divisive policy issues, like marijuana legalization, and to a community coalescing around a colleague in need. Tech is already breaking down the walls of hyper-partisanship, and it’s going to build bridges between Congress and voters next.

One person, one vote, and… Facebook?

There’s always an outcry when mobile apps asks users to login with a social network. “What do you need my Facebook for?” “Are you tracking me?” As web geeks ourselves, these thoughts cross our minds too. If you take a moment to hear us out, we think you will understand why we, like many other tech services, have chosen to use Facebook and LinkedIn to securely login to Capitol Bells, and exactly what we are and are not asking users to share from those networks. TL; DR It’s very little, and other users will never see it.

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New Cloakroom update: Are you an influencer?

We have been working hard to make sure reputation and credibility play as big of a role in Cloakroom as anonymity and personal security. Cloakroom version 1.6 has been released to the app store today, and it is all about emphasizing reputation.

In 1.6 you can tap on any alias anywhere in the app to view a timeline of posts from that alias to get a better feel for who they are. From here you can also follow that alias and you'll notice that this person has been assigned a rank too!

"Rank? What for?" To promote positive engagement, every alias you manage can be ranked based off of the upvotes and follows you have received from other users for your posts and comments. You can even view the whole leaderboard to see where you fall compared to the other users you regularly interact with on Cloakroom.

Fundamentally, we rank your influence based on whether you've built a following and have recently contributed content that other users in the community appreciate. We quantify the magnitude of your influence using the Pythagorean theorem. The first factor is the total number of followers an alias has and the second factor is the number of likes an alias has received in the last 7 days for posts and comments. Thus an alias with 4 followers and 3 recent likes would have a total influence score of 5.

It's not all math and obscure metrics though.  Many of our colleagues on the Hill have to be very careful about their online reputations and how they share with their friends. Cloakroom where you should be able to interact safely in a friendly environment among people you can trust. We hope gamification is a fun way to engender a productive community -- and a little competition to become a top influencer on the Hill.

Thoughts? Please let us know what you think.



Bring Tech to Rayburn Cafeteria

The Capitol Bells team was excited to join CES on the Hill yesterday. We hung out with other tech companies from small start-ups to Google and Samsung. The best part of the evening was when Members of Congress came around to our booth. Most pointed at our Capitol Bells sign and exclaimed "Oh I use that!" So here are a few pictures from last night of the team in our suits, schmoozing in the Rayburn cafeteria. 

Ted being interviewed by CSPAN's Peter Slen.

Ted, double fisting Iphones, showing Representative Erik Paulsen from Minnesota's 3rd our new app Cloakroom. 

Representative Carlos Curbelo from Florida's 26th was nice enough to come say hi. I decided it would look cooler if I closed my eyes. 

Team selfie.

Big thanks to the Consumer Electronics Show for putting on a great event!

- JMac