Masthead CMC Magazine / April 1, 1996

The Senate's New Online Majority, Part II

by Chris Casey

In last October's issue of Computer Mediated Communication Magazine, I wrote an article titled "The Senate's New Online Majority." The article described the passage of a milestone that occurred late last summer when for the first time a majority of Senators had public email addresses. Since then, the number of Senators accepting email from the public has continued to grow and at this writing has reached 72. Ubiquitous Senate email is within sight.

That article was written shortly before the Senate established a Web server. At the time 33 Senators had established home pages on the World Wide Web. On February 22, 1996, Senator Herb Kohl of Wisconsin unveiled a home page, becoming the 50th Senator on the Web. He i was quickly followed by Senators Alan Simpson of Wyoming and Paul Sarbanes of Maryland, and another new online majority was established in the U.S. Senate. Almost two-years after Senator Edward Kennedy of Massachusetts became the first member of Congress to establish a presence on the web, more than half of his Senate colleagues and 115 Representatives have followed his example.

It is appropriate that the Senate should reach a Web majority only after reaching an email majority. Although members of Congress are quick to recognize the possibilities for establishing an office in cyberspace and of using the Web to offer up a hypertext window to their world, they sometimes approach email more timidly, uncertain how they will handle the deluge of messages that a public email address invites. The Senate has a poor reputation on the Net that has been earned based on legislative efforts that many Netizens find offensive. But increasing access to the Senate on the Net, and the manner in which most Senators have implemented it, offer reason for hope that the Senate is catching on. And as Congress works to figure out the Net and make information available online, the wired public will be offered an opportunity to utilize these resources and try to figure out Congress.

[]Ehlers comments on the efforts in the House of Represenatives to update their computer system.

A little bit of background information can help Netizens to know what they're looking at when visiting a member of Congress on the Web. The Senate and House both maintain home pages for members of Congress that do not have one of their own. These directory pages on the House server and generic pages in the Senate are sometimes mistaken as being the same as the member's own effort. Even as the number of genuine member pages continues to rise, the experienced Congressional Web Watcher can distinguish the difference by paying attention to a few tell-tale markings. ^The key is in the URL.

The Internet holds real promise as a resource for improving and strengthening our democracy through the development of a better informed public. The foothold on the World Wide Web established by individual members of Congress, will be followed by more substantive content which will be posted by Congressional Committees and other sources. The inevitable result being the ability of interested Netizens to peruse Congress on the Net to whatever depth their interest leads them. But it will remain up to the public to know what they've looking at, and understand their online legislature. [TOC]

Chris Casey ( is the author of The Hill on the Net: Congress Enters the Information Age (San Diego, CA: Academic Press, 1996). He works as Technology Advisor to the Senate Democratic Technology and Communications Committee, and is the creator of CapWeb: A Guide to the U.S. Congress.

Copyright © 1996 by Chris Casey. All Rights Reserved.

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