August 21, 1998
Click on www.e-thepeoplecom and you can be heard by 140,000 local, state, and federal officials. That's the pitch that company officials are talking about in their twenty-city, 40-day bus tour. The "Grassroots Express" will have rolled through Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, California, Oregon, and Washington this August, demonstrating what the web can do for democracy."
The web site claims to allow Jane Q. Public to reach any of the 140,000 local, state and federal officials instantaneouslyand at no charge. It also allows citizens groups from the Sierra Club to the local block club to post online petitions and seek signatures via e-mail.
"Acceptance of the E-People by citizens groups and government officials in the state of California is critical to our success," says Alex Sheshunoff, the 24 year old Yale graduate who founded the New York City and Austin based company earlier this year as a way for people to participate more easily in the political process. "California, home to one of every eight Americans, is the most wired state in the country." A recent survey notes that 42 percent of California residents have e-mail addresses.
Demonstration of the innovative new service to elected officials in the 14 cities visited to date has met with an enthusiastic response. "Internet sites like E-The People are exciting because they provide people with another way to make their voice heard and allow elected officials to be more responsive," said congressman Lloyd Dogget, D-Texas, who has reviewed the service. "I hope that increased access to the internet will allow myself and other elected officials to better serve the people we represent." Mayors and city council members in cities from Austin to San Antonio also stopped at the bus for a demonstration of the innovative new service.
E-The People was designed in part to benefit busy two-career families who want to participate in the government but find they don't have the time. "In the past, it's been hard for people to participate in the affairs of the community because they have so little free time. And when they have a problem, people usually don't know who to call or how to reach them. E-Thepeople could be the answer.
Creating a Major Internet Brand
The E-People service took a team of programmers a year to develop, according to Mr. Sheshunoff. "It's hard stuff," he said. "There are a lot of people out there talking about the intersection of the Internet and democracy, but not many are writing the code."
By making it easier for voice their concerns, Sheshunoff hopes to not only put a little zing back into the democratic process, but to subsidize nonprofit groups free use of the service by selling banner ads on the site. One factor driving substantial traffic to the site is the decision by over 35 newspapers reaching 7 million readers to incorporate E-Thepeople into their own interactive editions. These papers, which include the New York Daily News, dominate their local markets, and will begin adding E-Thepeople into their own interactive newspapers in late July and early August.
Interest on the part of newspapers in co-branding with E-The people continues to grow, and joint venture agreements with several major chains will soon be announced. Part of the excitement stems from the fact that E-Thepeople is using a similar internet startup companySportsline as its model. Sportsline was launched in 1994 in an effort to bring sports news and statistics to Internet users. Sportsline eventually aligned itself with CBS and went public last fall; its total market value now exceeds $400 million.