Telling your senator how to vote is as easy as “liking” a Facebook picture, thanks to a new app from the creators of TV streaming service SideReel.
Countable, available for iOS and coming to Android soon, presents a succinct summary of each piece of legislation Congress is considering, along with a short one-sentence argument in favor of the bill or against it. You are then able to vote “yay” or “nay.” When you are logged in through Facebook, Countable can automatically generate a message and send it to your representatives based on your location.
Countable also keeps track of how the lawmakers vote and then informs you how your representatives’ votes stack up to your own, generating “compatibility rankings.”
Co-founders Bart Myers and Peter Arzhintar came up with Countable when trying to figure out their next move after selling SideReel in 2011. Myers said they wanted to move away from TV and into something Myers said was more meaningful. As they brainstormed ideas, they kept coming back to one.
“We kept coming back to the disconnect that the American people feel with their representatives, that disconnect that we felt ourselves,” Myers says. “We decided to take a new bent at it … create a product where … what my representatives are doing can basically be made bite-sized, pushed to me like updates from our friends pushed through Facebook.”
And browsing the app’s colorful interface feels a lot more like swiping through friends’ pictures than wading through pages of lengthy bills. Countable’s team, which includes writers and consultants with experience in both the Democratic and Republican parties, has prepared short summaries and explanations that are easy to understand. Myers says the app allows users to go as deep into an issue as they want, linking to media coverage and the full text of the bill.
But will the Millennial generation, which the media constantly paints as uncaring and distrustful of political institutions, actually use it? As a college student myself, I’m a little skeptical. But Myers thinks making the political process a “continual conversation,” rather than something that only comes up in election years could make a difference.
“That’s the key thing about what drives people to vote is why should I?” Myers said. “We can basically build that narrative of you and your representative are alike or not alike, or you should support them or one of their opposing candidates.”
As Myers told me, although there are hundreds of apps for one entertainment function or financial tool, there are very few apps related to political engagement. The closest to Countable is probably iCitizen, which has a similar layout and allows users to support or oppose legislation. But Countable takes that a step further. iCitizen lets you see how other people are voting, share your vote on social media or see how your representatives are voting. Although the app provides contact information for lawmakers, it does not automatically generate and send messages to them based on your votes.
Countable is planning a push on college campuses this fall, and is still assessing how it can use social media to attract new users.
Right now, sharing on Facebook that you voted on a piece of legislation in Countable is optional. Myers tells me it’s a tricky area for them to navigate due to the political nature of Countable. He wanted to respect users’ privacy who don’t want their political views automatically broadcast to Facebook or Twitter. When you share, you share only that you voted, not how you voted. He said he could see Countable eventually adopting features that would allow users to discuss policy within the app.
Myers says Countable is just getting started, making a value proposition to its users. Eventually Myers says he expects Countable to use custom advertising, similar to Facebook or Twitter, within the app. He said the app could also gain profits by becoming white label platform, where advocacy groups like the Sierra Club could pay to push constituents to a specific policy or policymaker.