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The Next Generation of Online Organizing

The Dean campaign was known for its innovative online tools. The Internet was a phenomenal way to get Governor Dean's message directly to supporters -- bypassing the media. Dean for America showed us that campaign websites could have life and vitality. Thankfully, we'll never see another stale, brochure-like website from a presidential candidate again.

Innovation often starts with a problem. DFA's upcoming grassroots organizing software was actually born out of a problem.

Democracy for America has outgrown its blogging software.

Blogging during the campaign was akin to cheerleading; a cacophony of voices, all shouting in support of a single common goal. A few examples from September 2003 comments (September to Remember):

"I'll be with all the house partyers in spirit tonight. Dr. Dean is the best thing to happen since the founding fathers wrote our Constitution and Bill of Rights."

"THE RIGHT WING MIGHT THINK THEY'RE IN HEAVEN
BUT SOON THEY'LL BE LOST AND DISHEVEN.
THEY MIGHT BURST A SPLEEN,
WHEN THEY SEE HOWARD DEAN,
IN BUSH'S FACE 24/7."

"I just contributed $10 to the campaign and it is the first time I have ever contributed to any campaign of any kind. I know it's not a lot of
money, but I still feel like I am a part of something really great happening in this country. GO DEAN!!! We will be there to support you
all the way. Keep being yourself and you will be fine."

"For each debate, we are the Dean Attack! site will count the number of times the Good Governor comes under attack. Then, like feeding the goal, not the troll, Deaniacs can contribute through the Dean Attack! site. Say, 50 cents per attack?"

The blog was great for cheering on our candidate and posting. The format lent itself to hundreds of voices talking about the same topic (Howard Dean) at the same time.

But now, two years later, our community is no longer united behind a single candidate. The Democracy for America community is filled with experienced activists who have sophisticated organizing skills. AT HQ, we hear often that members want to share information, collaborate on projects and organize within the community; however, collaborating on projects and organizing people is difficult among the constantly-moving threads with so much in-between chatter.

More inside the discussion...

Posted by TaraLiloia on October 10, 2005 at 08:11 PM | Permalink

Comments

Thanks for the invitation to blog, My Vote is My voice! Sorry for the delay -- this is WYSIWYG blogging software and I had to quickly strip the HTML out of my post!

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:13:39 PM

Good evening Tara. Thanks for giving us a heads up on the new software on the way.

Posted by: rich^kolker | Oct 10, 2005 8:14:09 PM

BTW

In the last paragraph of your top post, it's candiDate, not candiate.

:-)

Posted by: rich^kolker | Oct 10, 2005 8:16:02 PM

Hi, Tara! Thanks for sharing.

Jessica asked me to submit her question to you this evening, so here it is:

Hi Tara,

I'm up in Burlington meeting with some fellow Deaniacs and don't have computer access, but I wanted to ask you this question. Thanks to Charlene for posting it for me.

What has DFA done in the past that has worked well to grow their online community (things that other groups can try) and what has DFA done that has not been such a good idear (things other groups should probably avoid doing)?

Thanks,
Jessica

Posted by: Charlene | Oct 10, 2005 8:17:08 PM

So, back to the story...

"Too many cooks."

The other way in which we had outgrown our blogging software was on the back-end. There were a lot of IT "cooks" working in the "stew" of technology that ran Dean for America. Lots of unimaginably talented programmers made cool tools for Dean supporters; however, not all of the tools could talk to one another (share data). Some tools duplicated existing systems and some of our wish list features were missing.

Democracy for America is a whole different kind of organization than Dean for America. It made sense that we shouldn't be using hand-me-down software tools that didn't quite fit.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:17:38 PM

yeah, where's that grammer checker? But, what if your spellification is intentionally discombobulated? ... like the boykings fake Texan duhhness.

Hey Tara, love ya

... ;~)

Posted by: dave in ga | Oct 10, 2005 8:19:57 PM

Coming up with a solution:

We investigated Scoop as a platform -- it is the same software used by sites like DailyKos and MyDD; however, at the time, with only one IT person, it wasn't feasible to install software that would lean heavily on the skills of a perl programmer (I work in PHP).

We also looked into using CivicSpace. Open source software which grew out of DeanSpace. It too, was close -- but not quite -- what we were looking for.

Instead, we sat down and came up with an entirely new vision of online organizing and brought on Luigi Montanez as the lead developer to help us create our own grassroots organizing software.

MyDFA was designed with the input of grassroots leaders and seasoned field organizers. We're shaping the software to fit what people already do, instead of forcing the membership to change their habits based on barriers we put up. But we got sidetracked by a "little" project called DFA-"ink...

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:21:26 PM

Posted by: Charlene | Oct 10, 2005 8:17:08 PM

Hi Charlene,

I just saw Jessica at dinner in Burlington (and sprinted home) and she mentioned that you had a question for me.

So, one of the things we've just recently experimented with is tabling (that's right -- in person) on a busy pedestrian street in Burlington. People were very receptive and we did educate a lot of new people about DFA. I wouldn't say the growth was huge, but the personal connection with those we spoke to was invaluable.

We've also recently partnered with the Foo Fighters to have a DFA/Campus Progress tent on their "In Your Honor" tour. The response is off-the-charts positive. And we're really growing the involvement of people in GenDFA. You'll see that growth in DFA-Link online community.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:24:37 PM

It's terrific that DFA is building the online organizing tools. The best way to get folks active is to reduce the barriers that stand in their way. DFA is doing just that by providing all levels of organizing tools.

Posted by: Charlene | Oct 10, 2005 8:27:28 PM

... just to keep you up to speed on why some are concerned. When the cat's away... or the ongoing saga of "why we don't recommend visitors to our site anymore." How does the new software address this current post at BFA?

There is an alternate and more plausible answer. You don’t have a clue what you are talking about.

I am curious Mike, what makes you qualified to discuss military tactics?

Robert


Posted by: dave in ga | Oct 10, 2005 8:28:22 PM

Must we bring the blog insults here tonight Dave?

Posted by: rich^kolker | Oct 10, 2005 8:30:11 PM

DFA-Link was actually scheduled to be released *after* MyDFA; however, changes within Meetup.com made it imperative that we move that part of the project up. The next stage of DFA-Link -- discussion boards -- will begin the visible tie-ins to the original MyDFA community idea.

Each member will be able to have their own diaries, similar to DailyKos and MyDD. We're also implementing a comment and post rating system, so that you can set a threshold for what you do and don't wish to see. It's the community's responsibility to stay on top of ratings, so that we all benefit from an accurate picture of what is good content and what is inappropriate.

Then we thought to ourselves, why are we boxing the community into things called "posts"? Couldn't we have Q&A areas? Places for people to share best practices and documents (like by-laws)? Private areas for online collaboration?

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:30:24 PM

Posted by: rich^kolker | Oct 10, 2005 8:16:02 PM

Fixed it -- thanks!

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:31:33 PM

Tara,

I know you're working your way through a "what's coming" speech, and please continue. But when you get a chance, what ever happened to the rules and guidelines? Last I heard the lawyers were looking at them, and that was some time ago.

Posted by: rich^kolker | Oct 10, 2005 8:32:15 PM

... sorry rich, he's your friend.

Otherwise the conversation was going really well, he thunk.LOL

Posted by: dave in ga | Oct 10, 2005 8:32:34 PM

... that's 'me' thunk.

Which leads me to ask... can we self-edit booboos in the new package?

Posted by: dave in ga | Oct 10, 2005 8:34:23 PM

It's terrific that DFA is building the online organizing tools. The best way to get folks active is to reduce the barriers that stand in their way. DFA is doing just that by providing all levels of organizing tools.
Posted by: Charlene | Oct 10, 2005 8:27:28 PM

We're trying. One of our most valuable beta testers is Marian Harris from Ohio. She'll readily admit that her computer knowledge isn't at expert level. But she's the first one to pipe up and let us know when something doesn't make sense. The rest of us 'net-savvy kids just fill in the blanks with our expertise, but Marian lets us know when we've left out something important. If it passes the Marian Test, it's good to go!

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:35:29 PM

Tara, Glad you saw, Jessica. Super news about Foo Fighters.

Will you be asking the teens at the concert to do any action items?

Posted by: Charlene | Oct 10, 2005 8:36:05 PM

Posted by: dave in ga | Oct 10, 2005 8:28:22 PM

All righty. I was aware that community management topics would be brought up tonight. That's fine, and I'll address them, but that's not all I'm going to talk about tonight.

As I've said already, the blog doesn't work for what DFA has become. When you force a group of people with diverse opinions into one space at one time, there's no pressure valve -- no place for people to go when they don't like the discussion. Multiple threads by multiple authors will address this. Don't like the abortion discussion? Go into the Iraq discussion. Et cetera.

As for that particular post, it's a bad example, because it would have been taken down had I not been here blogging instead of there moderating. ;-) I'll get it later if you post a timestamp.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:39:42 PM

Which leads me to ask... can we self-edit booboos in the new package?
Posted by: dave in ga | Oct 10, 2005 8:34:23 PM

Yes, you'll be able to edit the content you post. Perhaps not in the first release, but we have control over the end product, so it can be improved in an ongoing basis -- just like what we're doing on DFA-Link. The site is updated and tweaked just about every day.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:41:00 PM

... o.k. Maybe i'm just tooo new to the whole scene, but the 'one room' is an addiction for some, not me of course, lol. I'm never able to get around in those 'ladder' based rooms.

... almost like that painting where you can see the stairs correctly or upside down. But, i can never find the door.

p.s. will the software be usable by others(programmers), since part of your deal seems to be re-inventing the wheels (that worked otay) of others.(or ?)

Posted by: dave in ga | Oct 10, 2005 8:43:31 PM

I know you're working your way through a "what's coming" speech, and please continue. But when you get a chance, what ever happened to the rules and guidelines? Last I heard the lawyers were looking at them, and that was some time ago.
Posted by: rich^kolker | Oct 10, 2005 8:32:15 PM

I actually had an in-person conversation with our counsel today about the language (I talked very fast -- he was billing us) and he brought the latest iteration back to DC with him (the document has been worked on over a few weekly staff meetings). I handed him a hard copy which he said he'd read while traveling. It's a good sign that we're nearly ready to go. Thanks for waiting for it -- I think we'll be better of with clearer rules in the long run.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:44:13 PM

Marian is a perfect beta tester. Glad to hear she's still on the job. : )

Having multiple forums seems a good opportunity to reduce the conflicts. Also, for those of us without much time to surf the blog, I would love to see someone post the best of the blog. The goal would be to post the new/interesting ideas that come out of discussions.

Here's a question from Quintus:

how will the next generation of online organizing expand its reach to new demographics?

Posted by: Charlene | Oct 10, 2005 8:48:11 PM

... o.k. Maybe i'm just tooo new to the whole scene, but the 'one room' is an addiction for some, not me of course, lol. I'm never able to get around in those 'ladder' based rooms.
... almost like that painting where you can see the stairs correctly or upside down. But, i can never find the door.
p.s. will the software be usable by others(programmers), since part of your deal seems to be re-inventing the wheels (that worked otay) of others.(or ?)
Posted by: dave in ga | Oct 10, 2005 8:43:31 PM

I don't like threading, so don't expect to see parent-child indented threads in *my* software! Seriously... I'm absolutely sure that someone is going to hate the new software and clamor for the old stuff. Change hurts, but it will be so good for us. The goal is instant usability, we don't want anyone lost, looking for the door. It has to pass the Marian Test. And, if you feel you're prone to getting lost in threads, you should email me and get on our beta testing list. We want non-experts, people who need compasses. If we can build it right for you, then everyone else will find it a breeze.

Re: Usable by other programmers: We are big open source fans at DFA. And the software we considered was all open source. We've already had one local DFA group ask if they can re-purpose DFA-Link on their site, and we're working toward releasing a package that can be easily used by any group.

Posted by: Tara Liloia DFA | Oct 10, 2005 8:50:23 PM

XXXXXX wrote on October 10, 2005 08:22 PM:

... i'll need to be going. Tara i realy do wish you the best of luck with all this. The subject of 'change' was on a really fantastic blog today, and i support change.
... preferably change that empowers people, especially Dean People.

Thanks, your fellow patriot,
David

Posted by: dave in ga | Oct 10, 2005 8:50:36 PM

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