Find My Rep – How our Principal Architect leveraged Voicify to Support Democracy
Alex Dunn is the Principal Architect of Voicify. Alex is has varied interests from emerging technology to fostering and rescuing dogs. I’ve worked with him for several years in two different organizations and I know when he puts his mind to something it is not a matter of if, but when.
So one Monday morning when he shared with us he had spent time over the weekend building a voice app that could help people simply ask and get answered the basic democratic question of “Who is my Rep?” I was delighted but not surprised; this is what Alex does.
I wanted all of you to hear from him what brought this on and why he was compelled to do it. Below is our conversation.
What brought on the idea and the execution for this app?
It came from conversations I was having with people both online and in person about ways to help support the Black Lives Matter campaign and protests. We essentially talked about 3 points:
And the third point, Communicate, really came down to communicating your opinions to your elected officials to drive change. Then in that conversation, a number of people said they had no idea how to do that. Now, I knew that most elected officials have an email and phone number you can call as well as an address to send letters, but clearly that information wasn’t accessible or obvious enough. So I set out to help make it easier to get in touch with your own officials at all levels and we built the Find My Rep app on stream. I wanted to do it live and open source so that people could be involved with the build process and also be aware that we aren’t trying to use their zip/location information other than providing the details of their officials.
Who was your intended audience for this voice experience?
Every single citizen in the United States, but especially people who are looking for ways they can make a difference and be heard. The experience was made to be incredibly simple so make sure anyone could use it – just supply the zip code and optional office you’re looking for. We even extended the conversation design to make it easier to dig deeper into other offices of the same location.
Why is voice poised for this kind of function? (i.e. why is this better than a web or app function)
This type of information is already available in some capacity on the web, but I wanted to make it more easily accessed by anyone and to then also make it more conversational to help people learn more. One interesting point that came out of the same conversations that this idea came from was that many people don’t even know the names of their elected officials. Some didn’t even know the names of both their senators for their state. So it easy to learn that and their contact info for where you actually live seemed like the easiest way to access it.
For example, if I didn’t know my senators, I’d first look up “who is my senator”, then from there do subsequent searches/filtering to find their email address. Instead, I can just say “Alexa, ask Find My Rep, who is the senator of 02110” and get it right away.
Additionally, even if I knew how to lookup my senator’s phone number right away, I’d have to separately look up my governor, my rep, my mayor, etc. But with a contextual conversation design, we can start by asking who the senator is, get that information, then be prompted to learn about the governor, and so on. So the conversation could look something like this:
“Who is the senator of 02110”
“I found Elizabeth Warren. You can call them at xxx or email them at xxx. Want to learn about your governor?”
“Here’s Charles D. Baker. You can call them at xxx or email them at xxx. Want to learn about your mayor?”
And that is WAY more information accessed in a much easier fashion.
Why build it in Voicify rather than just a custom app?
Honestly, I didn’t originally. Mostly because I didn’t want people getting the idea that I only did this to promote Voicify. We built it on stream for Alexa and Google without Voicify and wrote everything from scratch using C#, ASP.NET Core, and Azure. I made the decision to migrate to Voicify and build from there once I wanted to make the conversation design more contextual and also add more places to deploy to.
Basically, once we wanted to add more complex multi-turn conversations, I had to start worrying about state management, contextual intents, etc. and would have to write it differently for each platform we were deploying to.
Also, I wanted to make a Teams and Slack bot along with embeddable chatbots for web and mobile. To do that, I’d have to write a bunch of code for every additional channel/platform.
So instead of putting in all that extra work to make the experience available in more places, we took like 15 minutes on stream to migrate the existing stuff over to Voicify, then built out the more dynamic voice experience, then deployed to Azure Bot Service for Teams and Slack without having to change anything about the conversation design or integration.
All in all, the whole thing took just a couple hours to build and we were using it on:
- Google Assistant
- 2 different web chat bots
- Microsoft Teams
Are there any plans for the future with this app?
Absolutely! The mission of this project is to make this information more accessible to more people in more places. So we’ll be doing exactly that including:
- Facebook messenger – message the bot to learn more
- Twitter bot – DM or @ the bot and learn more
- SMS (potentially) – Text this number your zip code
- Twitch bot – anyone watching my stream will be able to ask in chat about their reps’ info and have it provided to them as well
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