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Review: Congress+

March 19, 2009
Overview Congress+ is for civic-minded iPhone users who want to easily learn about and/or connect with members of Congress. With several methods of access, your iPhone can become a tool for change. Congress+ seeks to eliminate any confusion about who your local representative is or how to voice your opinion to them, but is also a useful tool for those in politics (as a virtual phone book) and those out of politics (as a reference tool).

How to get in contact

This Congressional roster contains several methods of contact for each member of the Senate and House of Representatives – including address (selecting will open Google map and directions), official website, phone number, and access to a contact form (in lieu of email addresses). Even their Twitter is listed, if they have one. Now that’s access!

Even Contact Their Staff

Congress+ doesn’t stop there. Located under the personal information is a list of the representative’s Capitol staff, and by selecting a member from the list (for example, the Chief of Staff), you can send them an email. There are also several links relating to each representative’s legislative activity, campaign information, and there’s even an “official” biography. Choosing a particular link under one of these designations often leads to a website (THOMAS.gov or a committee website) or a Google search, so it’s helpful that Congress+ utilizes Safari from within the app itself, rather than closing out and then opening the browser.

Navigating Through Congress+

Navigation and functionality are simple. You can select if you want to browse through all members of Congress, choose between Senate and House members, or sort them by last name or state of representation. There is a search option if you feel scrolling is too daunting. Other capabilities like linking to the President’s cabinet, going to Fact Check.org, and the app’s blog and Twitter are also available. Access the legislators you bookmark for quick access as well. Overall, using Congress+ to search and contact individual legislators is a crisp, fluid experience.

Some Things To Note

Location, Location, Location

For those who are involved with politics contacting your representative has become easier than it has ever been. The making of Congress+ has created a database that really sets its self apart, not only from other apps, but other places where you can find this information on the web as well. Sure you can find all the information provided in the application on the Internet, but you can't find it all in one place. If you know who your representative then you have a plethora of information at your fingertips. The developers for this application are also incredibly helpful and responsive to questions, which is really refreshing. Most everyone loves the fact that they can contact their representative directly from their phone and according to the developers Congress+ has spurred those who have never contacted their representatives before to take interest and do so.

Government Isn't Always Perfect

Now if you are not someone who is a political nut than you might run into some problems when using Congress+. One major flaw is the search feature. What if you don't know who your representative is, but you want to find out who you should contact if you have a problem - well unfortunately you can't. There is currently no way to search by Zip Code or address, not to mention that you also can't search by Committee. This is a much needed feature, but like everything having to do with the government - it's a lot easier said than done.

It's Worth The Price

Finally, at $9.99, Congress+ is not an app that most could let go of easily if it didn’t suit them. All of the information on Congress+ is already free and attainable via internet, but what you’re paying for is the convenience of having it in one place. Discerning whether you have the need for this kind of information readily available for this price is an important consideration. I could certainly see lobbyists and assorted Hill rats utilizing this app’s abilities to its fullest extent, and perhaps those in the non-profit sector would find Congress+ beneficial. For these types, Congress+ is probably a great deal, especially compared to the hard copy directory that can cost triple or more to purchase. The lighter, $.99 version would better suit the average and curious user, although it doesn't update, so it's only a matter of time before the information is obsolete and searching for the information outside of the app is necessary.

So How Does It Compare?

Congress ($0.99)

Congress is a basic version designed for everyone who votes. It's an application that provides easily accesible information about representatives, government and how to go about contacting them. But it does not update. It also doesn't contain committee or subcommittee information.

Congress+ ($9.99)

With Congress+ you are given two updates. You get staffs email, legislative and committee information as well as who/what the congress members and senators sponsor - not to mention everything else that has been mentioned in the review thus far.

Congress Pro ($99.99)

Everything updates! Plus it has everything in both other applications. But this application is pricey for a reason. It is not meant for just anyone. Congress Pro is built for people who work for lobbying firms, NGOs, and other sectors strongly connected to the government. Now at first glance your eyes might pop out of your head when you see the price - but if you take a step back from the iPhone world for a second, applications similar to this one made for the BlackBerry cost 200-1500 dollars. If this is your industry it could be the best 99 dollars you ever spent. With the announcement of the new 3.0 software update the developers are happy to say that if that is price point is too high up front they will soon be offering paid subscriptions so you can pay for it monthly.

Developer's Corner

Not Everyone Knows Their Congress person?

As we mentioned earlier you can't search using your Zip Code or address. Well after speaking with the developer he assured us that this was something that they were definitely working on - but it's a little more difficult than you might think. First of all there are very few accurate databases for district information. Many are inaccurate due to Gerrymandering. Sometimes a district cuts right through a Zip Code, which is why searching by Zip Code is not as easy as it seems. However, they are working hard on it and want to have a way to search by address soon. Currently they are trying to link up and partner with a website that will give a solution to their users while they are trying to figure out an in app solution.

Some Say It Should Be Free

While the information found in the app can also be accessed via the Internet, there is no real one website that would fill the role of this application. Congress+ bundles the information in an easily accessible way.

There Is A Bug - But Don't Kill It

One known bug the developers are aware of is that sometimes(not always) when users update the application for new versions - the database does not update properly. This is a known bug by Apple and they are trying to resolve it. But for the time being the developers recommend uninstalling and reinstalling the application will fix the bug - and you will not be charged again.

They Hear You

Cohen Research Group gets tons of positive feedback from users. Some say they have used the application to contact representatives about an issue that affects them for the first time ever using Congress+. They are also very responsive when there are issues. In fact they have updated Congress+ seven times and are continuing to research and add new features that the users suggest. When we here at AppleiPhoneApps.com reached out to the developers they were more than happy to respond quickly and answer any and every question we had.

The Verdict

Congress+ is a very well done app in function and form, contains loads of information (contact or otherwise), and appears to has a responsive development team (based on user comments) and my own experience. Owning this app means that you will have the power to find your legislator and know how to reach them (and that’s a good thing!), but, due to the higher price tag, the importance of owning this app depends on how prone you are to using it for those means - Congress+ could either be a thrifty lifesaver or a waste of a sawbuck. Paying a $10 premium is worth it if you want to have your voice heard. For an app that has a hard working team constantly checking and insuring the information provided is correct - I know that if I need to get in touch I can do so. Ultimately, if you own an iPhone, you can have Congress in your pocket; it's just a matter of how much you're willing to pay for the convenience.

The Bottom Line

This app is an excellent resource and value for political activists or those who are involved in government, but it would be wasted on casual users. For them, the lite version would suffice.

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