Civic-Based Tech Sees a Surge

The Trump presidency has sparked a resurgent wave of political activism, from marches in the streets to jammed phone lines in congressional offices.

But in addition to the traditional methods of political speech, a new generation of citizens is turning to mobile apps to expand their civic activity. Since Donald Trump’s inauguration, several politics-focused apps have seen a rise in engagement.

Countable, an app that helps users track and contact elected representatives, will announce its first round of institutional funding on Wednesday. Canaan Partners led the company’s $2 million round.

The funding comes as Countable reports 325,000 iOS downloads since Inauguration Day. The app allows people to email their positions on specific bills to lawmakers. More than 2.7 million messages have been sent to Congress in the two months since the inauguration. Countable Chief Executive Bart Myers said that is a remarkable spike for an app that sent about 2 million messages all of last year.

iCitizen, a site that helps people contact lawmakers largely at the state level, reports a surge in user-generated content. Two other companies, The Daily Kos and Buycott, have also seen usage double, said Julie Menter, a principal at angel network New Media Ventures.

“I’m seeing people go toward apps that are more connected to action,” she said.

The Daily Kos, which provides progressive-leaning news, directs readers to sign petitions or take other actions. Buycott helps people scan products in a store and learn if their brands run counter to any causes they follow such as on animal rights or criminal justice. One campaign allows people to boycott products with ties to the Trump Organization.

Countable, founded three years ago, is capitalizing on the trend. In addition to helping people contact lawmakers, the company recently launched a “Take Action” widget that can be embedded on other sites.

ABC News’s affiliate in Minneapolis has a partnership using the widgets for its site. Viewers can use it to send a video or message to elected representatives in response to a news story. Some nonprofits are using the take action widget to collect donations.

Countable is one of the rare civic apps that has received funding from a Silicon Valley venture-capital firm.

Canaan Partner Joydeep Bhattacharyya, who said he has been in touch with Countable for the past five months, invested in Countable after seeing their recent growth.

“They had some really passionate users, but they didn’t have the hockey stick growth when I first met them,” he said.

But that growth did come following the election, and Mr. Bhattacharyya found himself in the right place at the right time.

He said he was interested in investing in a company that facilitated two-way communication between the government and citizens.

“In this country there is a belief that you can interact with and even influence the government, which is very different coming from a different country,” said Mr. Bhattacharyya, who is originally from India.

Ms. Menter said in this political moment, people are more engaged with apps when they aren’t confronted with an opposing political view.

But Countable prides itself on its ability to remain nonpartisan.

“We were recently called, on the same day, the mouthpiece of Elizabeth Warren and basically Breitbart’s app,” Mr. Myers said.

In an age of media echo chambers, Mr. Myers said he is trying to help people understand all sides of an issue. Countable recently launched Talk to Trump, a site where users can record and send a video the White House. The page features a range of perspectives, from people thanking the president to those expressing their concerns about the quality of education.

“Our job shouldn’t be about Countable,” Mr. Myers said. “It should be related to giving people a voice.”

Write to Cat Zakrzewski at cat.zakrzewski@wsj.com


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