I just launched Capitol Bells today. You can learn more at the website, download Capitol Bells on the App Store, and verify this on Facebook!

Edit: Photo verification.

Edit2: Capitol Bells will always be free! But donations through paypal are definitely welcome! Thank you!

Edit3: Thanks for all the great questions, feedback and advice! I am heading to bed now, but I will check again in the morning to wrap up any loose ends! Thanks everyone!

Comments: 165 • Responses: 74  • Date: 

WhatsNextForMe34 karma

Would you ever consider a 99 cent upgrade that shows what each Congressman voted for/against on past and current issues? That would be very helpful come voting time.

CapitolBells120 karma

No. I would be interested in making that a FREE upgrade. Great idea.

WhatsNextForMe17 karma

Wow that's generous and you're awesome. Just wondering, do you make any revenue from your app if you list it as free?

CapitolBells18 karma

None, but I need to find a way to raise funds or get grants to keep developing it. Kickstarter maybe? All the most successful Kickstarter campaigns look like they are produced by studios - a luxury I don't have the cash for unfortunately.

PeridexisErrant8 karma


CapitolBells10 karma

That's a great idea. I will consider how to do that - I am open to recommendations. Thanks.

Scurry2 karma

On Android, most devs just have both a free version and a paid donate version on the market. Not sure if you can do the same on Apple's app store.

CapitolBells2 karma

I don't believe it's an option on iTunes, but you can add an "in-app purchase" feature that could probably be configured for a donation. Any updates you make to an iOS app need to go through the week long review process again to get back on the store though.

CapitolBells2 karma

I just added one to the site! I am not sure if I can use a regular hyperlink, but I will try it again in a few minutes. Thanks for the tip.

WhatsNextForMe3 karma

Ah, that kind of sucks. Good luck to you anyway. Just downloaded it. Good job!

CapitolBells5 karma

Thanks! Let me know what you think.

BlackoutMurray1 karma

Thanks to the jobs act you may be able to crowd fund it soon

CapitolBells1 karma

Ha, very true! For the immediate future, I want to keep focusing on making a better app and making it available to different platforms. Raising capital is a full time job on its own.

AndromedaNinja9 karma

So when do we get to buy weed?

CapitolBells17 karma

When we start keeping better tabs on Congress, so we can ensure they are working for us rather than prison and law enforcement industries.

Edit: Or putting any other industry before the public good for that matter!

AndromedaNinja3 karma

I feel like it's not right for them to allow us to smoke it in certain areas, yet limit our ability to purchase it

CapitolBells5 karma

Better yet, why is it illegal at all while, nationally, alcohol and cigarettes are legal, and opiates are legally obtainable too. What empirical data justifies that legal reasoning? We need the data out in the public, openly discussed, to make our laws betters.

ultradip8 karma

When are you coming out with an Android version? :)

CapitolBells12 karma

I want to start on it ASAP!

captain_obvious_scum2 karma

To Java coding it is!!

I want to personally learn mobile app development myself this summer in Java along with my buddy.

Also, have you heard of that uhhhh "Metaiioo" programming language? It's supposed to be cross platform meaning you develop in it, and it's cross platform for Windows, iOS, and Android...

CapitolBells3 karma

I haven't heard of that, but it sounds like I should learn more about it. Fortunately, my back end is pretty platform agnostic, so it's really just the interfaces that have to be tailored to Android, Windows, etc.

nicereddy1 karma

Can you set up a mailing list for when it's released? I'd love to have an app like that on my phone.

CapitolBells1 karma

Someone else asked for this too. PM your email to me, and I will start the list!

jakk7 karma

Awesome idea and clean execution- great work! As someone who has spent far too much of their life staring at CSPAN, I look forward to knowing when to tune in.

CapitolBells9 karma

Thank you. That's really gratifying to hear! Believe me, I know your pain. Frankly, I couldn't believe this didn't already exist when I started on it earlier this year.

jakk2 karma

Neither can I. Technology has afforded us such a bright future in terms of potential government transparency, and apps like this are the kind of thing that'll take us there. Thanks again!

CapitolBells4 karma

There's a lot of work to do in bringing Congress into the 21st Century. You wouldn't believe how dysfunction the Congressional Research Service is.

o0eagleeye0o1 karma

I'm going to be an intern in D.C. this summer, and I will be helping out L.A.s with researching topics. Any tips?

CapitolBells2 karma

Work hard. Do anything asked of you, and do it to completion. We all go there to do the legislative work, but often you have to help with mundane tasks to help your colleagues that are too busy with more important work to handle them. If you can set your pride aside to be willing to do anything when it's needed (and I mean even things as gross as cleaning the fridge), you will really demonstrate your ability as a team player. That may sounds totally appalling, but keep in mind that every staffer there is an assistant, and everyone does this stuff no matter how senior they are. I have literally seen chiefs of staff cleaning out gnarly fridges on multiple occasions. You see them doing that, offer to help.

That said, whenever you are out of work to do, ask everyone in the office what they need help on. That's how you get the coolest tasks to do too, like researching a new legislative initiative or setting up a staff briefing with the DOE.

Be proactive. Get your hands dirty when necessary. Let people know you are there to help. Never leave an assignment unfinished.

Xilith1176 karma

Why would such an app be useful? I guess I'm not familiar with the problem it is fixing.

CapitolBells18 karma

Currently, the only way for anyone off the Hill (and many on the Hill) to know when Congress is voting in real-time is by staring at C-SPAN. I hope this encourages greater Congressional transparency.

LordWayne4 karma

I have always wanted to know how my senators and congressman is doing. Thanks for the app!

CapitolBells11 karma

They are debating CISPA right now.

kharlynak5 karma

For a very loose definition of the term "debate".

CapitolBells6 karma

Indeed. I would love to see a real debate on the floor this year.

kharlynak4 karma

And since I failed to say it in my previous comment, thanks for making this app. I'll be looking forward to the Android version.

CapitolBells3 karma

Thanks for the encouragement!

everybodyshomie5 karma

Thanks for your effort! I just downloaded this app, but I'm wondering, is there a section for the Senate? Or am I using the app incorrectly? If not, I'm sure you're hard at work on adding new things. I would suggest incorporating the activities of committees and subcommittees as well. Great job overall, I'll be sure to tell friends.

CapitolBells8 karma

Please do tell your friends! It's really helpful getting feedback like that.

You aren't the first person to notice the absence of the Senate alerts. Since I am bootstrapping this, my priority has been to get the House features up and running. Senate support will come soon though.

beeline4 karma


CapitolBells2 karma

=\ Tough proposition. I'd need more help/resources to tackle Windows.

lurrker2 karma


And thank you!

CapitolBells3 karma

Soon (Hopefully!).

cat_patte4 karma

Can you give a description of how this works for the technically competant? You need to be very, very sure this is llegal.

Did they forget to check authentication and put private data on a publicly accessible website? I know it's the common sense equivalent of putting a reading poster on a public building, but people have been portraied in the media and court as "leet cyber-hackers" for that kind of thing. The current computer crime laws are very, very general/broad/vague. In theory everytime you visit a website you break them. You could end up like Aaron Swartz or Andrew Auernheimer link

Judges and Juries may well listen, with fear, to a prosecutor say "hacks into Congress" and snooze though the technical description.

Also I can easily read your phone and fax number from the photo verification picture that you posted.

CapitolBells2 karma

Ha, well, 1) as a FORMER House staffer, you won't find me there 2) That phone number no longer belongs to the same office. Still, I think it's best to leave whoever's at that number alone.

As for legality, the data source (spectrum-based) is completely public and I have run it by a former general counsel of the House, the Office of the Clerk, and a few more third parties to be safe. I feel confident that Capitol Bells is operating within the law.

cat_patte2 karma


CapitolBells2 karma

It was a big concern of mine too! And when it comes to Capitol Hill, you never know when the body politic is going to rear its ugly head.

SuffocatingRodent-4 karma

Then you didn't "hack" a damn thing and using the term to draw attention is misleading and pathetic.

CapitolBells4 karma

The best hacks aren't illegal, and can do some good.

SuffocatingRodent-7 karma

I didn't say anything about legality.

Learn what the word means, and you'll see how it doesn't apply to your app.

CapitolBells3 karma

I prefer the top definition. However, I can see how you might get the wrong impression.

CapitolBells0 karma

BOOM! Headshot.

SuffocatingRodent-6 karma

Motherfucker, did you just link URBAN DICTIONARY at me?

Back up. Back waaaaayy up, and get offa my lawn.

edit: Use whatever word you want. Don't be surprised if people get the wrong impression if you use the wrong terms.

CapitolBells2 karma

You do it, then tell me it isn't a hack.

facetook3 karma

Thank you for your work!

"Who watches the Watchmen?"- CapitolBells, that's who!

Regarding transparency: I understand that Senator Coburn was forced by the "ethics committee" to remove a debt clock outside his office. What are your views on this?

CapitolBells6 karma

I can't find a link on this particular story, do you have one?

Out of context, I think the debt clocks (popular on GOP websites) are just political gimmicks. That said, any time Congress censors data it is doing an injustice to the people. I have seen it happen too often. How can we make sensible policy without starting from the facts?

facetook2 karma

Here is the original story I reference. It's about midway through the article.

I must add the disclaimer that I am a libertarian, not an Elephant or a Donkey.

CapitolBells2 karma

Ah, they had him move it because it was in the hallway, which is public space, rather than in his office or on his door.

Dancemanleo3 karma

I absolutely cannot wait to download this when I get home. It has always baffled me why this kinda information is not as easy to find as it should be.

Prepare to get another 5 star rating pronto.

CapitolBells1 karma

Ha! That's awesome. Thank you. I'm going to do everything I can to make even more of it accessible on the fly like this.

CosmikTay3 karma

Has Congress tried to slip any bills through while the news is focusing most if not all of their attention on Boston?

CapitolBells4 karma

Both houses have shot down the background checks for gun purchases bill while we weren't looking.

HandicapperGeneral3 karma

This sounds really cool, and I'm downloading it as I type. Good for you.

A few things. I love supporting people who make things I enjoy, but since you're listing it for free, I can't really do that. I hate to be the one to suggest it, but have you thought about ads? You said it hacks into Congress's systems. Does it do this illegally? Could you get in trouble for it?

CapitolBells4 karma

It is completely legal. I use the word 'hack' loosely.

I don't currently have the bandwidth to implement ads, but another redditor recommended a donate button. Maybe there's an easy way I can add that to the site or into the app itself.

Thanks for the feedback.

HandicapperGeneral2 karma

PayPal has an easy system for setting up a donate button.


CapitolBells2 karma

Brilliant! I am going to set that up on my site tonight. Thank you!

HandicapperGeneral3 karma

Also, if you're not already working on it, maybe think about an android version. It's a big chunk of the marketshare.

CapitolBells1 karma

Definitely. In fact, I think more people are on Android now than on iPhone. iOS seems to be more popular in DC, so I went with that first.

thirdrail690 karma

You think? Android has 53% market share in the US.

CapitolBells3 karma

Sounds like I got some more work to do!

CapitolBells1 karma

I added the donate button to the website! www.capitolbells.com

I'm trying to figure out if I can just use it as a hyperlink too.

levilarrington2 karma

How many corndogs can you fit in your mouth?

CapitolBells4 karma

I'm a vegetarian.

Matt_Phyche2 karma

No questions, just a big seal of approval from a fellow politicscarerabouter.

CapitolBells2 karma

Thanks. Hopefully, this makes it easier to care about at relevant times: when Congress is voting on laws.

Caffeinewriter2 karma

Out of curiosity, will you ever accept Bitcoin donations? I can't help but suggest a little anarcho-capitalist technotarianism.

CapitolBells2 karma

I have been wanting to get into bitcoin... How do I begin?

Osteowhat2 karma

Are you originally from Michigan

CapitolBells2 karma

No. I was just in the right place at the right time.

Osteowhat2 karma

that helps!

CapitolBells5 karma

Funny story, the office I was interning in was catering a big meeting for Members of Congress, and someone spilled coffee all over the floor. (In full suit and tie) I basically dove to the ground to clean it up because I saw some old-timers were on their way in, who would be sure to slip and break a hip. Turned out the next Member who arrived needed a new aide, and appreciated my work ethic.

PolarJace2 karma

Amazing. Just in time to monitor CISPA also!

CapitolBells2 karma

And the House seems to think CISPA should be full steam ahead.

NinjaDiscoJesus2 karma

is this dangerous for you to post dude?

CapitolBells7 karma

It's an entirely legal hack!

NinjaDiscoJesus3 karma

oh right! sorry I am not computer person

CapitolBells9 karma

It's not just you. I had to ask some lawyers about it too. Luckily there are no shortage of them in DC.

calmac1922 karma

I'm English so this might sound kind of stupid but don't you have like a tv/radio channel or something that shows and tells you exactly that?

Over here BBC shows the votes live from inside the House of Commons. Is congress really secretive about what they're doing? If that's the case that seems incredibly wrong and unfair to the voting public.

CapitolBells3 karma

We do; we have C-SPAN. With Capitol Bells you don't need to be watching C-SPAN to know when they are voting. You will get the alert when the vote starts as a push notification, and can get the details of the bill without even being near a tv.

Wallama2 karma

Was everyone in the White House a pretentious asshole?

CapitolBells3 karma

I've only been to the White House a couple times, but everyone was really friendly on each occasion. I suppose most people don't make it there without expressing a certain level of courtesy and charisma - it is politics after all.

Tommy_10inch2 karma

Is this legal?..

CapitolBells1 karma

So I've been told.

Dompont2 karma

This guy is awesome

CapitolBells3 karma

Ha, thanks. After working in our "do-nothing congress" for the last couple years, it feels good to be doing something relevant.

blackplague12 karma

Great app! And I second the suggestions above. Let me add another one. I have always wished there was a politics section in the news like a sports section. It talks about key issues of the day, does interviews, and shows all the voting scores- yea, nay, abstained. And then if the congress person took money from lobbyists etc on that issue, and then what their district polls at on that issue- if possible. I also think if people realized how much junk is voted on and how little time is actually spent on Capitol Hill they might be more open to change. I think your app is a step towards those scores. I'd like to be able to see the votes by elected official and sort them.

CapitolBells3 karma

I love the analogy to a sports section! With the scores and everything. That's really clever. I am working on another feature that is similar - more real time numbers, eventually integrated with individual stats. That's a big part of my dream for this.

consumeradvocacy1 karma

This is a phenomenal app idea. Have you considered expanding to do similar apps in other countries, like Canada for example? ;)

CapitolBells1 karma

I would love to. I would need to get funded somehow first.

consumeradvocacy3 karma

I think you could probably charge 99 cents for a Canadian version of the app. We are used to paying more for everything.

CapitolBells2 karma

One of the things that excites me the most about this project is that it might just as easily be implemented in statehouses across the country, and parliaments in other countries. It could be one step toward greater accountability in our democracies.

ahoy11 karma

I was bewildered by your site until I realized it was optimized for mobile.

CapitolBells2 karma

The site was pretty quick and dirty - it needs some work.

ahoy11 karma

just a UX suggestion, I'd change the big X button to a back-arrow sort of character.

edit: I do like what you've done though.

CapitolBells2 karma

I think I am going to give it a total overhaul over the weekend. I really appreciate the feedback.

ManicParroT1 karma

It "hacks" into Congress' voting system? Don't you think it's a mistake to acknowledge that you're illegally accessing Congressional computer systems on the Internet? Or are you just exaggerating to try and sell product?

CapitolBells2 karma

The information is all public, but before Capitol Bells, no one had figured out how to jail break it from Congress in an automated manner based on the current infrastructure. However, while it might have been more challenging than cracking passwords, there is always something deliciously satisfying about successful brute forcing hashes.

Selling product? No, the app is free and I intend to keep it that way.

FourCounters1 karma

Please optimize for the iPad, thank you.

Are you selling any data to special interest groups or other sources?

CapitolBells2 karma

PM me your email address and I'll add you to the ipad list.

Other than the e-mail address you are about to send me (I won't give it to anyone seriously), I'm not collecting any data. The app isn't even set up to collect anything other than the number of API requests being made which ultimately cost money.

mak361 karma

Can this be done for state general assemblies? I really enjoy the open congress website, I wish my state (Illinois) were more open about votes and such.

CapitolBells1 karma

State houses have been on my mind since I started. Once Capitol Bells is complete, I would love to continue by bringing states and even other parliaments into the 21st century too.

FourCounters1 karma

I have lost faith in the two party system, would is the best road map to follow to create new political parties that will be recognized?

CapitolBells2 karma

My own crazy idea is to roll back the changes that were made to the Constitution over a hundred year ago regarding the size of the House of Representatives. The Constitution declared that every state would be represented by 2 Senators regardless of the state's population, but 1 congressman for every 30,000 citizens. In one of the most obtuse power grabs of history, Congress chipped away at that number, and ultimately got rid of it entirely claiming that not more than 435 members fit in the House chamber of the Capitol building. That 30,000 people per representative is now over 750,000 per representative and rising - they are all mini-senators now, beholden to big money interested and national parties.

I'm not constitutional scholar, but no where in the constitution was anything ever written about out representation being limited to the size of a room. If we stuck to the Constitution in this case, the Members we elected to Congress would actually be representative of our communities. 30,000 people is a small town, or a neighborhood in a large city. These crooks wouldn't be able to get away with what they get away with now, and we would have a diverse party system representing far more than two single sides of the Corporate party like we have now.

segajenny1 karma

coolest representative? most down to earth? most gigantic douche?

CapitolBells2 karma

I can really only attest to dems.

Coolest: Jared Polis Down to Earth: Peter DeFazio Douche: Brad Sherman -- guess I won't ever work for him now!

segajenny1 karma

Sherman really? Hes got such sweet organizational ratings (aclu etc etc) is he just a dick or what?

CapitolBells2 karma

Most recently you have this amazing example of douche-baggery: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=9p3F_vm5B5Q

He is a jerk to his staff - they have horror stories.

And there's my favorite snippet about him. He decided to support scientology because he wanted his constituents to know that he was pro science.....

TryItAgainSlower1 karma

Are you giving this app away, or are you doing this AMA to advertise your commercial venture?

CapitolBells17 karma

It's completely free and I plan to keep it that way.

TryItAgainSlower1 karma

Very nice. Keep up the good work.

CapitolBells3 karma

Thanks. This is public information, and it wouldn't be right to charge for it. That said, I am hoping this is just the start of my work opening up Congress to the public and making it easier for us to keep politicians accountable.

intentsman-2 karma

It's completely free

Does that smack of socialism?

CapitolBells12 karma

Eh, I hope it just smacks of democracy.


Were you a committee or personal staffer?

CapitolBells2 karma

Personal plus a stint in leadership.

intentsman1 karma

Why didn't you go into the lucrative world of lobbying, like most former staffers?

CapitolBells5 karma

Impact. There's a huge void between government accountability and technology currently. My background is in engineering, and I think I can make a bigger impact on public policy by connecting Congress to the public than as another mid-level lobbyist.

LancePeterson1 karma

What's your favorite bar in Adams Morgan?

CapitolBells1 karma

Smoke and Barrel.

LancePeterson0 karma

Nice, I like Madams Organ

CapitolBells1 karma

I think someone died there on New Years.

LancePeterson1 karma

Oh shit really? I haven't been in a while, that place gets packed

CapitolBells1 karma

Yeah, I think he fell off the roof between the neighboring building. Wasn't found until the next day.

blackplague11 karma

Great app! Have you seen the Sunlight foundation apps? Similar

CapitolBells1 karma

I have seen their iPhone and their Android apps. The Android app is good, but it doesn't do what Capitol Bells does (real-time alerts). The iPhone app is badly in need of an update.

DemonOWA1 karma

Just wanted to say thanks! I just downloaded the app because of this AMA.

CapitolBells2 karma

Awesome! I'm actually pretty excited most of the questions and comments were about the app. I thought people might be more focused on hearing some of the shady back room dealings of Capitol Hill, so it's cool that the app is more exciting and that you actually downloaded it! Thanks!

kylejoesph111 karma

So I downloaded the app but still a little lost in it, is there like a guide or a walk through?

CapitolBells1 karma

Unfortunately, there isn't. I don't have a big team behind me or thousands in funding to add anything but the bare essentials at this point.

However, reply or PM me and I will walk you through any questions you have myself.

kylejoesph112 karma

I just am curious as to what the 5 little circles are on the top right and why they are red or blue sometimes

CapitolBells1 karma

They reflect the patterns displayed on the legislative clocks in the Capitol complex: http://www.popvox.com/blog/2011/the-hill-101-what-do-the-buzzers-mean/

The clocks buzz and light up in specific patterns based on what the floor proceeding is. The little circles at the top of the app light up in sync with those clocks on the Hill.

l33tb3rt0 karma

Two questions:

1) While I think it's dandy to increase awareness, how do you think this will increase awareness? From my perspective, this doesn't do much to add to the dialogue about politics. People will say "oh great, those jerks are voting" but doesn't do anything to inform their opinion. Plus, you are preaching to people who would already be interested in this. How will you reach the uninterested consumer?

2) After being on the hill, this alert system would just get annoying after a while. Especially during peak times. Beep. Beep. BEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEEP. That's what I imagine the app doing. How are you ensuring that people don't drop the app because of too many updates?

PS: You may want to drop the area codes from your verification.

CapitolBells1 karma

1) Good point. This alone won't increase awareness, but it does increase transparency. You are also right on your next point: this is targeted to people who are interested in actively following Congress. That said, I am very interested in developing a spin-off aimed at general citizen activists.

2) Download the app! One of the best parts of Capitol Bells is that there are NO annoying beeeeps like the clocks on the Hill, and you can customize exactly which alerts you want to receive. The default is set only for 15 minute votes, which typically include only the first of a series of votes, and happen at most a couple times a day.

marsrover001-2 karma

No-one yet? Really?

Duck size horse, horse sized duck?

CapitolBells3 karma

What's the horse-sized duck's final form?