MixedInk experiment: A collaborative letter to Congress on H.R. 45

Last week GovTrack launched an experiment using , the collaborative writing tool, to see how members of the GovTrack community could come together to write a joint letter to congressmen. A large problem facing Congress is their inability to keep up with constituent communication, as the rise of electronic communications to Congress has far outpaced the increases in their office budgets. One of the many ways to address this problem is to have constituents come together on a single letter, an aggregated communication. Petitions were the aggregated letter of the past. In the future, we will see the letter actually being written collaboratively, and this is what GovTrack’s first-of-its-kind experiment is about.

On MixedInk, participants have three tasks. First, they can write letters from scratch — this gets the process rolling. Second, they can remix the content from letters written by other users. This helps the community synthesize the best letter, and MixedInk tracks the authorship of the remixed phrases in a pretty cool way. This makes sure users don’t feel alienated by being copied; rather, they remain a co-author of the remixed version. Last, users rate the letters and remixes to pick the best one. The tool is well-suited to writing a joint letter to Congress, which was one of the motivations behind MixedInk.

The experiment is in progress with 145 individuals contributing just in the last week to a letter expressing opposition to

, a gun control bill. You can follow the process on MixedInk, or join in, . I chose to start the experiment on a single issue, and a single side of the issue, because I knew that there was a critical mass of visitors to GovTrack that would want to contribute to such a letter. By no means does GovTrack endorse the content of the letter, and in the future we hope to faciliate letters on all sides of issues, provided there is a sufficient number of visitors interested in collaborating on it.

At the end of the experiment I’ll take the letter and deliver it in person to appropriate congressmen. I haven’t chosen who I will deliver it to, but I suspect it will be the sponsor and cosponsors, the chairmen and ranking members of the committees referred the bill, and perhaps congressmen of districts represented by the signatories of the letter (see below).

The experiment proceeds in three phases. The first phase going on right now is the writing phase. Contributors are writing, remixing, and rating letters on MixedInk. This will go on until April 8. From then until April 20 it will be a rating-only phase on MixedInk. This gives the community a final chance to pick the best letter.

On April 20 I will take a look at the top-rated letter and move the experiment to the third and final phase. (In the event that I find the content inappropriate to be delievered, I may consider the next-highest-rated letter.) In this phase, I will provide the community the opportunity to sign on to the letter. Letters to Members of Congress hold no weight if they are anonymous. So I’ll have a sign-up form where individuals can enter their name, address, and congressional district. Signatories will have the option to keep their entry private — it will appear on the letter I deliver in person but not on the letter I display publicly on GovTrack.

Wish us all luck!

16 Comments

  1. If I’m right this would provide Grassfire, resist.net and other advocacy groups out here an expedient way of informing our legislators what we think of their efforts while the legislation proceeds through it’s various stages.

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  2. Hi Am building the analogy of My Space but for homeowners and i want to be able to offer something like mixed ink within my community but ONLY for issues I deem relevant for MOST of my readers- Like the gun ban here that is relevant for some, not all Id probably include it- but Tax stuff telecom insurance real HOMEOWNER stuff(again not that guns are not a HOMEOWNER issue) please take a look at homeactions.net–not done yet woul love ideas- in fact I ma going to look for some kid that can do APIs from Gov track! Great site, Al

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  3. I am for any legal means that will prevent our legislators from passing any bill or legislation that might take away our 1st or 2nd amendment rights. Keep them informed of our wishes.

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  4. The MixedInk concept is a great idea. You’re right … Congressional offices have no way to respond to a multitude of voters’ emails, faxes, letters, and calls … and sending an individual letter to my two Senators (via their website), my Congressman, the chairs of Senate and House Committees (or subcommittees) is just too labor intensive. I’m more than willing to write a letter (or edit someone else’s) or edit someone’s letter and add my signature to a communally voiced opinion, that will most likely carry more weight with the recipient precisely because it is the joint work of a voluntary, spontaneous group.

    I hope the members of Congress understand the value that this process will bring to them …

    Thanks for thinking of this and starting it up!

    Regards,

    JSZ

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  5. This looks like a great way to have some influence with our congressmen in the political process. I plan to participate.

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  6. Collaborative letters can be very effective. I’ve been working on those, mainly in Pagan leadership and interfaith projects, since the mid-90s. A good, efficient process is:

    1) Pitch a topic and let the discussion flow for a few days.

    2) Form a committee of several (2-5) people who are experienced communicators (writers, editors, etc.) to write a rough draft.

    3) Post to the community for comments.

    4) Revise based on comments and resubmit to the community, until people are reasonably satisfied. You shouldn’t need more than about three rounds or people start to go nuts over trivia.

    5) Send it where it needs to go. The draft committee should sign their names first, followed by all the other co-signers.

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  7. The reason mixedink is a good idea is that most legislators do not read the whole text of most bills. They get a general idea of what a bill is from an aid who is assigned to it. Interactive comments will allow them to focus on areas of a bill that are salient to Citizens who take time to read them.

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  8. Somewhere along the line my first comment disappeared. Let’s try this one. Since Congressional Reps don’t have a hankerin’ to read all of the paper they generate, having an electronic interactive medium might help them understand the significance and affects certain resolutions and bills have on their constituents. It should be mandatory they read every piece of paper generated by a piece of legislation.

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  9. Collaborative writing efforts like this seem to be an effective way of codifying collective thought. I applaud all contributors to the effort related to H.R. 45. Although this piece of legislation will probably not make it past the starting blocks, the writing I’ve seen so far is of high quality. I can use some of this material in my efforts to convince others that the Second Amendment to the U.S. Constitution is worth protecting, and that any legislation limiting or hindering the rights of the citizenry to keep and bear arms only makes it easier for the criminal element in our society to gain the upper hand.

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  10. The Whole dynamics of we the people and exercising our sovereign rights and making ourselves now, has now changed. Why? With organization of thought from we the people, in conjunction with such organizations like Govetrack.us and MixedInk we can speak in unison, with an extremely loud voice. A voice that will here forever after, let the federal congress know, that we the people are no longer in the dark, and are watching their movements. We will not tolerate unconstitutional activity on their behalf. This has to make for a more conscientious federal congress.

    This actually puts the power back in the hands of the sovereign people and remove it from the few power mongers and featherbedders.

    People, from my perspective, this is the most dynamic change in giving power back we the people, since the drafting of the Constitution by our forefathers.

    For, we are now the forefathers and our posterity is depending on us to not only restore our Constitution as originally drafted, but to protect it against all, both foreign and domestic enemies. And in the broadest sense, we have met the domestic enemy and he is us. The easiest way for evil to triumph, if for good men to sit idly by and do nothing. One man does make a difference.

    I remain your humble servant and a patriot of this good land,

    Joe Warren Jones April 19, 2008

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  11. This seems a worthwile experiment. I am bothered somewhat by clumsy construction of sentences that may be due to multiple editors. At the same time it has a homespun style that is readable.

    An important point misrepresented is that rights and particularly the right to life in this case are unalienable. We have them whether the government defends them or violates them. They can neither be given nor taken away.

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  12. I’ll participate! I am against this bill and any bill that would further reduce or rights under the Constitution of the United States and/or the Bill of Rights. Keep your da*n hands off my rights!!! Especially the 1st and 2nd Amendments!!!!!!!!!! VOTE NO ON THIS BILL!

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  13. On any one, given subject the typical member of congess is dumber than a post. His/her vote will be directed by their individual party caucus, with SOME concern for particular local issue sensitivity. It is their staff that collect information, develop positions, and generate responses to communications.

    I have found over the past fifty years that only when constituents bombard their member’s office with calls, letters, email, etc., do the staff pay attention, inform the member of “growing concern” and begin to pay attention to the “home crowd”. Mass mailings by interest groups have small influence, but well developed composite letters, with many signing in support, DO have influence.

    Superior concept. How does one participate?

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  14. I don’t know what I could contribute to the letter, but I am ready to sign and send info out to hundreds of people.

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  15. Friearms are an intergrated part of our shared hertaige. As Americans we have an undesputed right to bear arms and no manner of liberal media or gavermental sabotage or slander against our given rights will change that fact. This bill is another attempt by our one sided and unfair goverment to destroy another fundemental right of freedom. You would do well to study history as your guide to making this dessision. Every country who has banned firearms has repealed the law within 30 days due to an unbeliveable rise in violent crime. At time as much as 800%. Two, your not deceiving anyone with bill’s like this. We understand what these little moves are designed to do. The only people who you will effect with this type of legistation is law abidding gun owners and we will not take it anymore.If you think for one minute that these bills will do anything for crime your wrong and you know it. Sara Brady said right after the Brady bill passed “I know this won’t do anything for crime, I just wanted it passed”. We are Americans and we will never forget. Please vote no on this issue and on any other bills that effect the rights of law abbiding gun owners. Thank you for your time and consideration. Richard Seibert.

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