Sites around the web today are calling on users to contact their Congressional representatives to voice opposition to the Stop Online Piracy Act and the Protect IP Act. Under normal circumstances, there’s an extra step or two between that call-to-action and the actual call — requiring the users to find their representatives’ contact information and, let’s face it, maybe even figure out who their representatives are.
Inspired by the SOPA opposition, three computer science students have come up with a solution.
It’s a service called Grassroutes that lets sites create a customized widget that identifies the Congressional delegation of an individual user — derived automatically from IP address or manually via ZIP code — and provides the representatives’ contact information: Facebook, Twitter, email, and phone, complete with a button letting users click to call from inside the browser.
Grassroutes was created this past weekend during the two-day PennApps hackathon at the University of Pennsylvania, by University of Pennsylvania students Tess Rinearson and Nick Meyer, and Carnegie Mellon student Drew Inglis.
Rinearson and Inglis are both from the Seattle region and attended Lakeside School (where they were taught by computer science teacher Lauren Bricker, our recent Geek of the Week). Tess Rinearson, who worked last summer as an intern at video-game company Valve, is the daughter of Peter Rinearson, CEO of Seattle startup Intersect, where Inglis worked for a year.
Local connections aside, Grassroutes is already becoming a broader phenomenon.
Sites including Twitpic, Techerator, BostInno (and of course Intersect) are using the widget as part of their SOPA protests today. A SOPA-specific widget is available here, but the service can be used for any type of message on any issue, with options for sites to provide a customized message and talking points for their users.
Inglis explains the behind-the-scenes technology in a blog post: We use the Twilio API for in-browser calling, we use the Maxmind ruby gem to go from IP->zip code, and the SunLight Labs Congress dataset to go from zip code->elected officials.
Watch them pitch the project in this video.
Updated at 9:40 a.m. with new video link and correct college affiliation for Rinearson and Meyer.