Saturday, August 23, 2014

18 Aug 14 - iCitizen Demo

This app has been labeled as the “political disruptor”, blogspot readers, because it breaks down the barriers between the average American voter and their elected officials. It’s designed “ alleviate voter apathy and increase civic engagement ...not just around election time...” And recently, SouthSide was privileged enough to attend a live demo and Q & A with Justin Hitnote (Director of Civic Engagement) at her local Apple Store as part of its App Spotlight Series.

Since its release over a year ago, 300,000 members are using a free app known as iCitizen to track issues (that are important to them), learn about their lawmakers and/or voice their opinions through daily polls according to Justin Hinote. “...everyone has their own political DNA...” says Justin as he began explaining the three things the iCitizen app does. From Budget to Women’s Rights, the app allows the user to pick the issues important to them as well as read from various news sources and outlets. Plus, you’re able to view current and past legislation thus allowing you to make your voice count by contacting your politicians to tell them what issues you care about.

So, what if you don’t know who your congressman or senator is? That’s the beauty of this app, blogspot readers. You can search (by your address and zip code) and it will instantly relay you the information including how to contact them via email or telephone. You can even see how they voted on the issues and the committees he or she is on. Want to know your politician’s financial backers and contributors? This app can give you that information too. According to Justin, iCitizen is designed as an “...advocacy tool...” however politicians don’t take them (and you the voter) seriously but “...this tool makes them take you seriously...” Currently this app only has information on a federal and state level based on your address. Justin mentioned during the demo that they’re working on gathering information on the city level even though a city like the size of Chicago will be a lot of work.

What’s Justin’s favorite thing about the app? “Rate my rep” where users get to rate their politicians on the 1 -5 scale (with 1 being the lowest) to which he confided to us that politicians hate it. Justin also said “...never going to charge...” for using the app nor will it have ads. It’s free to the public but politicians have to pay to get into the backend of the app if they want to connect with their constituents. If you’re worried about privacy and datamining, blogspot readers, you don’t have to with this particular app. No one can see you and your information. “...everything [you use] in this app is de-identified...” says Justin before saying you can even change your poll answer if you want. Advocacy groups can use this app if they want, blogspot reader but it’s really designed for citizens to use and to have a voice. Though only for elected officials have access, he did mention to the group the company is working towards allowing political candidates running for office to view and have access too. When explaining why it’s a mobile app, Justin stated “...this generation is on the phone [or some sort of electronic device] with the access out there to connect because of social media...”
The future of iCitizen? Justin hopes to see the app being used for voter registration and perhaps one day – voting by phone which would certainly raise Chicago’s disappointing voter turnout numbers a few percentage points higher, blogspot readers. He would like to see this app moved from mobile to online to reach more users build virtual town hall-like communities where voters have more access to their politicians. Despite having 18 categories at the moment, iCitizen 2.0 when it’s released will have more categories as well as subcategories like the legalization of marijuana. According to Justin, they will introduce more categories and subcategories in which bills and new stories are automatically listed in their particular category. Other future features will include a search function and Spanish language version of iCitizen. Justin Hinote before ending the live demo said he’s always taking suggestions from users on how to improve this free app, blogspot readers. He ended the demo by saying “...[we’re] looking to improve it...” adding they have a good user base but “...want more people to join...” as well as “...create at tool to end partisan gridlock...”

You can find and download this app via Apple Store.

Until next time, support your local scene,

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