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iCitizen: How one app got a huge room of millennials talking about the presidential debates

We millennials are, rightfully, stereotyped as to have our phones glued to our hands 24/7. So, it would only make sense that there is a potential for this generation to become involved if given a quick and savvy way to do so. Enter iCitizen

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It’s not as hard as you might think

President Obama’s final State of the Union address has instigated a great deal of buzz throughout the country. As we say goodbye to his presidency and look toward the 45th, a recurring topic of conversation is how to get millennials involved in the voting process.

Now, to get us to do virtually anything, there has to be some sort of technological aspect involved. We millennials are, rightfully, stereotyped as to have our phones glued to our hands 24/7. So, it would only make sense that there is a potential for this generation to become involved if given a quick and savvy way to do so.

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icitizen: “A hub for your civic life”

This is the mission of icitizen. Launched over two years ago, and rebranded and re-released less than a week ago, icitizen is working to bridge the gap between millennials and politics. With the slogan “A hub for your civic life”, icitizen works hard to provide politicians with information curated from the app.

The app is simple to utilize, as users can swipe right (if they care about a topic) or left (if they don’t care about a topic). Topics include everything from arts and culture, to parks and recreation, to voting and taxes.

The app was put to the test the night of the State of the Union, as representatives and members of icitizen came to Illinois State University in Normal, IL for a live-stream watch party.

Potential to make a change

While some students were incentivized by extra credit and free pizza, many students came for the opportunity to be civically engaged. Organizers and sponsors were astounded by the turnout, over 600 people, and we able to spread the word about the importance of being involved in politics and the community.

I had the pleasure of speaking with the members of icitizen following the address. Their mission is one of importance and their execution has the potential to make a change in how younger generations engage with politics.

TL: How did you come up with the idea?
Beth Huth [VP Marketing and Business Development]: icitizen has been around for about two and a half years. And it started from an idea from an entrepreneur in Nashville who thought about making the idea of communication between the citizen and politics an easier process.

He was flipping through channels and he would see polling results on one channel reporting ‘this’ and polling results on another channel reporting something completely different. And he thought, ‘what if we created a place that centralized voice for citizens to come and gain information on politics as well as express their voice on what they do and do not support.’

TL: Are you local to the area (Chicago/Southern Illinois)?
BH: we’re headquartered in Nashville and our CEO, Russ Reeder, was originally based in California and he just recently relocated to headquarters in Nashville. He is also now a co-founder with a company in rebranding and re-visioning icitizen. And, just four days ago, we launched version two of our app.

So, we’re excited about this partnership because this is the first time that we have had polling as well a relationship with AASCU, and our 400 different universities put to the test.

TL: And how has that been going so far?
Alex Schreiner [Partnerships & Outreach Manager]: well, three or four days into it, I could not believe how many students that we got to come to this event. I don’t know that I’ve ever seen so many students gathered in one place for something political that’s not a rally or protest. This was a nonpartisan event, and we packed this house with students from Illinois State University, from Heartland Community College.

I was blown away by the attendance and the participation, and the buy-in that we got from the schools that were involved in it.

So, I think that for us this was really encouraging that there is so much enthusiasm about our vision for what these events can look like, and changing the way that we ask students to participate in politics. [Because] the old way just isn’t working anymore.

icitizen app using

Illinois State University communication majors Adamm Isabelli and Alex Cesich put in their two cents using the icitizen app.

TL: Was that the big motivator for the rebrand and redesign? So that it could be targeted toward a younger audience?
BH: Absolutely.

You know, when I think about the future generations of our country, the people who are really going to make a difference, it’s the millennial generation.

In two years, over 36 percent of our voting population will be millennials.

So, when I think about voting, and I think about calling people to action to have a say in what is going on in policy and community, the old way, where you basically just find a voting place, is broken. Allowing millennials to engage with politics, such as any form of legislation or bills, or just issues that are driven in their world – having it on a mobile device is a huge motivation for us.

TL: Can you tell me a little about the role of polling in politics?
Mark Keida [Director of Polling]: The reason we include polling is because polling is a way that you can make your voice count. So, when you put a poll out there, and there’s no answer to it, we don’t know how you feel. When you think of the electors, and there are over 300 million in the country, we have 535 members of Congress, senators, and the House, plus our president. How do they know [what citizens are feeling]? Polling is one of the ways that we get the intelligence of what the people think. And so, we developed in our app a polling capability.

We did this for the event, we put out 30 different poll questions, and we will continue doing that all of the time as a part of our app, so that we can hear what people think. And then what we do is, with the issues that are most popular, share that data anonymously with elected officials. Alex mentioned that this world is real-time and ongoing, and everything is on the super-computer or smartphone. This is the way the world is moving. And, when you think of polling, it’s very old types of technology, but we’re putting it on an app so that this way you can do it in real-time.

Giving these elected officials a way of putting a finger on the pulse of seeing what people really think and what they really want, is democracy in action. It’s something that is done between elections.

So, it isn’t just voting every two years. The president talked about that tonight, you know, get involved between elections – don’t just vote during the election time. And, what icitizen is really trying to do, is help people: they’re passionate, they’re interested in getting involved, and they are on their phones all the time. So, we’re putting those two together and saying, “well how can we get people involved?” And the phone helps us do this.

icitizen app iphone

TL: How did you become involved with Illinois State?
AS: When I started working for icitizen, I was in D.C., and we were just starting the process of identifying really who were the most important markets for us to try and launch this to. And universities and schools are such an obvious choice. There’s been a tremendous need amongst these institutions for the type of information and data that we are able to provide and knowing what your students’ political sentiment is, and social sentiment of different issues.

So, we actually got an email from the American Association of State Colleges and Universities which said, “hey, somebody in our office just downloaded your app. Can we talk?” And then we found out that we were, basically, within a couple of miles from each other in D.C. So, I went into the office and sat down with members of AASCU, and, as we started talking, I think both sides realized at the same time that there is so much potential here for what this relationship can transform to in the next couple of years. We basically started talking about this event two years ago, and asked how we could make it a student-oriented State of the Union event.

Jen Domagal-Goldman [AASCU member] said, “you’ve got to meet these people from Illinois State. They are so motivated”. And she said, “if you want to do a live watch party and live-stream this across the country from the university – let’s have a giant gathering at one school and broadcast it to other schools that are interested. We think we have the perfect place, and it’s Illinois State”.

And, they were so right. They have connected us to Heartland Community College and the folks over there were incredible at working with us. And what we saw were ripple effects from one very small group of people at Illinois State University faculty, and it rippled across the entire school. I mean, they got everybody involved. We wound up having 600 people and we ran out of chairs. I never hoped, in my wildest dreams, that this would be the case in the first year that we’ve ever really tried anything on this scale. It’s amazing.

Taylor is a Staff Writer at The American Genius and has a bachelor's degree in communication studies from Illinois State University. She is currently pursuing freelance writing and hopes to one day write for film and television.

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Time is money and Clockify helps you make the most

(TECH NEWS) Tracking your time worked as a freelancer can easily be lost in the shuffle. A new tool has been designed to make this important aspect easier.

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After years of searching for a method that works for me in terms of organization and productivity, the answer seemed to be simple: a calendar I can write on and Post-It notes. This method is a little old school, but seems to get the job done for my organizational needs.

However, there are some things that slip through the cracks with this method, but it’s more user error than it is the actual practice. One thing I struggle with is keeping track of my freelance hours this way.

I have a tendency to guesstimate how much time I worked throughout the day and know that I wind up underdocumenting my hours. I would hate to know how much money I’ve missed out on keeping (sometimes inaccurate) handwritten notes.

But, like many other small scale issues, there is a simple solution. And that is found in the form of time trackers.

One of the newest members to join the online time tracker team is Clockify, who operates under the idea of “your time, your rules.” It is a free time tracking tool designed for agencies and freelancers.

Clockify allows users to manage as many team members, projects, and workspaces that you need in an effort to help your business run smoothly. This allows for a complete overview of team productivity.

The tool offers a way to enter time manually as well as clock time automatically. This way you can keep tabs on what you’re working on and assign and label time logs to the appropriate clients.

With this time tracking, you are able to generate weekly, monthly, and annual reports at any given time. These reports can be saved, exported, and shared with clients to give them more information about your work process.

The real-time tracking helps to improve business efficiency and gives more insight into what each team member is spending their time on. Having this information available can give visual representation of how to improve in the future.

Clockify currently exists in desktop format with iOS and Android apps coming soon.

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Russia vetoed cryptocurrency and came back with CryptoRuble

(TECH NEWS) Russia put a hard pass on other cryptocurrencies in their country so that they could hop in the crypto-game with their own CryptoRuble.

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Just days after The American Genius reported that the Russian Central Bank would attempt to block access to cryptocurrency trading cites, the Coin Telegraph has reported that the Russian government will issue its very own cryptocurrency, the CryptoRuble.

The report cited local Russian papers, who quoted the minister of communications, Nikolay Nikiforov.

Earlier this week, head of the Central Bank, Sergei Shvetsov, said that he would work with the Prosecutor General’s Office to ban Russian citizens from accessing cryptocurrencies like Bitcoin, calling such currencies a “negative phenomena for our markets” and a “pyramid scheme.”

Now it appears that the Kremlin will create its own cryptocurrency – one it can keep an eye on — which, some might argue, defeats the entire purpose of cryptocurrency.

However, like other cryptocurrencies the CryptoRuble will be based on blockchain and will presumably help prevent online fraud.

CryptoRubles will be exchangeable with regular Rubles, although the systems of exchange have not yet been set up. Experts think that Russia is hoping to stimulate e-commerce without the need for foreign money markets, which will allow them to have more independence from the United States.

According to Nikiforov, the Russian government is setting up its own cryptocurrency under the assumption that if they don’t, other European governments will.

Said NIkiforov, “I confidently declare that we run CryptoRuble for one simple reason: if we do not, then after two months our neighbors in the EurAsEC will.”

Traders using CryptoRubles will be asked to provide documentation of retail transactions and services rendered – or pay a 13 percent tax for undocumented transactions, leaving a wide loophole for money laundering.

Critics say that Russia is trying to facilitate, while also profiting from money laundering; that the Kremlin is stealing the market from other cryptocurrencies; and that the CryptoRuble fundamentally defies the spirit of decentralization that inspired other cryptocurrencies.

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Microsoft’s overseas email storage piqued the Supreme Court’s interest

(TECH NEWS) Microsoft has been in a pretty large dispute about storing user emails abroad and the Supreme Court has taken an interest in it.

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The U.S. Supreme Court announced Monday that it will hear a case that will decide whether or not U.S. law enforcement officials can force tech companies to turn over emails and data stored in overseas servers.

The case will review a lower court decision made in 2013 after federal officials attempted to obtain emails from Microsoft that would provide evidence for drug trafficking cases.

At that time, Microsoft refused to comply with the government, even though they had a warrant, instead taking the case to court, claiming that the U.S. government did not have the right to access data stored in servers in Ireland.

The court of appeals ruled in favor of Microsoft, citing a 1986 digital privacy law that allows law enforcement to obtain warrants for electronic communications, but not if the data is stored outside of the United States.

Judge Susan Carney said of the law, “Neither explicitly nor implicitly does the statue envision the application of its warrant provisions overseas.”

The Trump Administration and the Justice Department say that this ruling has majorly blocked efforts to prosecute criminals.

“Under this opinion, hundreds if not thousands of investigations of crimes — ranging from terrorism, to child pornography, to fraud — are being or will be hampered by the government’s inability to obtain electronic evidence,” said Deputy Solicitor General Jeffrey Wall.

Because Microsoft stores data and communications closest to the user’s location, Wall said that the lower court’s decision made it all too easy for terrorists and other criminals to hide their communications by claiming to live in a foreign country when signing up for an account.

Microsoft argues that, instead of handing this decision over to the Supreme Court, legislators should update the 1986 law.

“The current laws were written for the era of the floppy disk, not the world of the cloud.” wrote Microsoft President and Chief Legal Officer Brad Smith in a blog.

“We believe that rather than arguing over an old law in court, it is time for Congress to act by passing new legislation.”

In Congress, Senators Mike Lee (R-Utah) and Patrick Leahy (D-Vermont) are pushing for just such an update with a piece of legislation called the Stored Communications Act.

Microsoft further argued that allowing U.S. law enforcement to obtain data from other countries was an “incursion” on those nations’ sovereignty, which would make U.S. citizens more vulnerable to foreign governments.

“If U.S. law enforcement can obtain the emails of foreigners stored outside the United States, what’s to stop the government of another country from getting your emails even though they are located in the United States?” said Smith.

The Justice Department says that, along with Microsoft, Google, Verizon, and Yahoo have all stopped complying with search warrants since the lower court’s decision.

The Supreme Court will hear the case early in 2018 and hope to have a decision by June.

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