tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:/posts capitol bells blog 2023-09-18T09:55:24Z Capitol Bells Cloakroom tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1254317 2018-02-28T16:32:09Z 2019-01-23T00:45:06Z Who's That? MemRec Knows Every Member -- And So Can You! Living in DC, we see politicians out and about all the time, but with so many around it can be a challenge to put names and faces together. Not anymore!

Years ago when I was an intern for the House Democratic Caucus, we were required to use an internal program developed for the Capitol Police called MemRec to memorize the entire Caucus because we had to know who to let into meetings at a glance. Ever since that internship I have been slowly losing track of the current membership of the House and Senate, yearning for access to that great tool again.

]]> Capitol Bells Cloakroom tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1137384 2017-03-09T23:02:37Z 2017-03-09T23:03:21Z Cloakroom Doesn't Put Your Privacy at Risk

“Confide can read user messages,” security researchers Fred Raynal and Jean-Baptiste Bédrune told TechCrunch this week. Cloakroom, on the other hand, cannot read your encrypted messages.

Ever since Sean Spicer snooped on all his staffers' phones for encrypted messaging apps, DC has been abuzz with ways to thwart government spooks and connect with their colleagues privately. Wikileaks' Vault 7 release this week just added fuel to the fire. The leaks revealed that even trustworthy apps like WhatsApp may be vulnerable to the CIA and other hackers.

Cloakroom's private chat functionality sacrifices a little convenience in order to offer its users full control over their own data, including what to keep, what to delete, and what to encrypt. Users can enable encryption for any conversation, and because we don't send your private encryption keys over the internet the way Confide and even WhatsApp do, the neither I or CIA can use that vulnerability to spy on your discreet conversations.

To prove that, I'm open sourcing Cloakroom's encrypted chat code for iOS, so anyone may review our process and affirm for themselves that Cloakroom is a safer (and more fun) way to chat with your colleagues.

Review our code here!

Happy hacking.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1133960 2017-02-24T17:18:37Z 2017-03-23T17:30:44Z Are you a Federal Worker? Here's an app for you!

Today I extended Cloakroom access to 260 new geofences around federal buildings and 309 .GOV email domains. Now federal workers from 474 agencies and subagencies can use Cloakroom to anonymously share tips and intel with their colleagues and chat one-on-one with end-to-end encryption.

A couple weeks ago I thought I hit gold while browsing the USA.gov APIs. I had just been reading about EPA employees turning to encryption apps like Signal and State Department employees “dissent channel” letters to thwart Trump, so when I found the Federal Agency Directory API I got excited about extending Cloakroom’s anonymous chat functionality, which House and Senate staffers have been using for nearly two years, to facilitate so-call dissent channels across the federal government.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1083780 2016-08-24T19:43:45Z 2016-08-24T19:43:45Z 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. 

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1079867 2016-08-09T18:24:59Z 2016-08-09T18:54:11Z 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.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1063374 2016-06-14T17:09:15Z 2016-06-15T19:49:28Z 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.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1060920 2016-06-08T12:34:33Z 2016-08-28T14:52:06Z 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!]]>
Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1051924 2016-05-16T23:08:01Z 2016-05-19T15:56:21Z 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.

]]> Capitol Bells Cloakroom tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1017417 2016-03-21T15:23:14Z 2016-03-21T15:31:02Z 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
Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/1015494 2016-03-17T21:11:26Z 2016-03-17T21:11:26Z 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.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/953544 2015-12-20T00:58:42Z 2015-12-20T14:29:35Z 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.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/859887 2015-05-22T17:42:32Z 2015-05-22T17:42:33Z 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.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/841751 2015-04-16T17:14:37Z 2015-04-16T17:17:26Z 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

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/841136 2015-04-15T16:11:36Z 2015-04-15T17:00:03Z 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 cloakroom@capitolbells.com. Thanks for using Cloakroom!!

- JMac

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/841129 2015-04-15T15:48:52Z 2015-04-15T16:22:35Z 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

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/826718 2015-03-18T21:58:40Z 2015-03-19T19:49:18Z 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?

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/822141 2015-03-10T15:33:44Z 2023-09-18T09:55:24Z 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: https://appsto.re/us/3e5Y5.I

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/679013 2014-04-18T22:24:31Z 2014-04-18T22:24:31Z Give Congress a Second Chance

We have all heard the negativity surrounding Capitol Hill, most notably the criticism that Congress is out of touch.  A congressional approval rating hovering around 13% suggests a failure to engage the public in the legislative process, the solution to which lies in tech. Representatives need to know what we think in order to represent us well.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/668161 2014-03-27T03:37:48Z 2014-03-28T02:04:45Z 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.
Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/663063 2014-03-12T16:07:21Z 2014-03-12T16:28:12Z CapitolBells.com Going Live, Bringing Social to Congress

I am proud to announce the launch of the new social network for Congress, www.capitolbells.com. 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, CapitolBells.com 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 CapitolBells.com can have as profound an effect on civic engagement.]]>
Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/624024 2013-11-27T17:19:22Z 2013-11-27T21:25:36Z Bypassing the Gatekeepers of Congress *Without Their Permission*

The Internet “allows awesome ideas to win because people like them, not because some gatekeeper said so.” — Alexis Ohanian, Without Their Permission.

On Reddit a wild sketcher can become a star, at DonorsChoose.org a special ed teacher can become a life changing philanthropist, and through Tumblr an unemployed recent college grad can hijack a national debate. The most powerful platforms across the Internet are those that cede control to the people and dismiss the notion of gatekeepers. As the web is democratizing nearly every aspect of our society from angel investing to pop culture, isn’t it ironic that the reins of democracy itself remain firmly in the hands of old institutionalists? After reading Without Their Permission I realized that I have already been designing Capitol Bells as a platform that helps everyone circumvent the gatekeepers of politics. I think that’s pretty exciting.

Two weeks ago I began the next phase of Capitol Bells — “Motions” — with major help from Brian Painter, a bad ass developer from South Carolina. Soon, Capitol Bells will let anyone lead legislative lobbying campaigns, personally gauge their representatives’ performance based on real congressional actions (not hype!), and even become political leaders and declare candidacy in their own communities — all without anyone’s permission. By combing social networking with user voting on bills, Capitol Bells has the potential to bypass every type of political gatekeeper: party leaders, media pundits, campaign contributors, lobbyists, you name it.

The SOPA protest was a huge inspiration for me as a cynical congressional staffer to see that Congress really is accountable to the public. I want to witness that happen again and again by facilitating a system of constant public feedback and accountability. Congress’s first job is to work for us. I look forward to demonstrating how Capitol Bells says no to political gatekeepers and yes to winning ideas from you and me.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/621064 2013-11-19T05:03:20Z 2013-11-19T14:47:01Z Community Hacks

I spent the past weekend in New York for the New York Times Hack Day 2013. With great pride I can report that my team won the award for the best news-related app! Better than that, I learned how important an energized community is, even in a field as seemingly solitary as coding… no wonder GitHub is such a success

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/618648 2013-11-12T15:02:39Z 2013-11-12T15:02:41Z Capitol Bells is going bicameral!

Quick update, Capitol Bells now includes the Senate. The big update is currently under review by Apple's app store, and it should be freely available for download any day now. If you can't wait, you can check out a demo here on app.io - the real version looks better than this though.

The Senate side of Capitol Bells has all the same functionality as the existing House side app.  One important difference between the two versions for you floor wonks out there is that this version does natively scrape for current bills under consideration. Instead, it uses the Sunlight Foundation's API for "Upcoming Bills," which they scrape for updates every fifteen minutes.

If you would rather follow the Senate than the House, you can open up the setting menu from either side of the app and choose you "default."

I hope Capitol Bells is as popular in the Senate as it is in the House!

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/609043 2013-10-14T22:33:22Z 2013-10-16T04:23:58Z Reppin' in the USA

Here's a sneak peek at the personal representative page for users. Capitol Bells will match the number of votes you and your Member agree on and displays it as a vote score. While you're checking that out, you can call your Member right from the app, or just tweet him or catch up on Facebook. 

One thing I am excited about is the Rep page's Twitter stream. It displays the most current tweets from your Representative. Right below it shows the most current tweets sent to your Rep using the hashtag of your district, for instance #TX06 for Texas's 6th Congressional District.

Have anymore cool ideas? Let me know in the comments!

P.S. This guy just discovered the heater.

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/607282 2013-10-09T04:16:43Z 2013-10-16T03:56:55Z A model idiot? Representative democracy for the social network age.

I'm a bit of an idiot to worry too much about what to write here. You're probably reading this to learn more about my work on Capitol Bells. Accordingly, in this post I'll outline my model for constituent engagement, and how we can use it to rally our friends on important stuff.

The "game" of Capitol Bells is relatively simple. There are officials and users (that's you), and they each belong to a district (that's where you live). Officials can cosponsor bills at any time and can vote on bills if they reach the Floor (I'm talking real world). Capitol Bells users can vote on any bill at any time. Uniquely, users can also vote on a bill by approving a "motion."

"Motions" are a fancy way of asking your friends to vote your way on a bill.  Motions can be created to either support or oppose any bill. The creator (you) adds a headline - less than 100 characters - and may attach a hyperlink (hopefully a substantive resource - but that's your call).  Approving a supporting motion adds an upvote on the user's behalf; approving an opposing motion downvotes the bill for the user. Because motions will be available via web app, anyone can share links for them anywhere - Facebook, Twitter, e-mail, etc.

A fun twist I am playing with is giving clout points to active users. For instance, you could get one point for every bill you vote on. You could also get a point when a friend joins a motion you shared with her, and a half a point for each or her friends who join. We could run leader boards of the most active and influential constituents in a district by clout points.  Maybe those power users could even decide to publicly share their own virtual voting profiles, and offer themselves up as candidates for Congress....

And check this out... Unbelievable, right?

Capitol Bells Cloakroom
tag:blog.capitolbells.com,2013:Post/597170 2013-08-26T03:02:18Z 2015-03-16T01:05:49Z Taps like countable shouts.

I didn't know exactly what I was getting into when I started Capitol Bells. Since I don't know what I'm doing starting a blog either I'll start from the top.

I've been the intern answering the hourly, repeat calls of a select few crazies and taking constituents on tours. I've been the guy who goes through all the incoming district correspondence (calls, letters, e-mails, and faxes) to tally them up by issue and make sure they get a form letter response a few weeks or months down the line. And I've taken the meetings of the special interest groups and lobbyists (Time Warner's SOPA guy was my all time favorite).

Capitol Bells Cloakroom