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Jott the Vote: A National Application Begging to Go Local?

BY Michael Connery | Friday, October 19 2007

Yesterday I got an email about a new use of technology in the Presidential race - Jott the Vote. Essentially, Jott the Vote is a non-partisan, third party tool that allows voters to send a message to any of the Presidential campaigns via phone. Users dial a toll free number and can leave a voicemail of up to 30 seconds for selected candidates. That candidate's campaign will then receive both audio and transcribed copies of the message via email.

On their website, Jott aggregates these messages, providing a real time look at which candidates voters are talking to, and how many people have "jotted" a specific candidate (at the time of this writing, Ron Paul was the "most jotted" candidate with a paltrey 32 Jotts). A digg-like functionality allows users to "second" someone else's message, though it's unclear whether campaigns are informed of this secondary support, or if it even makes a difference in how the Jott website displays content. Campaigns and supporters are offered the option of tracking their buzz via widgets (pictured right) that aggregate the latest voice mails.

While this is a neat little application, and everything is extremely well executed, it's unclear to me how this is anything more than a novelty in the 2008 primary campaign. While it is interesting that the tool enables voters to contact the presidential campaigns, without buy-in from the campaigns to do anything with those messages, it's hard to see any real advantage beyond making it slightly easier to contact a campaign that receives so much email per day that yours is bound to be ignored (it's not even clear who in the campaign receives these emails - a generic address in the national office?). In the end, users would probably be better off expressing their concerns over the phone to someone in a local office.

The widgets are also a very interesting idea, but it's unclear who would use them and why. Jott does not censor the messages users send, and eventually this tool could be used to express dissatisfaction with a candidate's position - making it distinctly less attractive of a tool for both supporters of a candidate or a campaign that is exercising tight message control.

In the end, Jott the Vote seems to be an application screaming for more local applications. Calling elected officials to discuss an issue or to ask them to change their vote on a piece of legislation can be an intimidating act. That intimidation factor probably keeps thousands of would-be-activists from taking action on any number of issues. Jott the Vote's one-stop-shopping, and non-confrontational format could significantly lower that type of psychological barrier to participation.

Beyond that Jott the Vote could potentially offer a solution to a conundrum of the activist community. One of the primary ways that a grassroots group can effect change in our political system is by directing their membership to contact local officials. Typically this happens through an online letter writing tool. The problem is that legislators often regard hundreds or thousands of form emails as so much spam, and it is difficult for grassroots organizers to get their members to write unique, and authentic, emails. Jott the Vote's voicemail system makes it easy for would-be activists to create their own tailored messages that are verifiably authentic. Congressmen and state level politicians might be more susceptible to this type of grassroots campaign than they are to today's form emails.

Overall, Jott the Vote is a good idea, but the focus needs a little fine-tuning. This type of innovation might be vastly more useful at the local level than in a presidential campaign, where I fear it will remain nothing more than the latest tech novelty.

Cross posted at Future Majority.