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House.gov Still Plagued by E-mail Deluge

A glut of e-mail from constituents and special interest groups continued to pose problems for the Web sites for members of the U.S. House of Representatives on Thursday, as millions of Americans attempt to voice their opinions on the financial bailout package the day before an expected vote on the measure.

Jeff Ventura, a spokesperson for the House's chief administrative officer, called the volume of e-mail flowing through member Web sites "staggering and unprecedented." He said more than two-dozen interest groups sending large batches of e-mail have contributed to the problem.

"Advocacy groups are collecting e-mails and then shoving them into a system that was really designed for manual input, not for people to send us wholesale batches of thousands of e-mails at a time," Ventura said.

Still, he said, e-mails from individual users still far outnumber those submitted in bulk. The timing of the Wall Street rescue package also comes just a month before elections in the House, always a busy time for the House Web site. Ventura declined to say how many e-mails the House was receiving, but noted that the volume was more than six times the normal level.

"It seems like everyone has something to say about this issue, and unfortunately, the Web site -- the way we had it -- has never experienced this tsunami," he said. "If House.gov has been laboring to load, all of the other sites are feeling this storm as well."

Part of problem is that although each member of the House has a "Write Your Rep" page on their individual sites, all of those member pages reside at the main House.gov Web site.

When the deluge of e-mail first began in earnest over the weekend, House.gov technicians initially sought to throttle the amount of e-mail that could be sent at any one time through the site. Ventura said the House has since turned to an outside firm that helps distribute the load by serving copies of the House.gov Web pages at multiple locations.

"As an intermediate step, we were turning away some people trying to get to the site," he said. "Now, what we we're trying to do is enlarge the doorway."

Ventura declined to name the company that is mirroring the House.gov Web properties. But according to Netcraft.com, a site that tracks Web server performance, sometime this week House.gov began being distributed by Cambridge, Mass.-based Akamai.com.

Akamai mirrors content for a number of the Internet's busiest Web properties, including washingtonpost.com, Microsoft.com and Yahoo.com. Companies also have turned to Akamai for help in withstanding denial-of-service attacks, digital assaults in which cyber crooks swamp commercial Web sites with junk traffic if they refuse to pay extortion demands.

The changes made by House administrators appear to be working, at least for the the main House.gov landing page. Abelardo Gonzalez, a solutions consultant with Keynote.com, which measures Web site uptimes, said that the House.gov home page has been loading fine all day but that individual pages and member Web sites are still struggling.

"They seem to have fixed the front door, which is an improvement," Gonzalez said. "But unfortunately, it still looks like it's overwhelmed and slow once you start getting into deeper sections of the site."

However, Ventura said, there is an upside to their load woes. "It shows the average citizen is really in the game right now," he said. "It's kind of a refreshing thing that at least people are so engaged."

The changes made by House administrators appear to be working, at least for the the main House.gov landing page. Abelardo Gonzalez, a solutions consultant with Keynote.com, which measures Web site uptimes, said the House.gov homepage has been loading fine all day, but individual pages and member Web sites are still struggling.

"They seem to have fixed the front door, which is an improvement," Gonzalez said. "But unfortunately, it still looks like it's overwhelmed and slow once you start getting into deeper sections of the site."

Update, 6:32 p.m.: Added comment from Keynote.com

By Ju-Don Roberts  |  October 2, 2008; 6:15 PM ET
 
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Comments

So like the house needs to put in a CAPCHA and other automatic spam-blockers. There's no reason advocacy groups can not deliver bulk mail via FTP. They could deliver it in bulk, without wasting resources.

Or, if they're using 'your_name_here' web/mail forms to generate constituent response, they could give a summary of the names, with 1 copy of the form-o-matic content, and full copies of any diffs from that form...

To behave in the manner that they are is technologically retarded on both sides.

Posted by: Nym | October 2, 2008 7:06 PM | Report abuse

I seriously doubt the deluge is voters supporting the bailout. They wouldn't be writing in such large numbers.

It would be interesting to know how many voters are writing emails to Congress against the bailout. I bet it is running 100 to 1 against.

NO BAILOUT!! It's a RIPOFF!!!

Posted by: Tom3 | October 2, 2008 7:11 PM | Report abuse

House of Representatives members. You are our only hope against these financial crooks that are seeking to put all the red ink THEY'VE caused onto our shoulders. Please listen to this story:

http://thislife.org/Radio_Episode.aspx?sched=1242

It explains this entire mess better than anyone in Washington. If you, in good conscience, feel you must vote to bail them out. You deserve to be recalled. They are wanting bailed out because they can no longer pass off the horrible loans they made in packages to foreign investors. It is their bottom line they are worried about, not the financial system of the country.

Posted by: Sheller | October 2, 2008 7:25 PM | Report abuse

I find it a little convenient that they suddenly can no longer deal with the incoming load soon after the house votes down the bailout because a large number of reps received feedback from their constituents that they didn’t want it passed. So a revised bill passes the Senate and constituents don’t have an opportunity to weigh in via email, thus “freeing” house members to give into peer pressure without so much influence from 'pesky' constituents.

I’m not saying the overload isn’t a real issue. Perhaps it is, but it’s all rather convenient for those trying to push it through.

Posted by: Craig | October 2, 2008 7:47 PM | Report abuse

The email form for my Congressman is still non-functional; "Gateway Timeout" or "Service Unavailable" is all I can get.

Phone voice mailbox is full, too.

Not sure about FAX spools, though, so try FAXing your Congressman. ;)

Seem too difficult? Well, if you just want to cut & paste your email content to a web form that will FAX to a specific 202 area code FAX number, you can try:

http://www.tpc.int/sendfax.html

Not sure if it's still valid, but I gave it a try.

Posted by: Beetle | October 2, 2008 8:23 PM | Report abuse

Find and block the astroturf groups (left leaning and right leaning both) and see how fast that fades away.

Oh, and some bayesian classification to group different astroturfers boilerplates (the "copy and paste this, and mail your congressman" variety) and

1. Count the numbers, log email addresses for a thank you note

2. Discard them once the content of one of them has been captured, and correlated with the astroturf group concerned.

That tends to ensure lossless compression of email, really .. astroturfers are yet another blight on a horribly mismanaged political scene.

Posted by: SRS | October 2, 2008 10:49 PM | Report abuse

@ Nym: I doubt the feds could devise a CAPTCHA better than those used by Google, Yahoo and other companies that have already seen their systems cracked open by comment spammers.

Posted by: 931 | October 3, 2008 9:35 AM | Report abuse

The bailout is a ripoff of the taxpayers.

Posted by: bob_gutermuth | October 3, 2008 10:30 AM | Report abuse

I doubt the Federal government could legally require a CAPTCHA, given that all government websites must be accessible to the blind.

Why are the last two paragraphs repeated?

Posted by: Mackenzie | October 5, 2008 9:40 PM | Report abuse

I heard on MSNBC that 70% of people did not support the bailout.
We have the best form of government that money can buy!

Posted by: Harry Lyonne | October 8, 2008 12:58 PM | Report abuse

"bulk" campaign based email is certainly no worse than the lobbyists that seem to be able to buy congressional votes for pennies (cmon, 535 congress members controlling trillions of dollars and you can buy them for a few tens of thousands in lobbying??? wtf)

Advocacy email helps offset the completely out-of-proportion influence lobbyists have. Too bad Congress isn't willing to do its job of representation without being shoved into it...

Posted by: Anonymous | October 8, 2008 6:44 PM | Report abuse

The comments to this entry are closed.

 
 
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