ux stuff


Political Engagement & UX; 1-8778-CONGRESS


I saw Tim Holman speak at some event, and he said something to the effect of "I take things that irritate me and see how far I can push them" and essentially showed the extent to which he could expand an insane idea. This idea doesn't do that, but I like to think I'm borrowing his spirit of just making something for the sake of relieving some irritation.

Political engagement sucks. I know if I want to make any difference I have to do more than complain on Twitter. I consistently hear I'm supposed to "call [my] members of congress."

IDK who my congress members are. I don't know what their phone numbers are. I'm not 100% clear what the major differences are between Senators and Representatives.

I'm surprised there isn't a simpler way to engage with our Congress. 
Of course, I can go online, google my address to find my district, google the district + representative, google "representative + phone number," then dial them.
Why can't I call a number and shout at robot prompts to whittle down to my Senators and Representatives?

So I made something. Call 1-8778-CONGRESS and you'll get a prompt for the White House switchboard, VA Senators, MD Senators, and the DC Senator.
Press 8 and you can search VA/MD Representatives.

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I know nothing about phones, VoIP, auto attendant software, or much programming, so I quickly realized I had to do something off-the-shelf.

Grasshopper seemed reasonable (rather, the website looked least scammy). Something like $50 setup, $12/mo + $0.06/min. I don't expect much traffic. This is more of a proof-of-concept project, though I'd love to help other people engage more easily.

Ideally, Grasshopper would employ some way to import extensions. Currently it's a web UI that takes a bunch of clicks and throws "are you sure?" dialogs. This gets irritating entering more than a handful of numbers.

I made Senators the primary selection, since there's no district restrictions it is the easiest decision for a user to make. Make the easiest option the first!
Anecdotally, I have no idea what number district I'm in, nor what Representative covers that district—is this true for most people? I'd bet money on it.

Luckily, there is some intelligence built into the phone UI and I needed to only record a greeting for the Senators. The Representatives are covered by a name search, where the user enters the first few letters. This UI is perfectly fine if my hypothesis above is correct—most users will choose the simpler Senator option. Any user wishing to dial a Representative must know their name and search—again, in line with the theory that someone who knows their Rep is more knowledgable, and won't have to rely upon a walkthrough to choose.

Ideally, this system would allow a bunch of enhancements:

  • browse/narrow by state, narrowing selections to Senators/Reps, narrowing Reps by zip code
  • other languages
  • other federal phone numbers
david knauer