Hi Reddit,

I'm here in the Longworth cafeteria on Capitol Hill to answer your questions about Capitol Bells, Congress, computer games, or anything else. Verification photo.

Since launch last year, the Capitol Bells mobile app is now used by over half of the US House of Representatives to get vote alerts on their smartphones, whether they're out to lunch or sitting on the pot. iOS / Android

The goal of my new web app CapitolBells.com is to quantify our voices for those lawmakers on Capitol Hill.

Here’s how it works:

Search for a particular bill or keyword (try “HR 2356” or “climate”), vote bills up or down, and click the green plus button to write a “Motion.” Instead of sharing arcane bill text, Motions let you explain why you support or oppose a bill in your own words. If your friends agree, their votes are automatically added to your Motion and to the bill. Motions are ranked on the front page by hotness like on Reddit.

Here are a few examples:

Think you can say it better? Disagree? Write your own Motion and then share it here in the comments, on social media, or on /r/uspolitics. Click on "My District” after weighing in to see how closely your Rep reps you personally and your district as a whole. Capitol Bells does this by comparing your positions to your Congressperson's official positions (votes and cosponsorships).

For more color, here's a segment from CBS news from last week.

My friend Brian’s been helping me code (we met through my last AMA), and he is around to answer questions too.

tl;dr CapitolBells.com is like Reddit for crowd-lobbying Congress.

Now please AMA!

UPDATE: Okay guys, I am freaking EXHAUSTED now. Thank you for making this a success. Thank you so much for all the interest, questions, tips, and bug reports! I'll continue to follow up with this tonight and tomorrow, and to all the pms. btw, right now the motion to limit campaign contributions is the trendingest Motion on Capitol Bells right now! The most votes are from Rep McDermott's district in WA, and he's already a cosponsor!

Comments: 1006 • Responses: 113  • Date: 

aupriver816 karma

That is probably one major step towards strengthening the concept of direct digital democracy. Do you have plans to expand to other countries? I would love to bring it to Brazil.

CapitolBells422 karma

I would love to bring it to countries all over the world. Both the real-time coverage and crowd-lobbying aspects can be applied to any democracy in theory. I think I first people need to get excited about it here in the US, so I can get this project better finances, build a team, and start expanding. Right now I am the only person who works on this full time.

nonconformist369 karma

That's great what you're doing. Seems like this would add transparency and garner more interest in being part of the process. I was thinking of making an app and I was curious just how long did you study proggramming to build your app and what kind of language do you focus on mostly? I'm guessing you have others too but this one in particular. I study HTML5 CSS3 Python and JavaScript. I'm thinking you used a combination of all these maybe?

CapitolBells74 karma

I am not a great programmer, but I have been programming on and off mostly recreationally since the 5th grade. I've done interactive-C, C++, java, FORTRAN, html/css, javascript, python, angularJS, and Objective-C. Maybe some others. The webapp uses python, html/css, and angularJS.

LineOfCoke66 karma

not interested in any form of direct democracy, but I am happy to feel more plugged in to whats going on in Congress. I know its probably not worth doing from a business aspect, but politically I'd love to see this branch off to the state level as well in the future.

CapitolBells75 karma

I have it designed using something google made called Open Civic Data identifiers. Instead of storing an address, I can store this OCD-ID to figure out everything from your congressional district down to the city council district. The big idea is to expand down to the most local level of politics possible.

LineOfCoke24 karma

I was just checking it out. Its an awesome platorm. Now to figure out how to get some conservatives involved with it, so its not a leftwing circlejerk.

CapitolBells46 karma

Working on it! You can start it off too :) Like reddit, there are no gatekeepers, anyone can be an influencer.

xc2115 karma

Could you expand on your plans to move this down to Local Government?

CapitolBells42 karma

If we get good momentum on the National level, I will start applying the same formula to state houses. Get real time coverage of the legislature in app form, make sure there is a legislative API, then let people crowd-source positions on bills and match them against their elected officials just like this. If I could go down to the town level, I would do the same too.

xc2124 karma

My reason for asking is because my local government has been looking for a way to reach the masses that doesn't require holding a Town Hall meeting or waiting for Public Hearings to happen. Developing an app that each locality could control seems to bee the best route considering the overwhelming number of local governments.

CapitolBells28 karma

As long as it's an open, non partisan platform. If Capitol Bells picks up steam though and you expand it to local areas, then all the people already signed up for the national participation are already signed up for local participation without having to go to a new platform.

ActuallyYeah2 karma

Right, but what about the citizens without smartphones? You'd have to have a free-smartphone program for this to be fair to everybody.

CapitolBells7 karma

Or create other creative ways to engage them and let them weigh in. My whole ethos behind this is that I want Capitol Bells to be the EASIEST way to engage with Congress, and I don't think that needs to rely on having a smartphone.

CarbonDe13 karma

I think looking at ancient Greece, Athens in particular, Is the best argument against direct democracy. "What, you won the war against the Persians but didn't bring our dead back for proper burial?! Ok, well, we're just going to execute all of you."

CapitolBells100 karma

This is just a counter-balance to all the other factors influencing Members of Congress. Right now public opinion is highly undervalued in my opinion. Hopefully this strengthens our voices. It doesn't change the Constitution.

CarbonDe-1 karma

Obviously it doesn't take change the Constitution, direct democracy just doesn't work. I don't know if undervalued is the right word so much as ignored-- unless you're up for re-election or are trying to fundraise, then the pandering begins.

Lono20115 karma

Ignored... Undervalued ... 6 of one half dozen of another. Make citizens voices harder to ignore, easier to group/tabulate/see and thus harder to ignore... And hopefully start to raise interest and level the playing field (against basically corporate interest that runs out countries). Kudos for this. Canada next please!

CapitolBells4 karma

Exactly. And thank you. I am not always the most well-spoken person. I am a nerd after all.

aupriver3 karma

I share the concern that direct democracy is a dangerous proposal under political systems with a lax constitutional framework. But to state it does not work lacks empirical evidence. It is troublesome, but hey, so is representative democracy. Having a real-time outlet for crowds to express their choices is a GREAT achievement in advancing a real market for political ideas.

CapitolBells4 karma

And real standard data to measure political ideas by.

SuperNinjaBot10 karma

We could use the website to make a motion to switch to a direct digital democracy.

Could be self propelling.

CapitolBells27 karma

Haha, I have told people before who asked me what success looks like to me, and I have told them that it's when people use Capitol Bells to make a system like this official.

CrimZin505 karma

Hi, this is a great idea. One question I have is what safeguards do you have in place (or are anticipating to have in place) that protect spammers and botnets from "gaming the system?"

If this becomes a relevant piece of the American political landscape then safeguarding the reliability of the data should be top priority.

CapitolBells404 karma

Right now I am outsourcing most of the spoofing security to Google and Facebook, which are essentially identity management platforms. The other protection I am implementing prevents you from continually switching districts. After a certain limit, you will be warned to stop carpetbagging, then you'll be locked in. Additionally, changing districts updates all your votes to your current district. The incentive is to vote from your own district.

Just for comparison, Congressional offices don't really do anything besides ask for your zip code or address to confirm you are a constituent, so you can call every single office if you want and tell them you live there.

CrimZin167 karma

That's a great way to start but whether or not they are identity management platforms is irrelevant to spamming or botnets which can just make armies of those accounts.

Be wary of comparing publicly available data on the Internet to calling an office though. One tech savvy person can unleash a storm of fake Web queries faster than someone can call an office repeatedly.

I would be much more interested in seeing a system where it's linked to a drivers license number, voters registration card, or SSN. One other suggestion is you could have votes called in (think American Idol) as opposed to a web query. That's also much harder to fake.

edit: think

hahaha0198 karma

I agree with you fully but I have been thinking about this problem/situation considerably over the course of the last decade. The problem with recording/verifying identity in association with a virtual voting platform is the idea of a secret ballot. There is too much potential for repercussion or retaliation if entities private or public could associate your voting history to your actual identity IMO.

CapitolBells33 karma

I agree. I'd rather create incentives and disincentives, and quell botnets to get people voting from their correct districts, than keeping data too vulnerable to exploitation. Also I want it to be easy

macadolla189 karma

"from stopping SOPA 2 to legalizing hemp farms"

You sure know how to play towards your audience

CapitolBells271 karma


ExoticKosher7 karma

This idea is awesome. I'm trying to go into politics myself. Do you have any advice for people trying to make a career out of getting involved?

CapitolBells8 karma

Learn to code! Automate everything.

GameMachineJames181 karma

You used Social media to give a voice back to the people?

I don't even have any questions beyond that. I want to fucking congratulate you. This is genius!

CapitolBells109 karma

Thanks, right now on social media it's a contest of who's loudest. I wanted to created a system that can count the people and bin them in their congressional districts, so that way we can actually point to how many people are for something or against something and match that against our Congressmen.

canadian_intransit118 karma

If I can compare my views directly to my Rep's track record, this seems like a powerful tool especially in an election year. What has the response been from the Hill? Are Reps excited (or not) about the potential this has to dramatically increase transparency and accountability?

CapitolBells127 karma

A lot of them are. Since so many Congresspeople love the app, they've generally been excited to hear about this idea and how it can make their social media presence more effective. I think Congressman Polis discusses it a bit in the CBS video.. While this is a tool for us to lobby them, it is also a tool that they can use to promote their own work and priorities to us, and explain why their work is important, which is how it should be.

stickthelimeinthecoc73 karma

I was thinking of doing something similar in Canada. I am currently studying computer programming and was hoping to develop and app sometime in the future. Wanna join forces?

CapitolBells80 karma

I definitely want to get it to Ottawa! Send me a pm!

adamantismo16 karma

I absolutely love this! I'm also in Canada and I think a system like this is a great start. I've been interested in doing something like this in the past but it never happened (I did write a comprehensive blog post though: http://inwise.blogspot.ca/2013/04/direct-democracy.html). But having ideas is one thing, actually DOING it is another. Great job!

CapitolBells11 karma

Very cool, I just opened it in a new tab and will read it later! Thanks!

projectFT61 karma

"Jim, I need you to vote for this pipeline. You know our PAC gave you $3 million last election cycle and I got Representative so-and-so to side with you to kill that gun control legislation." I'm sorry scumbag lobbyist, I just can't vote for this pipeline. A bunch of kids on this iPhone app that don't vote, have no money and aren't even in my district are telling me they're against it. Take your dirty campaign dollars and shove them up your corporate employers ass.

*Edit: to be constructive as apposed to dismissive...crowd fund on each issue with an assigned lobbyist to hold the Rep/Senator accountable for money received via the app/organization/PAC. Otherwise you're just making a new whitehouse.gov site where we all submit opinions and then they're ignored by everyone that matters.

CapitolBells47 karma

I am sensing...sarcasm. It's cool. It will take a lot of momentum to make this politically significant. I am going to start by choosing a few battleground districts (non-partisan), and trying to grow a representative, critical mass of users there. Then we'll have something campaigns and voters can use to judge the politicians whether the politicians are paying attention or not. If they lose, they might start taking it more seriously.

Edit to your edit: The difference is Capitol Bells compares your positions to your Member's official positions, so there's a public score of how closely a politician represents the constituents of the district. If that number is politically significant, the guy who ignores it could have a bad time.

beernerd33 karma

Capitol Bells compares your positions to your Member's official positions

This is the most important part of your app in my opinion, because it will allow voters to make informed decisions about their incumbents at election time. That's why politicians need to pay attention.

CapitolBells14 karma

Thanks. I think so too. I have been having a hard time communicating that to people because it's not a simple concept, it takes some set up to explain, and I am just a bad explainer.

beernerd14 karma

It doesn't help that most young people, especially on reddit, are total cynics. You're making a lot of progress, and their response is always something like, "well that will never work." Part of me just wants to shake them to death while screaming "Fine! Maybe we should just give up and burn this mother to the ground!"

But I would never do that.

CapitolBells7 karma

We gotta to show it in action. The site is FAR from perfect right now, but I wanted to show it to the community to share my vision. In a couple months I'd like to show it at work in a few battleground districts that we can saturate with users, and demonstrate that next step of it.

dukeofdummies44 karma

Why does Android say that you need access to phone calls when I'm trying to install it.

From what I can see from your website, you shouldn't need any access to the phone portions of the system, just network.

Just curious.

CapitolBells53 karma

It shouldn't, sorry! I am a pretty crummy programmer to begin with (not a pro), and I am especially novice at Android. I need to build a team and get good people to start improving it. =\

toxic18137 karma

You got everyone's attention with SOPA and hemp farms. My question to you is, you know reddit pretty well, don't you?

CapitolBells39 karma

Hahahah YES! Also see the Star Wars tie.

askewedview35 karma

Big fan of the app. No question really just a note of thanks for your work on this. Looking forward to the next step for Bells.

CapitolBells26 karma

Thank you! What issues are you interested in?

discipletr33 karma

You know how sometimes you have this really good idea and then you find out somebody else has already done it? This is one of those moments for me.

It's a great idea and I just want to say good luck with this project, hopefully it will do some good.

CapitolBells37 karma

Are you a coder? There's still plenty of work to do.

pinkerbelle27 karma

What measures are in place to stop someone(or a group) from loading up your app on a multitude of devices, all voting the same way, in order to exploit the system?

CapitolBells28 karma

Accounts are tied to Facebook and Google accounts instead of devices. You'll have to be able to span Facebook and Google to spam Capitol Bells (hopefully...). I have a couple other protections in place, but I hope that I can beef it up in the future.

pinkerbelle27 karma

You'll have to be able to span Facebook and Google to spam Capitol Bells (hopefully...).

I'm sorry, but that sounds incredibly exploitable...

Making fake facebook and google accounts is laughably easy, as is setting up a script to log out of/into accounts and spam-vote on a bill.. Especially if you can just do it on a single device..

CapitolBells95 karma

My thinking is that when it becomes influential enough that people are actively trying to exploit it, that Capitol Bells will also have the financing to better protect itself. Personally, I am a huge netsec nerd, but I can only do so much on my own.

Senatorialist25 karma

Are there plans to add the ability to contact members with opinions before votes or after votes requesting on explanation of why they voted the way they did?

CapitolBells49 karma

Interesting question. On each bill, it will show you what your Member's current position is on the bill. However, I don't expect Capitol Bells to be used as the actual forum for discussion -- that's what we're already doing here with Members of Congress on Reddit AMAs, over on Facebook with Q&As, and on Twitter virtual townhalls. I want Capitol Bells to be the piece of it that we plug into those discussions, or any political discussions really, as a way to rally and represent our communities wherever they meet online.

NOW though, Capitol Bells does hold Members accountable for their actions. If you supported a bill that your Member didn't, that is going to impact his representation score on Capitol Bells. If you and a thousand other constituents in the districted supported the bill and he didn't, his entire district representation score will be dragged down proportionally to number of users from the district. There is a reckoning.

keninsd16 karma

Now, if only we can tie their votes to their fund raising!

CapitolBells61 karma

Or how about just making their fundraising irrelevant? All the funds in the world won't help them if their constituents see that they are only being represented 5% of the time by the guy and his challenger represents them 70% of the time.

keninsd14 karma

Yes, that's why this stuff is all so important. Money funds incumbents and challengers, so mating their sources to their records gets us closer.

My preference is to go farther and have their meeting schedules, meeting attendees and topics covered, all available in one app. This exposes the entire food chain to scrutiny.

CapitolBells6 karma

I plan to continue to build out the legislative side of the app too to open as much real time data as possible on what our Reps are doing on Capitol Hill in an interactive form - both for us and to make their jobs easier to they can serve us more efficiently.

poopwithexcitement2 karma

If you use voting records and sponsorships of bills to determine representation level, how can you get data on challengers?

CapitolBells2 karma

Challengers (you could be a challenger) have to use the app to create their own voting record by voting on bills, writing motions, and agreeing to motions.

Poolboy2420 karma

Hi I love the concept of putting more control into the hands of the people, but worry this might also dilute things as well.

Given that the average citizen knows less than even it's representatives in terms of politics and the multiple items passing through congress, it can be difficult for someone to read and understand what each item entails, without say an ELI5. Lobbying while ignorant can be just as detrimental, which begs my question: Do you have any plans on opening up your app to perhaps moderators or analysts to better serve the people information, so they can lobby with an informed choice?

CapitolBells11 karma

I want you to be the analyst and moderator. I am trying to build it in a way where posts gain traction based on the legitimacy and accountability of the people who create them. Most people won't be creating Motions themselves because they aren't that knowledgable about politics, but Motions empower you, the policy wonk, to advocate and engage your community. I do see what you mean though. Right now Citizens seem to me to have the smallest voice in Congress. I hope that this tool starts to tip that balance the other way.

WearMyThrowawayPants16 karma

Does anyone in the Senate use this? Have you heard much feedback from the congressmen that are using it? I would think it worthwhile to mention and thank the congressmen who do currently use this.

CapitolBells27 karma

Over half of the Congressmen in the House use it. I thank them whenever I get a chance. Only a few Senators use it so far. I don't have much time to get the word out to them!

Chimneythinker14 karma

This is a really cool idea. How did you come up with the idea?

CapitolBells42 karma

Thank you! I think the idea was borne out of my frustration as a legislative correspondent. All the phone calls and e-mails people use to get Congressmen to hear their voices are based on the suspension of disbelief. By and far, letters are read and calls are heard only by interns and junior staffers like I was. There are too many letters for one person to actually reply to, but everyone is expected to believe it's their Member of Congress (MoC). Tens of thousands of messages are received, but most districts only hear from around 1% of constituents (because most people aren't going to make the effort to call), and can be hard to apply a letter to a particular bill. Even then, the records of that "constituent correspondence" are basically kept completely secret, so only the office knows what most of his constituents said on the issue. It's basically a farce, and I had a lot of time to ruminate on the problem.

ldrider12 karma

Why do I need to be a part of facebook or google+ to use the app?

CapitolBells13 karma

I did this to make it harder to fake accounts and spam the site with votes and motions from fake users, which would essentially undermine the purpose off the platform, and facebook and google are identify management services. I am the only person who does this full-time at the moment, so it makes sense to outsource this function to google and facebook as I get things rolling. Down the road, I would like to create my own OAuth that doesn't rely on other platforms.

bk15dcx11 karma

Thanks for doing this AMA.

Cool app. Do you think it will separate the haves from have nots though? The technical savvy from the non-techie types?

My concern would be that if representatives relied heavily on the feedback, it wouldn't be a full representation of the entire constituency, since many (older or poor) would not have access or know-how to use the app.

Thank you in advance.

CapitolBells17 karma

Given the increasing number of people with access to the internet, we can realistically get the vast majority of the constituency on the platform voicing their opinions. Since 87% of American adults use the internet while 90% own a cell phone and given that calling and emailing your Reps is ineffective and burdensome, I don't think using Capitol Bells as a platform will end up excluding more have nots from the conversation.

As the platform grows, I would plan efforts to connect poorly connected communities with Capitol Bells to make it as representationally accurate as possible.

necrotica10 karma

How can we actually get our "Representatives" to listen to us as opposed to seemingly run for office to push their personal agendas?

CapitolBells19 karma

My hope is that by making Capitol Bells an easier way to voice your opinion to Congress than by calling and writing to their interns, that we can keep an open record of the publics positions on any bill in every congressional district of the US. Capitol Bells grades the Members directly on those positions in such a way that says, "Your rep represents you X% of the time, your Rep reps the district Y% of the time." This way voters will be paying attention to how well they're represented in Congress on actual issues and bills.

The next stage is letting you offer yourself up as a "virtual candidate" as you build your own voting profile on Capitol Bells. That way during election season, your community can see how well their current Member represents them, and then see how well the competition represents them.

ThePowerFul8 karma


I think this is a great idea. With the movement of technology, I think this is great to have this kind of incorporation.

Were there any legal hurdles you have had to take in this process of creating these apps?

CapitolBells16 karma

Nothing so far, oddly enough! However, I have made it into a private company instead of a non-profit because I fear that it would be expose to a lot more legal risk as a non-profit working in this gray space between politics and technology.

icecoldhoneybadger8 karma

Are you aware that you can vote multiple times on any topic? On HR 292, by clicking through the links on the Trending Motions, and relogging on via Facebook and Google+, I was able to drive up support by 5 votes.

CapitolBells18 karma

It looks like that on the front end, but I guarantee your vote only got counted once on the back end. Nonetheless, that's something that needs fixing. Adding another one to the issues list!

konklone7 karma

Hey CapitolBells: time for the tough questions! You've described in this AMA that your main reason for operating as a for-profit and not a non-profit is to avoid legal problems that come with advocacy and non-profit law.

In that case, why not open source your work?

If it's because you're concerned about your code looking bad or amateur, please don't let that be a blocker -- everyone's code is terrible, mine and yours are no exception. :) Better to have it out there.

Great job running this AMA, and for hitting the front page!

CapitolBells4 karma

Good question, konklone. I'm more security minded in that regard. However, that's not a good argument for the House not opening up data, and it's not a good argument for me either. Maybe we could set up an event and get to work on securely opening up the vote alerts to start.

konklone6 karma

I think the best thing you could do for your web site's and mobile app's security is open its source code, so we can all help you find mistakes and fix them. It also forces you to design your system with the expectation that your methods are public record.

To be blunt, any security decisions you make that depend on the code being unavailable for public viewing are going to be bad ones. There are too many automated tools and heuristics for finding and exploiting vulnerabilities for code secrecy to be an effective measure.

Just go for it, and if there are any areas you're worried about, open an issue on Github on the open source repo, talk about it and ask for input. Feel free to cc my Github handle (@konklone) on any ticket to trigger an email in my inbox, and to do the same with anyone else whose input you want.

CapitolBells3 karma

Thanks. I totally agree with you, but you also know that I am a pretty lousy coder. I just want to make sure I have someone on board who can manage the software side better than I can before I dive in.

Romatix6 karma

This is very neat! I have only one question, and I apologize if it's been answered elsewhere: is this information going to be communicated to Congress in any way? As in, does the app itself send reports to offices, or is there interest in legislators for tapping in to these sort of "temperature checks" on public opinion?

This seems like a great idea, but I wouldn't want it to be too much like Facebook politics. I think there's a lot of potential.

CapitolBells4 karma

Currently I have hundreds of Members of Congress and thousands of their staffers on the Capitol Bells mobile app. I will be combining the webapp and the mobile app ASAP, so that all of our crowd sourced content is also front and center on their phones. Then every time they go to the House floor, they will see exactly how their constituency feels about a bill before they cast their vote. The other aspect to this is that Members of Congress are already using the platform themselves to promote their own bills. Finally, users will be able to declare themselves candidates for a seat through the app, and offer their fellow constituents an alternative to the incumbent based on data.

GasDoctoR6 karma

I have never heard of anything like this, maybe I'm just behind the times. This seems like a great idea. My question would be how do you know that a politician takes the results they get seriously? For many issues, a politicians office will get inundated with calls and letters and emails about a certain topic, but the politician will then vote the opposite way. This may sound pessimistic and I'm sorry for that. I've already downloaded the app. Very excited about this regardless.

CapitolBells9 karma

Thank you! As a former legislative correspondent, I know how broken the communication really is at a Congress person's office. I hope to make Capitol Bells the easiest way to voice your opinion with Congress. In the near futures, I will be introducing "virtual candidates" to the platform. Any user with a voting record on Capitol Bells will have the option to share her virtual voting profile, and other constituents can then see who would represent them the best. If the candidates are grossly out-performing the current Members, my hope is that campaigns, news media, and most importantly voters would catch on and use those ratings to hold Members accountable.

Frack-rebel6 karma

I think this is a great idea but how effective can it be? I feel like they would look at your app and just say ehh fuck me I do what I want. And that's to say if they actually do pay attention to your app. Anyways thank you for your work I hope they pay attention to it and take it seriously.

CapitolBells20 karma

Good question. I think this is the exact problem with most public engagement solutions you see nowadays. You can send a million signatures to a politician via change.org saying please support background checks for gun, the Member can say, "Yes, I support background checks on gun," then go and vote no on background check on guns bill, and explain, "I do SUPPORT background checks on guns, but my constituents just don't like this particular bill." Capitol Bells holds them accountable on the actual legislation, instead of just the sentiment. There is a public rating of how closely he is following the positions of his constituents, that campaigns media, and voters can user. Ultimately, I am going to allow people to declare virtual candidacy on the app, and then there will even be challengers who can point to a Members bad record and say, "Hey, I already rep you better."

JGincognito5 karma

Why is there an apostrophe in "let's"?

CapitolBells5 karma

Because if I edit the post it will get auto-filtered again. =P

theninetyninthstraw4 karma

I like the idea. I just wonder how soon before somebody takes legal action to shut it down.

CapitolBells9 karma

That's why I formed Capitol Bells as a C-Corp instead of a non-profit. As a non-profit it could be attacked for getting tax breaks and engaging in politics, or something like that. As a c-corp Capitol Bells basically has more freedom to do what it wants. Kind of makes me think of the "corporations are people my friend" comment, except it's more like corporations are super people who have more rights than normal people.

theninetyninthstraw9 karma

corporations are super people who have more rights than normal people.

...and that makes me a sad panda :( If you wanna beat 'em at their own game you gotta play by their rules, I suppose. Best of luck with this!

CapitolBells8 karma

Play by their own rules, but while hacking the system. Right now Congress and congressional elections are basically the wild west and there are no rules. I am trying to build a framework that they have to work in that asks on question, are you representing your constituents?

jshifman4 karma


CapitolBells10 karma

Oh shoot. There have been so many loves. Warlords 2 was a classic. Starcraft, Natural Selection, Left4Dead. I especially like team-based competitive games.

The_dude_that_does4 karma

This seems like a fantastic idea, and I can't wait to give it a look once I get home (at work now).

When the congressional representatives look at Capitol Bells, do they have the ability to filter what topics they see by state, district, or region? What about the regular citizens like myself? Specifically, I want to know if I can filter the "hot" page to only see results Nation-wide, State-wide, Regional, District, etc.

Are you attempting any means of bridging the technological gap? For instance, I am on the internet all the time, but my grandparents and parents are not. If most of your end users on the citizen side are of the "internet generation" don't you think the site will be biased by age group. I.e. there are trends/stereotypes that younger people vote more liberally than older people, if mostly younger people use your site because its on the internet, do you think that the site will be under representing the more conservative side? (or vice versa, whichever the data represents)

CapitolBells3 karma

The model automatically filters issues/bills for them based on the popularity in their district. And if they look up any particular bill they can see how much input there is from their district. Having particular issues highlighted on the platform is up to the people who promote the issues to build and rally their communities.

In a future where this is successful, I will go out of my way to make sure that inlets are provided for poorly connected groups, and we are introducing it to underrepresented groups.

NVAdvocate4 karma

OMG! We have been trying to pass a bill to keep students safe by outlawing aversive interventions (abuse) and seclusion and limiting the use of restraints in schools. Mostly these arcane detrimental approaches are used on the most vulnerable students with disabilities and according to the 2009 GAO report thousands of injuries occur each year and resulted in 20 deaths of children between 1999 and 2009. Would we be able to use this technology to help push our bill through? Do you have to have facebook or any other social media to use it?

CapitolBells4 karma

Yes! What bill is it? Search for it on Capitolbells.com, and write a Motion to explain why it's important. You don't need to disseminate it through Facebook or Twitter, you can just send it in a listserv email or post it on your website instead.

FourCounters3 karma

People of reddit this is one great app, have been using it since his first AMA.

iPad app is it now optimized?

CapitolBells3 karma

Oh cool! Thank you No :( still not optimized. Hopefully I can raise some money after this and hire a dedicated mobile developer to start bringing everything together.

Ignatius_Oh_Reilly3 karma

Longworth, the best cafeteria on both sides of the cannon tunnel

CapitolBells3 karma

Home to overfried fries and awkward informational interviews.

MonsieurAuContraire3 karma

How would CapitolBells monitor for and/or stop manipulation and other other shenanigans by bots, sock-puppets, and other such astroturfing efforts?

CapitolBells5 karma

Right now my protections are pretty basic: Facebook and Google logins for identity management, limiting the number of times you can change districts, and updating all your actions to you current district. Later I will look for a pro to manage security. I know a bit, but there is only so much I can do.

Lochanora3 karma

I'm an American living overseas. How might this app apply to me? I no longer am a resident of a state, but still file my taxes, etc. Would anyone listen to an expat overseas if I wasn't their constituent per se?


CapitolBells3 karma

If you still associate with a congressional district, just make an account, start weighing in, and rally your friends back home!

StePK3 karma

This sounds great! As someone who knows people in state government, though, I'm curious; is there/will there be an expansion to allow the same thing for other levels of government?

CapitolBells4 karma

I've designed it with something called the Google OCD-ID so we can match you to your state and local politicians when the time comes as well.

Squiggy_Pusterdump3 karma

Can this be licensed to your neighbours to the north? This sounds like a great idea.

CapitolBells4 karma

When this gets rolling good, I want to apply the same model to Canada for sure.

kuledude13 karma

Anyway to do the senate as well?

CapitolBells4 karma

The senate is included, but the coverage isn't quite as robust yet.

sylvantier3 karma

This is a great idea! A major problem I see with it though is identity verification-- as others have pointed out, it's pretty easy to make fake FB/Google accounts. Have you thought about requiring users to provide an address in the district they're signing up for and mailing them an activation code? (When you have funding, naturally).

CapitolBells3 karma

I will add more checks and balances into the login/verification process. My key is to make this easy though so we can engage the people who might not otherwise be engaged. Going through a big mailing process would be pretty annoying. Maybe can do some ip checking and stuff instead? WIll have to revisit.

KingOfDaCastle3 karma

Did you go to DC NightOwls at the Capitol? I feel like it must have been you, but it's been a while. Otherwise, some guy with a very similar idea who worked as a staffer is doing something very similar. If it was indeed you (apologies that my memory isn't great sometimes), it's great to see getting some press and positive feedback :)

CapitolBells4 karma

That was me! Danielle, the organizer for that event, is sitting here with me right now!

elPiff3 karma

As someone who's part of the youngest generation of voters now, i.e <20, I wanted to say I think this is a great way to get people like me and future generations of voters more aware and involved in what's going on in Washington. Perfectly suited to our short attention spans and general laziness.

I spent the past two hours checking out the iOS and web app and I think if you really wanted to get this going, improving the usability/ease of navigation on the apps would be imperative. Otherwise, it might not integrate as well as it could, at least on a mass scale, into our digital lives; a lot of people may look past the sheer brilliance of the idea.

CapitolBells3 karma

I totally freaking agree. Right now I am the only one on this full-time, and I'm no pro coder. Brian is a tank, but he doesn't have much free time. Basically we need to raise money, so we can build a team, and make it more usable and more powerful. Hopefully there is enough here to communicate the concept though!

h4ri2 karma

Are you looking for interns / entry-level programmers? I'm really interested in these kinds of projects (civic hacking, open data standards for cities), especially ones related to legislation and politics, and would love to get involved.

CapitolBells3 karma

Please send an e-mail to info[at]capitolbells.com. I want to start building a team.

_gommh_2 karma

It's obvious that this project is strengthening democracy for the better, and although you've probably heard this already, how far do you see the effect of this idea spreading?


CapitolBells4 karma

The next few steps include introducing the "virtual candidacy" platform so that any user with a voting record can share their profile so that other members of the district or state can see who represents them best, and vote in the election accordingly.

I'd also like to expand to other countries down the road, so that we can bring real democracy to others that might have even less representation in their legislature than we do. That will require partnering with other civic data efforts like Sunlight, GovTrack, and Open Gov Foundation.

israfel0702 karma

If this even BEGINS to catch on, all the huge special interests will game your upvotes/downvotes into oblivion.

CapitolBells4 karma

I think I can stop them =P Don't underestimate the resourcefulness of a computer nerd.

invadrzim2 karma

Do you plan on going further with this to include local politics? I know i'd like an easier way to keep up on state legislation and actions.

CapitolBells3 karma

Yes, I want to expand it to include all levels of electoral government.

sdonaghy2 karma

I don't think you understand the game changing power of this app. Thank you and good job

CapitolBells2 karma

Thanks. I have my vision, but I need other people to realize the same vision and share it.

zaklein2 karma

Hey man, thanks for doing the AMA!

I think that this is a phenomenal idea for an app, it's clearly trying to make the electorate more aware and informed. My question is: Given the recent SCOTUS ruling on campaign donation limits, how can something like your app help combat the increasing influence of money in politics?

On a totally separate note, I really dig the Star Wars tie. What's your outlook on the 7th film?

CapitolBells8 karma

The SCOTUS ruling is without a doubt going to have an effect on campaigns and elections; money in politics has been and will continue to be a big issue for a long time. But, Capitol Bells has the potential to devalue the influence of money by more strongly connecting a politicians performance to how closely his positions actually align with his constituents'.

I'm glad you like it! If JJ Abrams does Star Wars as well as he did the first Star Trek movie, it could be pretty badass. That said, I can't stand the prequels, and I fear for the worst.


It's encouraging to see someone in Washington doing the right things. THANK YOU for the time and effort you've put into your app and doing an AMA. I can't wait to download this app. (Awesome tie, btw)

The fact that hemp farms are illegal in this country is disgusting. It shows how ineffective the government can be, refusing to admit shortcomings and publically working to correct them. The tide slowly seems to be changing in the country to put pot on a level field as alcohol in terms of consumption and purchasing. What other topics may be starting to change that aren't publically acknowledged often?

CapitolBells2 karma

I agree! Please go to the hemp bill on capitolbells and write your opinion as a motion, then share it back here, so we can all support it. Hopefully surveillance and data security are coming more into light, and other technology issues that Congress seems to have a hard time understanding or caring about. Patent and copyright trolling is definitely on its way to the big leagues after SOPA.

saiyanslayerz1 karma

Does your software store the bill votes before and after a bill is passed or shot down? It'd be nice to see a graph of public interest (good vs bad) before and after the bill. Can people vote on previous bills?

CapitolBells1 karma

The way it's coded now, we have the ability to do that already! If we get enough traffic, it will be so cool to get into the analytics of this stuff.

trappedMusician1 karma

I love the idea. Trying to sign-up but I get 'There was an error getting your district!' when I enter my address. I'm going to make this up, but my address is similar to 123 West 4th Street, New York, NY 10004.

CapitolBells1 karma

Crap. Let me look right into it. Edit: It's working for me. Maybe we are flooding Sunlight's API. Try another address or use the gov track link on their to look it up then enter your district manually. Sorry!

jeffislearning1 karma

THanks for posting. I wasn't aware of such an app.

CapitolBells3 karma

There wasn't anything to be aware of until now!

StandingByToStandBy1 karma

Do you have any plans for any other apps?

One for the ATF's pushing of futile laws would be nice.

I'm referencing the 7N6 import ban that just dropped.

CapitolBells1 karma

Is there a bill in congress about it? Search for GUNS or ATF in the search field, and write a motion explaining your concern. This is what the app hopefully already enables.

StandingByToStandBy1 karma

The ATF writes their own rules on a whim so to say. They don't really answer to anybody.

The recent ban was just published on their site.

We can't really argue with them.

CapitolBells3 karma

It's our Representatives' jobs to argue with them, and we need to make sure that they do.

pbatoon1 karma

I think this is overall a great idea and a great prototype for something worth trying. One concern I do have however, is the misrepresentation of conservatives. By making this system type of system, aren't you primarily sampling from the liberal/young-ish demographic?

bpainter3275 karma

Conservative, old guy (in reddit age) here checking in. Conservative old people can use computers too. :)

CapitolBells4 karma

Exaclty! And are more engaged in politics. This is a platform for anyone, and party affiliation never even shows up on the site.

CapitolBells2 karma

I hope not! I would love for the NRA and Heritage to get on this. This isn't a partisan platform -- it is meant for anyone with any position to rally their communities without gatekeepers. I think one of the biggest problems with the online advocacy tools that have been out there to date is that they are all limited to certain ideologies. With Capitol Bells you can advocate on anything from more guns to legalizing weed. As it (hopefully) grows in popularity, I will use more of my time and resources to reach underrepresented populations on the platform. Anyway, to start, please get on their, write a Motion, and share it with your friends.

shh_Im_a_Moose1 karma

I didn't know about this, but now I do, and it's awesome, and thank you.

No question. Just thought I'd say AWESOME.

CapitolBells2 karma

Thank you! What issues are you interested in?

grog611 karma

This kind of thing is a complete nightmare for politicians who are evil. These kinds of things will cause them to eventually fade out from the system.

CapitolBells1 karma

I sure hope so! And I hope it will give a chance for people without millions of dollars to show their communities that they would actually represent their interests very well in Congress.

knoam1 karma

What ideas do you have for illuminating the actual text of the bill? It seems like some terrible stuff gets snuck into bills with a lot of momentum and bills often get oversimplified as being pro-this or con-that.

CapitolBells3 karma

2 points. 1) the concept of Motions puts the onus on YOU to translate the meaning and text of bills for friends. 2) I hope to partner with Chariman Issa's Open Gov Foundation to integrate Capitol Bells with Madison, which would allow to also create Motions on provisions in bills, amendments, or even user created legislation.

BelleRed1 karma

It would be nice to have a list on the page of what Representatives, and Senators, have joined the website and those who have not. Democracy doesn't work if the whole team isn't on board.

CapitolBells3 karma

Every Member of Congress is represented in the app in the district pages. Not every Member has to use it right away, but we already have a critical mass of Members on the mobile app in my opinion. What it comes down to is it needs to be popular enough where if a politician ignores it, that it will cost him an election.

iwantagrinder1 karma

So this is like Reddit for politics, I like it.

CapitolBells1 karma

Exactly! With a little engine behind it to give everyone access to the data and to rate your Representatives' actual representation of us.

o2341 karma

Did you get any resistance in the integration of the system?

How do you access the physical votes?

CapitolBells3 karma

Not really! It's the Members themselves who love the existing app, so there isn't really anyone to resist. I think many people won't understand this social crowd-lobbying side to begin with, but young staffers will help bridge that gap. I get the live voting numbers by taking screenshots of CSPAN's web stream (House Live), then I use optical character recognition to read the vote numbers from the images.

o2341 karma

there should be a direct data link, perhaps you should ask for it, xml or csv file accessible from the web. Up to you, screenshots seem a lot of work :) good luck, i am following developments in direct democracy

CapitolBells2 karma

There should be, and there is, but they have made no move to make it available yet. Other civic data guys and I have been asking for the Capitol to open up the feed.

wordwaffler1 karma

Thank you for doing this. On a related note, do you have any idea how we can get people to actually care about politics? Too many people seem to just not give a shit because they don't think it affects them.

CapitolBells3 karma

This is a problem that I hope Capitol Bells can help alleviate. Most people don't care about Congress, don't understand bills, and aren't about to call or write their Members (around only 1% actually do). However, most people do have ISSUES that affect them and that they care about. My goal with Motions on Capitol Bells is that YOU who are engaged can use this tool as an easy way to engage your friends who are interested in the same issues you are, but just aren't interested in the politics. With a Motion you can tell they, "Hey, let's legalize weed," and you their voice is added to the bill as soon as they click that they agree with you.

mjrspork1 karma

Fellow DC redditor hello!

AU student here.

Nothing super important. So my question: What's your favourite place to eat around Capitol Hill?

Enjoy Longworth! If I was in the area I'd stop by and say hello!

CapitolBells3 karma

Food around Capitol Hill sucks!! The food trucks have the best options.

mjrspork1 karma

totally agree - i was hoping you knew of a hidden gem. haha.

you ever get down to Farragut Square on Fridays for lunch? One of my favorite places to go in all of DC for lunch.

CapitolBells3 karma

I love the Greek Deli and now Taylor Gourmet for their veggie sandwiches.

runinman0 karma

What do you think of this? http://liquidfeedback.org/

CapitolBells0 karma

Right idea! But it's only a piece of the puzzle and it isn't used by lawmakers already like Capitol Bells is.

Prefers_Incognito0 karma

How does one create an app? I have an idea but I don't want to tell anyone what it is because I'm afraid of my idea being stolen.

CapitolBells1 karma

It's okay, no one will steal it. It's your idea. But you have to build it. Start learning how to code on codecademy.com

Vmoney13370 karma

This is a great idea! Any chance you're going to expand to countries with questionable democracies such as Russia?

CapitolBells1 karma

I would love to bring this to countries around the globe. Both aspects of the app, crowd-lobbying and real-time coverage of the legislature, are applicable to any democracy in theory. However, as the only person that works on this project full time, the first step is to build a team and a userbase before I expand to other countries.