The Hill on The Net
Electronic Update #8


If you read my book, then of course you know that my own online efforts in Congress began in the office of Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts. With aid provided by MIT, I helped to make Senator Kennedy the first member of Congress to establish a home page on the Web in the Spring of 1994. Well, Senator Kennedy's home page has recently undergone it's second major makeover since then and I happen to think it looks great. But then I suppose I'm biased, so give it a look and see for yourself.

Senator Kennedy's home page

My last update pointed out the new look being sported by the Senate's home page. Recently the House of Representatives followed suit with a new look of its own. The makeover has a homegrown look to it and runs only skin deep. Once you're past the first page the subsequent pages appear pretty much unchanged.

A new section called "Write Your Representative" provides a Zip Code lookup for locating your own Representative and then a form to send them a message. Forms based web mail such as this has been in use by a handful of Representatives and Senators who see it as a promising means for avoiding the spam their regular e-mail addresses are subject to, and for the ease with which the data (all input by the sender) can be integrated with their correspondence management programs. The downside? Those members that choose to accept web mail without also establishing and maintaining a regular e-mail address have risen the bar for the level of net access required in order to reach them online.

The House of Representatives' home page

Last week was a busy one for watching Congress' efforts to legislate the net. On Wednesday the Supreme Court heard arguments in the case of the ACLU vs. Reno, the challenge to the Communications Decency Act passed by the last Congress. Information on the case can be found on the Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition home page. The same day the Senate Commerce Committee held a hearing on encryption that was cybercast live on the Net via a new site designed to increase citizen interaction with Congress online, Democracy.Net.

The Citizens Internet Empowerment Coalition


I wondered who would do it first. Which member of Congress would go beyond the standard official portrait on their home page and use animation to show themselve in action; smiling widely, giving a thumbs up, or offering a virtual handshake. I guess it should come as no surprise that a member who is well known for his animated floor speeches whould not be happy with a gif that sat still. Representative James Traficant of Ohio has the first animated photo that I've seen on a member of Congress' home page, and it's a hoot.

Representative Traficant's home page

Movie files on member home pages have always been constrained by the large file sizes they come with which reduce the liklihood they'll ever be downloaded and viewed. Anything longer than a brief welcome message or sound bite was just too large. Taking advantage of new streaming video technology, Senator John Breaux of Louisiana has posted the current episode of his cable tv show, Jambalaya, to his home page. The 30 minute program has been converted into a RealVideo file optimized for delivery at 28.8 bps modem speeds. The C-SPAN networks are also posting RealVideo files to their home page for those interested in tuning into Congress on their desktops, and other members are certain to follow Breaux's lead and develop web programming of their own.

Senator Breaux's home page


In my last update I wrote that Senate staff had gained access to Usenet via the Senate's news server and wondered if the access was unintentional or if the multi-year pilot had come to an end and an announcement proclaiming Usenet access in the Senate was forthcoming. Well, it was apparently the former. The plug was pulled, the pilot goes on. No Usenet access in the Senate yet.

That's all for now!



Copyright 1997 by Chris Casey

Electronic Updates #1, #2, #3, #4, #5, #6, #7 & #9.

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