CNCNews Ask Your Lawmaker website
As the elections in US heats up, I checked back on one of my last projects at Forum One, Ask Your Lawmaker (I was the lead information architect). It went live last November and it’s good to see it is finally gathering some steam.
Ask Your Lawmaker is a site created by Capitol News Connection (CNCNews) which supplies news of the goings-on in the US Congress to NPR news stations. As the instructions for the site suggests, the idea for the site is simple:
- You Ask. (Users submit questions to ask congresspersons and senators)
- You Vote. (Users collectively vote of which questions are worthy)
- We Get Answers. (CNCNews reporters track down the lawmakers and record answers, then post to the site)
It uses a Digg-like interface to encourage visitors to vote and filter which questions submitted by users, effectively using the wisdom of crowds to be the arbiter of quality.
What differentiates this site from the Digg’s of the online world is that this site has a physical component. The CNCNews reporters actually go out and accost lawmakers in the corridors of the US Capitol, waiting for them in various strategic locations, where they know they will be passing through. Armed with intimate knowledge of the architecture and how the lawmakers must be present in certain locations at certain times or events, the reporters are supreme hackers the Capitol for their single-minded purpose.
During a guided tour of the Capitol by one of CNCNews veteran reporters, I saw him spring into action interviewing a senator during a trip on the underground monorail that connects the Capitol with the adjacent administration buildings.
Ask Your Lawmaker supplies a valuable service that empowers the users (citizens of a democratic society) to supply the questions / question authority. We have seen citizens use YouTube to provide questions to presidential candidates. But what is often overlooked is that gathering quality information often takes a lot of effort.
Even in a digital world, we are still very much at the mercy of the physical world.
The news we read on BBC News or The New York Times are supplied by reporters who must go out and gather the information often risking their lives in the process.
We place orders on flower delivery sites, scanning numerous arrangements, comparing pricing and quality, finding that perfect bouquet of flowers for that special occasion and sweating over how to edit the delicate message down to the 200 letter limit as required by the site. But at the end of the day we still have to depend of underpaid part-timers for the final-yard delivery of our most intimate expressions of love.