Sunday, November 15, 2009

Grass Roots Advocacy - Robo-Caller Revenge Issue

In the season of issues, compelling public debates, and political activism we bring you the Grass Roots Edition.

Gone are the days of The Federalist Papers when Alexander Hamilton, James Madison, and John Jay wrote essays about how the new government would operate and why this type of government was the best choice for the United States of America. Today's democracy is an incessant stream of digital messages and electronic discourse, talking heads and bleeding edge blogs. Information is being created with such speed it's hard to digest let alone think about the impact of the changes and issues on the table today. If Congress was forced to write the bills by hand I doubt there would be any bills that were 2,000 pages long, but I digress.

The Congressional Management Foundation (CMF), is a nonpartisan nonprofit organization dedicated to promoting a more effective Congress and a group that clearly has their work cut out for them. It's report, "Communicating with Congress: How the Internat Has Changed Citizen Engagement" reports that in 2004 the Congress received 200 million communications from constituents - a four fold increase over the volume received in 1995. The increase was a direct result of internet-based communications. By 2008 they report that 44% of adults in America had contacted a Senator of Congressman in the last five years. 43% of those communications were via online methods.

91% people who contact Congress via the Internet cared deeply about the issue that triggered email. And they expected a reply. Only two-thirds actually got a response and most were dissatisfied with what they got. (Not surprising.) The form letter writing machine is alive and well up on Capitol Hill.

CMF's Beverly Bell presents the flip side in a letter to the Washington Post in which she notes that policy-makers in the Executive and Legislative Branches feel overwhelmed by citizen communications, and, because so much of it is identical, they find it increasingly difficult to manage and trust. Does this mean that basically they are ignoring constituent concerns? During the health care debate several Congressmen announced that they intended to vote the way they wanted even if it was against what their constituents wanted. How does advocacy work these days?

I live in Virginia where we just finished one of the first post Obama Governor's races. The house phones were victims of incessant advocacy Robo-calls from political luminaries across the political spectrum. In the days leading up to the election the house was bombarded. I was wondering how all this technology impacted the dynamics of the new digital citizenry and everything that goes with it. I cranked up Cogntion IP and did a little searching.

That brings us to patent 6,311,211 - Method and apparatus for delivering electronic advocacy messages. The patent, owned by Juno Online Services, presents a way to automate sending advocacy messages to your representatives. Sixty-three claims of reverse robocaller messaging bliss. The patent is describes an invention that is the Citizen's Revenge on the Robo-caller.

The inventors claim:
1. A method of operating an advocacy network, comprising the steps of:

accessing a user database, the user database comprising information about users and information identifying a representative associated with each user;

automatically selecting a user based on information in the user database; and

sending an advocacy message to the selected user through a first communication network.

So, they have your name in the database along with the names of your representatives. Then they have the capability to automatically send an advocacy message to your representatives.

Ok, now for the saturation elements...

Claim 6 adds...wherein the response message comprises one of an e-mail message, a facsimile message, a printed letter and a telephone call.

My problem with this claim is that it should say "where in the response message comprises ALL of the messages... an email, a fascimile (does anyone use those anymore) a printed letter and a telephone call.

Then there is the ability to send a message at a predetermined time.

Then add: the response message comprises a telephone call automatically established between the representative and the selected user.

Jackpot... but I wonder how long the person answering the phone will listen before hanging up?

Is Juno enforcing it's patents? Wouldn't that put a stop to all the Robocalls?

Thursday, November 12, 2009

Tinkerers of the World Unite

Here's an excellent link to an article in the WSJ on Tinkering Makes a Comeback Amid Crisis. Innovation is alive and well and living in the garage again.