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From... offers you an electronic soapbox

October 2, 1998
Web posted at: 10:40 AM EDT

by Mike Hogan

(IDG) -- Got a complaint, a request, an opinion, or a pothole out in front of your house? Who you gonna call? Do you know which federal, state, or local official is ripe for your gripe -- or how to get a hold of them?

Now you can use to reach out and touch the right government type, elected or otherwise. And you don't need to know an address or even a name in advance. Just type in your name, address, and message, and e-thepeople will help you find the right local representatives from among its database of 140,000 federal, state, and local officials across all 50 states and 7000 U.S. cities. It will then send your e-mail to interested parties or, if they are offline, send a fax.

Yes, it's another one of those Web services for something that you could probably do yourself using pen, paper, and the front of the telephone book. On the other hand, have you ever called a government office -- any government office -- and tried to get a straight answer? Forget about it.

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  Computerworld Minute is quicker and easier -- a more convenient soapbox from which to direct your queries, ire, thanks, or requests. You also can contribute to one of the 200 or so petitions circulating on the site. Yes, there's a half-dozen on President Clinton, but you could start one of your own using this Web site as a post office. will deliver it to the appropriate officials every time you log 50 signatures. Just think, no more standing in front of supermarkets!

This site is the brainchild of 24-year-old entrepreneur Alex Sheshunoff, who already has built a couple of other businesses providing Web site design services to local media outlets around the nation.

"About a year ago, I was watching a televised city council debate on cable in my hometown of Austin, Texas, and it was really boring," he explains. "I thought there had to be a better way to get busy-but-concerned people involved. Perhaps we can use technology to give people a voice in government, without waiting three hours to speak for three minutes at a city council meeting."

And our sponsors are...

Sheshunoff bills as the latest exercise in electronic democracy. But he didn't parlay his Yale University degree into two successful Web businesses before age 24 by marching for world peace. Of course e-thepeople is a free service, but as every experienced Web denizen knows, nothing is ever really free.

For starters, Sheshunoff pays for his servers, name database, and unique search engine by sharing the banner-ad revenue on the sites of the 45 newspapers and 20 local television stations that have made his service part of their community outreach pages. Sheshunoff promises not to release your personal information to marketers -- at least not individually. But eventually, he will command a pretty good demographic database.

E-thepeople is a non-partisan site, says Sheshunoff, who claims to have no personal party affiliation. The main focus of the site is local.

"E-thepeople is really about local people fixing local problems--potholes, broken park swings, and other achievable goals," says Sheshunoff. "The president receives a half-million e-mails a month and he is too busy to read them. But if a city council [member] receives ten letters on a subject, that has meaning."

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