"The new DownsizeDC.org website is ready to launch."
- Robert O'Gwynn, Programmer
Subject: A New Website for Our Anniversary
We have a special surprise today. And it seems fitting to do something special today because . . .
Yesterday, July 14, 2008, was the fourth anniversary of the launch of DownsizeDC.org's Electronic Lobbyist System. During those four years Americans have sent more than 1,214,000 messages, primarily to Congress, through our website.
* We started with only 11,800 subscribers to the Downsizer-Dispatch. In those early days, a good month meant 4,000 Messages-to-Congress sent.
* Today, we have 23,400 members of our Downsize DC Army, and these members are much more intense -- we sent more than 70,000 Messages-to-Congress in June alone.
That amazes us. Our little website was built to test an idea; that educating Congress could be a recruitment tool for building an Army so large that Congress could not ignore it.
Within months of launching we realized the limitations of our little site. We had built a Yugo to run a Grand Prix race. Our supporters wanted us to do various things. We wanted to do yet more. But our "little site that would" just couldn't.
I'm pleased to announce that those limits are gone. Last night, on our anniversary, we launched a brand new website at DownsizeDC.org. I want to encourage you to check it out.
There's a real misconception out there that we just deliver emails to Congress. That's never been true! Congress doesn't take emails. Instead, nearly every Congressional office requires you to fill out a form at their website. Our old Electronic Lobbyist System helped you do this, filling out multiple forms for you (usually three) simultaneously. But even this feat of software magic was no longer quite enough. Therefore . . .
Our new site features the brand-spanking-new, proprietary "Educate the Powerful System." Congressional offices, overwhelmed by the number of electronic messages they're receiving, have been been building new barriers to constituent communication. And our old system just wasn't robust enough to effectively handle those new barriers.
We were painfully aware of one Senator, and roughly 30 Representatives, who consistently blocked messages from our old Electronic Lobbyist System. But with our new Educate the Powerful System, they should now go through. Please, go ahead and test it!
In addition, the old DownsizeDC.org site gave you little reason to come back and visit it very often. The only new content was our blog, which was buried in the site (as an afterthought), and most of the new content was distributed in Downsizer-Dispatch emails. We were also very dependent on our Downsizer-Dispatch emails in order to see our message propagate throughout the Internet. But the Net has changed a lot in the last four years.
That's why our new website features our blog, right on the home page. And that blog has new "Web 2.0" tools (such as Digg) designed to open new doors and assist you in promoting those articles that interest you the most. There will be many more such tools in the months ahead.
But there's even better news about the blog -- the initiation of a new project by our sister organization, the Downsize DC Foundation. You'll notice at the top of each blog post that each one is identified either as DownsizeDC.org or Downsize DC Foundation. If it's marked as a Downsize DC Foundation blog post, it will be part of our new Human Progress Blog.
On the Human Progress Blog we'll show you markets at work, technology in progress, and compassionate works that are solving social problems more effectively, more efficiently, and more humanely than any federal government bureaucracy ever could. We'll show you the alternatives to Upsizing DC. We'll even have some guest columnists as we go forward. Most days, there will be new content. As we grow, every day will debut several bits of new content.
One of the first things you'll notice when you go to the site is the new stat counters. These will update at various speeds (not "real time").
* Right underneath the Downsize DC banner, we'll report, after every edition of the Downsizer-Dispatch is distributed, how many subscribers received that message.
* And on the Dispatch subscription form, we'll be telling the world how many messages were sent per subscriber during the coming month. Internally, we call that our "Intensity Score."
* But most importantly, in the top, right-corner of the screen, you'll see how many messages have been sent and how many new people have joined the Downsize DC Army -- for this month. And you'll be able to monitor our progress because our goal for each month is always to do more than we did for that month in the previous two years. All of these numbers are now posted on our home page.
* And just as important, each individual campaign also has its own meter, so if you want to generate, for example, lots of messages on the Real ID Act, you could start a "Message-Bomb," and you and your web friends can watch the counters climb.
We've always reported these numbers at various unscheduled times in our Downsizer-Dispatch. But this will enable you to keep score on a regular basis.
Today, we're also debuting an improved "Read the Bills Act." Yes, it still has all the features you love, but now the bill includes some minor improvements, particularly clarifying issues that confused Congressional offices and DC wonks who studied the bill closely. We think these changes, while not diluting the bill one bit, will make it more likely to be introduced sooner. However, let me be clear, we're building to promote this bill with overwhelming, resistance-numbing pressure. That's the only form of persuasion that's going to get this bill introduced and passed.
In addition, we've taken care of some less sexy things. Our original site confused some people, and we learned a lot from that. We believe we've made the registration process much clearer, and we hope we've reduced the resistance to providing personal information by . . .
a) Explaining why we're asking for it,
c) Making it very, very clear how to contact us.
We've also provided FAQ's that will grow as we discover more about how people are using this site. These FAQs also provide more information about our organization, all in easy to discover places.
The thing that excites us the most is that this site is designed to grow with us and react more easily to the new challenges Congress may create for us. We have additional plans we're very excited about that will make our site both more powerful and even easier for you to use. We have additional services in mind as well. This new site is built in anticipation of that growth.
Now, we're launching this new site in full awareness that a few things will need fine-tuning. We're even missing something (maybe you'll figure out what). If you notice something that isn't working correctly for you, we may only learn about it if you tell us, so please, let us know.
Finally, I want to give credit where credit is due. A project this large takes a lot of work. Thank you to . . .
* Perry Willis, who was involved in all of the planning and endless meetings. Thanks to him, if you accidentally key-in DownsizeDC.com instead of DownsizeDC.org, you'll go right to the same page where you'll see our blog. Perry will be, at least initially, our number one blog writer. You're going to love his Human Progress stuff.
* Andrew Bourdon updated the data and assisted with integration of the Congressional database.
* Rick Wiggins served as my sounding board.
* A brigade of Beta Testers banged on the site for us. They started late last Fall. They helped us work out the kinks and bugs, and provided feedback. Our final "test" of the site was done with the help of staff members Malorie Duff and James Wilson.
* Hal Dunn, our former webmaster, did most of the layout and design. Hal helped us execute the new Campaign page, where you can see all of our campaigns, even while you're participating in a particular campaign. Lou Eastman, our current webmaster is _still_ putting the finishing touches on the site.
But my most important thanks go to Robert O'Gwynn. Robert joined us back in 2005 as a volunteer. Back then, we couldn't afford a programmer. We started this redesign project way back in 2006, but other mini-projects would come up, along with fires to fight. Robert is only part-time. Yet I have been pushy, demanding, and relentless. Robert has handled all of it with a grace that is absolutely astounding.
More than anyone, this new website is Robert's work.
In fact, I'm reading a draft study, just released for review, talking about the challenges involved in communicating with Congress. It's final version is due out in a few weeks. Hundreds of thousands of dollars were spent to produce this study. Robert, by virtue of his experience, told us virtually everything that I ended up reading in that report -- and he did it, for the most part, two years ago. Then, he built a proprietary website to counter, and even anticipate Congressional barriers, before the final version of this new study will even be published.
So please, check out our new website at DownsizeDC.org.
We hope our new website is so pleasing and exciting, that you'll feel great about making a donation to help us with our modest budget.
Thank you very much for being a DC Downsizer,