Slate, the Industry Standard, and washingtonpost.com join forces to examine the effect of the Internet on Campaign 2000.
This insta-polling function is actually a side benefit—or curse, depending on your point of view—of what the Senate was really looking for: a tool to weed out incoming junk mail and to keep constituent correspondence separate from internal messages.
As the level of e-mail from constituents has increased dramatically, so has its ability to cripple the Senate's e-mail system. During the Monica Lewinsky imbroglio, for instance, e-mail traffic shot up 2,500 percent and created serious havoc. So the Senate went trolling for software that could pile up tons of messages, identify and delete junk mail, and deliver the rest to the right offices in a categorized format without affecting the free flow of internal e-mail.
Echomail was one of the few companies that could deliver all that and, because it designs software for e-business, also happened to have the market research tools that translate into free polling for senators.
So far there are only two Senate offices using the new software—the clerk's office would not reveal which ones—but by November it should be available to every senator. How they actually utilize it remains in question. Each office will have the option of simply using it to handle incoming mail or to generate appropriate responses or, for the ambitious, to instantly take the pulse of their states without ever having to read an individual message.