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BY Sarah Lai Stirland | Wednesday, October 23 2013

Rep. Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) is one of the early adopters of's new petition response feature moved on Wednesday to change the tenor of public conversation between U.S. politicians and their constituents.

The company, which is the global leader in the booming market for online petitioning tools, launched a new verified account feature for elected officials.

The free feature enables politicos to respond directly to petitioners through the popular platform. One advantage of being granted access to the system is that those officials will be able to tell where the petitioners are located, and will be able to respond directly, and en masse to the relevant people in their districts, said's Director of External Affairs Jake Brewer. Presumably, the new promoted feature will also expand the site's user-base. (Over the past several years, more than 50 million petitioners have used the platform.) Dozens of them have already used it to publicly lobby members of Congress as well as the Administration on everything from changing the rules on eligibility for lung transplants to the extension of a special visa program for Iraqi interpreters who have worked with U.S. troops.

Reps. Mike Honda (D-Calif.) Paul Ryan (R-Wisc.) and Sen. Elizabeth Warren, (D-Mass.) are three early Congressional adopters of the tool. Brewer says that they've just been sent their logins, so they haven't had a chance to respond to the dozens of outstanding petitions addressed to them that can be found on the site.

Politicians are the first broad category of public figures that are being given access to " for Decision Makers." Other sector leaders will include those in the world of business and non-profits.

The rollout comes ahead of the forthcoming launch of another similar petitioning platform called "Ask Them," from the Participatory Politics Foundation, a 501(c)3 non-profit organization based in New York City.*

Ask Them differs from's system because it's a much smaller, non-profit venture, and is open source. David Moore, the foundation's program director, isn't ready to announce an official launch date, but he's already gotten the profiles and data of more than 142,000 elected officials in the system, all the way from the federal level down to the municipal. All these officials will be able to obtain free, verified accounts on the system. Citizens who want to start a petition will be able to enter their zip codes and immediately see who represents them up and down the governmental chain and direct a petition at them.

"It's like a version of "We The People" for every elected official, from local city council members all the way up to U.S. senators," says copy on the site, referring to the White House' popular petitioning tool.

Ask Them was funded by the Knight Foundation between the summers of 2012 and 2013, and its code can be found on the social coding site GitHub.

*Personal Democracy Media Co-Founder Micah Sifry is an advisor.