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.

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

Cloakroom Troubleshooting 101

Cloakroom is protected by the Google Cloud's own high tech security, and we here at Capitol Bells go to great lengths to keep you completely anonymous by never tracking or storing your personal data. However, this kind of identity protection can have some unforeseen consequences.

For instance, in recent days a couple users have had trouble viewing messages within Cloakroom.

For those of you mysterious political operatives who are too cautious to contact us directly to help with your technical difficulties, we have created a quick troubleshooting guide for you to try out. 

Option 1

  1. close the app
  2. double tap on the home button for Multi-task screen to show up
  3. swipe up to close the Cloakroom app
  4. tap on home button once to end Multi-task screen
  5. re-open Cloakroom

Option 2

  1. delete the app and re-download
  2. press down on any app icon until all icons on phone screen starts to 'wiggle'
  3. a little 'x' at the top left corner will show up on each app icons
  4. press the little 'x' ton the Cloakroom app icon
  5. re-download Cloakroom
  6. restart iPhone

If these don't work feel free to shoot us an email at Thanks for using Cloakroom!!

- JMac

Come on Down to CES on the Hill

The Capitol Bells team will posting up in the Rayburn Office building from 6 – 8pm with dozens of other companies to discuss Hack4Congress and how we keep you secure and anonymous on Cloakroom. We’ll be showing Members of Congress and their staff that our suite of apps can make their jobs easier. We can deliver real-time vote alerts, foster constituent engagement, and enable Capitol Hill insiders to discreetly talk about policy with one another. Big thanks to the Consumer Electronics Association for hosting us. If you’re on the Hill, come by our booth and say hi. More info.

-- JMac

Join Us in DC and SF for #Hack4Congress

Hi Everyone,

I had a blast participating at the first #Hack4Congress event at the Harvard Kennedy School in Cambridge, Massachusetts, so I am super pumped that OpenGov is turning it into a hacking franchise! There are already two more hackathons lined up, one in SF this weekend and another here in DC next month at the Capitol. What makes this experience unique is the opportunity for technologists to pair up with policy experts so they can learn from each other, throw a bunch of crazy hack ideas at the wall, build some prototypes, and see what sticks.

Seriously, make time to participate in one of these.

Here's more info from Leili at OpenGov:

#Hack4Congress, a series of “not-just-for-technologists” events, brings together political scientists, technologists, designers,  lawyers, researchers, Congressional staffers, and lawmakers to create new digital tools, policy innovations, and other solutions to address the dysfunction in Congress.  

To get a sense of what a #Hack4Congress event is like, take a look at this great recap video from the first hackathon: 

There will be a total of three #Hack4Congress events. The first took place at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government in January; the second will be this weekend, March 21-22 at Code for America’s headquarters in San Francisco; and the third will take place in DC, April 29-May 1, at Google’s new headquarters. The winning team from each event will come to DC to present their ideas to members of Congress and their staff.

Event details:

San Francisco, CA

  • When: March 21-22, 2015

  • Where:

    • Panel discussion at SPUR Urban Center, 654 Mission St San Francisco, CA 94105

    • Hacking at Code for America HQ, 155 9th Street, San Francisco, CA, 94103

  • Registration: Click here to register for the panel discussion and here to register for two days of hacking!

  • Logistics Questions?

Washington, DC

  • When: April 29-May 1, 2015

  • Where:

    • Panel discussion and reception on April 29 at Microsoft Innovation & Policy Center, 901 K Street NW, 11th Floor, Washington, DC 20001

    • Two days of hacking at Google DC, 25 Massachusetts Avenue NW, Suite 900, Washington, DC 20001

  • Registration: Will be free, but the event is limited to 100 people. Look for another email from us soon!

  • Questions?

Be discreet! Be productive!

Download Cloakroom

Congress: when it's all said and done, ain't nothing being said, ain't nothing being done. Yeah, we've heard the special order speeches served up in seven-second sound bites, but we need a dialogue – honest conversation, meaningful words – the kind that leads to action. 

Welcome to Cloakroom.
Our new iOS application is set to establish a more productive discourse on Capitol Hill. It offers members of the Hill community a secure and casual forum to discuss House and Senate business.

Cloakroom is a place where congressional insiders can slip away from the blind, hungry glare of cameras and speak openly and off the record.
Cloakroom is discreet. All comments and posts are pseudonymous, so users control their own identities.
Cloakroom is exclusive. Access is restricted to members of the Hill community. To join the conversation, users must prove they are in the Capitol's campus by “checking-in” using location services.
Cloakroom is secure. Users control how much information about themselves they disclose. Your location and personal data are never tracked.
Interested in engaging in a cloakroom tête-à-tête? Take a look here:

Introducing the the new "Constituent Correspondence"

Today Members of Congress are reaching out to the public using Capitol Bells to urge House Leadership for a vote on comprehensive immigration reform.  It's the citizen discharge petition. Writing and sharing "Motions" allows proponents of the same legislation to form an instant coalition to champion a cause.  As these Motions build momentum, the Congresspeople and citizens behind the actions will be able to measure support for the immigration bill HR 15 using social media.

Over the coming days, these Members and the public can openly track support for their initiative across the country, with opinion data broken down by congressional district. Furthermore, everyone can gauge the exact level of engagement generated by their own content based on who "agreed" to their Motion. 

Think of it like constituent correspondence for social media. Many citizens are interested in having their voice count in Congress, but most people aren't interested in calling or writing their representatives -- and, in my opinion as a former legislative correspondent, those messages may as well be sent to a black hole for the good they do. Motions are an easier way to engage with Congress, reach more people, and create transparent data you can count.

Real engagement goes both ways. Going Live, Bringing Social to Congress

I am proud to announce the launch of the new social network for Congress, My goal is for it to modernize the way Congress and constituents interact on pressing legislation, letting us objectively grade the performance of Representatives and reach our friends who don't otherwise participate in national politics.

This new site is my next step in connecting Capitol Bells's massive congressional user base to Americans at home.  It provides Members of Congress and constituents alike a unique way to share and evaluate their own legislative priorities via ‘Motions’ posted to other social networks. Motions are brief, tweet-ready posts written by users to communicate their reason for supporting or opposing a piece of legislation. For example, my friend Sean would like to put pressure on legislators to actually move immigration reform.  What's your position?

As users weigh in, their actions are compared directly to their representatives’ official positions -- 'yea' or 'nay.'  Unlike phone calls and letters, is designed for the increasing importance of social media as a means of mass communication, and it will facilitate Members’ ability to harness and gauge the level of support on any legislation.

“My staff and I use Capitol Bells to make sure that I don't miss important votes,” says Jared Polis, a Congressman from Colorado and a former tech entrepreneur himself. “I am excited that now Capitol Bells will be offering another way for my constituents to communicate with me and other members of Congress about their views on legislation. I am proud to support efforts like Capitol Bells that demonstrate how technology and innovation can both ensure greater transparency as well as foster increased civic participation.”

The proceedings of Congress have been largely out of the public view for more than two hundred years.  While C-Span brought the theatre of the floor to a mass audience, I am working to adapt the legislative process into an interactive experience while bringing the people’s voice to Capitol Hill. Today as constituents vote on bills and share content, they will be able to personally gauge their Congresspersons’ voting records. Soon the most active users will themselves be able to share their own voting records as virtual candidates for Congress, and the functions of the site will be rolled into the mobile platform as well.

Capitol Bells on iPhone and Android now boasts usage by over half of the Members and their staff in the House of Representatives.  Since I launched it in the spring of 2013, the app has transformed the way Congress tracks the House and Senate floor in real-time by generating up to the minute vote alerts derived from the radio-controlled legislative clocks in the Capitol building. I hope can have as profound an effect on civic engagement.