As the US presidential election draws ever nearer, Matt Stempeck rounds up 13 new tools that leverage digital technology to impact at the political and civic level.
BlueStateDigital’s QuickDonate tool (now live on BarackObama.com lets your constituents save their payment information for frictionless giving. There’s also a mobile edition that pulls from the same saved credit card information, which prevents the mobile carriers from taking a cut of the donation. Even new users are spared from entering their data on a mobile device. It’s available to any organisation already using BSD.
Paul Schreiber, “the TurboVote kid,” makes voting as easy as renting a DVD from Netflix. The US is 138th in voter participation. We vote on Tuesdays and generally make it hard for people to vote. Oregon introduced statewide vote-by-mail. TurboVote uses the internet to make voting as easy as buying a pair of shoes online. If the states are the laboratories of democracy, their registration requirements and forms and websites are the meth labs of democracy, Paul says. Rather than visit crappy state election board websites, you simply use TurboVote’s wizard to register to vote and/or vote by mail. When you’re done with the wizard, it generates the appropriate PDF for you to print and mail. TurboVote also has a mobile site, and partners with Voto Latino, the League of Young Voters, and other such groups.
The Voter Activation Network is working to synchronise its voter records with voters’ online social media profiles. The tool, Social Organizing, will enable organisers to reach people where they already are, rather than interrupting dinner with a phone call. There’s a strong overall trend around social organizing, and letting people bring in their real-world networks is believed to be better for all parties than a randomised call list.
Mike Sager’s working on Repurpose, a system of incentives and frequent flier miles to reward organizers who take action. They’re not just empty gamification points and badges, though; these points will direct the spending of a SuperPAC. You earn your points by doing political organizing work like canvassing, and can then redeem them to help campaigns and ad-buys of your choosing.
Stephanie from SignOn.org, a free petition site created by MoveOn.org. All of the petitions created are tested with a segment of MoveOn’s huge email list, and some are further promoted within relevant segments of that list. Petition creators themselves can message the signers about anything except fundraising appeals. They’ve designed sophisticated testing systems for each petition, which is micro-targeted to others based on the petition’s signers, geography, and virality. The end result is that MoveOn is sharing their progressive email list across a wide range of progressive causes.
The Agenda Project takes on the battle of ideas in American politics. Indices like http://policyexperts.org/ have always been important in national politics. The Agenda Project’s TopWonks project pulls together a stable of solid, rational policy experts all in one place. TopWonks has a profile for the progressive thinker expert you’re looking for, whether it’s municipal tax policy or developing economies. National news brands have already begun consulting the site.
Rally lets anyone with a cause share their story and raise money. The “cause” here can be a man trying to get his fiancée to move to his city, or saving a community’s church from fiscal insolvency. You can follow causes, which gives them your email address, and donate (Rally takes a 4.5% cut of donations). The system lets you send out email fundraising appeals, and shares analytics with you (donation emails with photos and videos perform better than text-only appeals). They’re also implementing a one-click donate button.
Seth Bannon introduces Amicus, which is looking to solve the problem that most of the communications in the world of social change happens between two strangers. (phonebanks, info@ email accounts, canvassers). Amicus finds your existing Facebook friends and looks for potential matches in the official voter file. Users confirm the matches, and are then asked to contact them. After you work through your list of friends, the tool connects you with friends-of-friends as well, as you still have a much better context for knowing each other than being randomly assigned a phone number. In addition to phonebanking, the system also lets you send emails and mail postcards. On the organisation’s admin side of things, you can cut a list based on the target group you’re looking to contact — young women in New Hampshire, for example. Volunteers level up as they complete actions, and group administrators can reassign the weighting of various actions. If calls suddenly become vitally important to the campaign, the admin can assign more points to calls (and so far, volunteers have responded to the re-weighting). AFL-CIO and about ten nonprofits have used the tool.
Eric Hysen, from Google’s Politics and Elections team, introduces google.com/elections, Google’s main elections hub. Google’s polling place gadget (powered by Voting Information Project data) shows up in Search results whenever people search for “where do I vote” “polling place” and other election-related queries. The gadget is also embeddable with a single line of code, can be customised with pre-populated addresses, and has been featured on many official campaigns’ sites. An API is available to developers, as well. This time around, they’re adding ballot information and voter ID requirements. The goal is to help voters get everything they need to vote from the tool. It appears across Google Search, Maps, and News.
Colin from LoudSauce acknowledges that most of us hate advertising, and says LoudSauce’s goal is to repurpose advertising to make it meaningful for society. Advertising favours large, entrenched, monied interests, and lets them win the attention game. But the internet allows us to transform the medium, which has historically fuelled consumption, to fuel civic engagement. The politically engaged are like technology’s early adopters: they jump in early, long before the rest of society. Crowdfunded advertising allows us to reach the laggards.
The anti-consumerist video Story of Stuff, produced in 2007, was a huge win online. But most people across broader society have still never heard of it. They raised money with their supporters online and purchased national TV ads using Google TV Ads, at under $3,000 a spot, and drove many more people to the site. Only 82 donors drove 2 million additional viewers.
Their new features allow people to set up their own media-buying campaigns and activate their personal networks to raise the money to extend the reach of their video. It’s Kickstarter for amateur media. And it’s not limited to small TV buys. You can purchase video ads on MTV, CNN, Current, and YouTube. The Redditors and Upworthies of the world might be interested in this platform. Occupy Wall Street supporters produced 12 Occupy Spots ads, covering Occupy Wall Street, Occupy the Hood, and other organic messages at http://occupyspots.com/. Creative politicos created the Meh. Romney campaign and are seeking donations to bring it to the Republican convention. [LoudSauce is onto something: Facebook is reportedly toying with a similar pay-to-promote feature to allow users to expand the reach of their content across News Feeds].
DemDash is a democracy dashboard to educate activists and voters on candidates and issues. It’s in alpha and currently covers only California politics, but will be expanded to include information from the Ballot Information Project.
John Brougher talks about NationBuilder, a complete suite of well-designed organizing and activist tools available for a low monthly subscription fee. They’ve been focused on scalability since day one, resulting in the low $20 / month (and up) cost.
Christie George introduces New Media Ventures, a fund investing in progressive political and civic startups. They support nonprofits as well as for-profits, but have noticed a lack of funding in the nonprofit space for new ideas. So, this summer they’re issuing an open call to nonprofit entrepreneurs using technology to creative progressive political change. Their three criteria are that your venture be scalable, revenue generating with a sustainable business model, and creating progressive political change. They’ll be awarding grants of $25,000. Follow @newmediaventure and @christiegeorge.
Bonus tool! via Nick Grossman: Thunderclap lets you coordinate mass amplification of the same message. Right now it works by asking people to pledge to retweet, but the same strategy could work to juice YouTube views and other social media sites. I’ve actually heard from unscrupulous commercial marketers who have gamed YouTube’s top video playlists’ algorithms, to the point that they can use Mechanical Turk to get a video onto the trending videos lists, where the video then gains many, many more organic views. Thunderclap could be the grassroots version of this tactic. Although, if you’re not going to get enough amplification of the message to break the Top Whatever lists threshold, it might be better for a campaign to spread the amplification out over a period of time than to do it all at once.
Image Credits: Screenshots.