Last week GovTrack launched an experiment using , the collaborative writing tool, to see how members of the GovTrack community could come together to write a joint letter to congressmen. A large problem facing Congress is their inability to keep up with constituent communication, as the rise of electronic communications to Congress has far outpaced the increases in their office budgets. One of the many ways to address this problem is to have constituents come together on a single letter, an aggregated communication. Petitions were the aggregated letter of the past. In the future, we will see the letter actually being written collaboratively, and this is what GovTrack’s first-of-its-kind experiment is about.

On MixedInk, participants have three tasks. First, they can write letters from scratch — this gets the process rolling. Second, they can remix the content from letters written by other users. This helps the community synthesize the best letter, and MixedInk tracks the authorship of the remixed phrases in a pretty cool way. This makes sure users don’t feel alienated by being copied; rather, they remain a co-author of the remixed version. Last, users rate the letters and remixes to pick the best one. The tool is well-suited to writing a joint letter to Congress, which was one of the motivations behind MixedInk.

The experiment is in progress with 145 individuals contributing just in the last week to a letter expressing opposition to

, a gun control bill. You can follow the process on MixedInk, or join in, . I chose to start the experiment on a single issue, and a single side of the issue, because I knew that there was a critical mass of visitors to GovTrack that would want to contribute to such a letter. By no means does GovTrack endorse the content of the letter, and in the future we hope to faciliate letters on all sides of issues, provided there is a sufficient number of visitors interested in collaborating on it.

At the end of the experiment I’ll take the letter and deliver it in person to appropriate congressmen. I haven’t chosen who I will deliver it to, but I suspect it will be the sponsor and cosponsors, the chairmen and ranking members of the committees referred the bill, and perhaps congressmen of districts represented by the signatories of the letter (see below).

The experiment proceeds in three phases. The first phase going on right now is the writing phase. Contributors are writing, remixing, and rating letters on MixedInk. This will go on until April 8. From then until April 20 it will be a rating-only phase on MixedInk. This gives the community a final chance to pick the best letter.

On April 20 I will take a look at the top-rated letter and move the experiment to the third and final phase. (In the event that I find the content inappropriate to be delievered, I may consider the next-highest-rated letter.) In this phase, I will provide the community the opportunity to sign on to the letter. Letters to Members of Congress hold no weight if they are anonymous. So I’ll have a sign-up form where individuals can enter their name, address, and congressional district. Signatories will have the option to keep their entry private — it will appear on the letter I deliver in person but not on the letter I display publicly on GovTrack.

Wish us all luck!