Since the Internet went public in the early 1990’s, it’s become a tool unlike anything in human history. One can instantly access information – all it takes is a computer and a decent Wi-Fi signal.
Social networking sites such as Twitter and Facebook allow for information to reach millions of people in seconds. According to Alexa.com, Facebook has 20 times the daily users in the United States as both NYTimes.com and WashingtonPost.com combined.
One of the reasons the Internet can connect so many voices is that it’s free. Never before have people been able to find like-minded individuals and promote their message for such a low cost. Everyone is a reporter and everyone can earn legitimacy. If the public likes what’s posted, it spreads.
The Internet has given all those with access a voice and people take the privilege seriously. The public doesn’t simply want their opinions to be heard, they expect their opinions to be heard. One no longer needs to write a letter or even make a phone call to get in touch with someone of influence. All they need is a Twitter account.
Some old establishments, such as companies and the government, are recognizing and adapting to the changes the Internet has brought on. The public needs these groups to work with the changing times, not against them. The web is increasing transparency and citizens are embracing the change.
MyMaryland.net is a great example of how technology and democracy can work together to improve efficiency and the lives of citizens.
We are a new nonprofit, non-partisan website with the goal of connecting Maryland residents with their elected officials. We use the Internet as an easy and meaningful tool to increase civic engagement and give the average citizen a simple, social way to be involved in the political system.
MyMaryland.net’s vision is to be the first website to connect politicians and constituents using a 24/7, online town hall. Citizens have access to each elected official’s campaign finance information, recent votes, sponsored bills, bios and recent press appearances. Citizens can also vote on upcoming bills and petition their officials to express their opinions.
One of the unique aspects of MyMaryland.net is that we encourage both citizen and elected official participation on the site. We’ve met with 55 Maryland officials and have received extremely positive feedback. MyMaryland.net is in the position to be the first website to have officials log on and join the conversation.
MyMaryland.net’s vision doesn’t stop at state borders. The Maryland site is just a pilot. If we can prove that the MyMaryland.net concept works in our state, we’re going to expand it to the national stage. By 2017, we envision a fundamentally transformed US democracy where citizens will be able to connect with officials on all levels of government.
MyMaryland.net is a 501(c)(3) and has raised about $42,500 so far. We’re excited about recently receiving a $5,000 grant from the Sunlight Foundation as well as being granted one of ten spots in Points of Light’s Civic Accelerator Program. And we’re proud to be working with the Anant Corporation to take our vision to the next level.
Innovations like MyMaryland.net have the ability to fundamentally transform democracy. Our vision of putting each elected official in the same room as his/her whole district is made possible only by the last year or two of advancements on the Internet. But the only way we’ll achieve our vision is if both the public and the government embrace the change.