Core technologies/concepts for community organizing

February 17th, 2009  |  Published in technology

Last summer at the AMC, I presented a session about Web 2.0 and social movements.  Because I inherited the session from someone else, I kept the session proposer’s rubric of introducing technologies/services by name  (Twitter, Jott, del.icio.us) so that people would be able to link the name/buzz with an idea of what it could do.  If I had it to do all over again, I would start with core concepts and technologies that I see as being really helpful with my own use of tech. in organizing.   These would be things that underly a lot of Web 2.0 services and also make technology more fluid for users of all levels of technological familiarity. I’m starting a list here.  What core concepts/technologies do you all use?

RSS Feeds/Aggregation

One of the biggest frustrations that I (and other users I would suspect) have with the multitude of useful sites is having to have a bunch logins and remember which information lives where.  One has to choose between using the right tool for the job and making it easy to locate and access information.  E-mail is one convergence point, but that doesn’t neccessarily mesh with every service that people might use.  Services from del.icio.us to Twitter to Google Calendar to most blogging platforms all allow you to publish RSS feeds.  I would explain what a feed does, show what a feed looks like in various services, and then show how to aggregate and organize feeds with a web-based aggregator and a desktop app.

Feeds are so important because understanding them is crucial for mashing up services or making them easier for collaborations.  Examples:

  • Blog to twitter using Twitterfeed
  • Twitter “mailing” list using #hashtags and RSS Feed for http://search.twitter.com/

Email Filters

People are often overwhelmed by mailing lists, but few know that you can pretty easily filter out all the different kinds of e-mails that you get to do the inbox triage that everyone is familiar with for you.  I think having imapfilter or Thunderbird sort my mail into folders is super-useful, if only to evaluate the actual importance of data.  If I never click on a partcular folder where some of my mail is auto-sorted, do I really need to be on that mailing list anyway?

Human URLs (TinyURL or similar services)

Things like Google Docs often generate long, difficult to remember addresses for important information.  If people have to first dig through an e-mail with a link to a shared resource (and do this every time they want to access it), they’re going to be less likely to use it.  If they can just remember it (or enough of it that it is found in their browser’s location history) I think these online resources will get more use.

Mailing Lists

I think we all take these for granted, but there are ways to use these that make them more or less effective.  What strategies do you use to handle list management and message moderation.  How do you not flood people’s mailboxes?  How do you make it easy for people to (un) subscribe to lists?  This is more a discussion of usage than particular technologies.

Chat

Electronically mediated communication can often be ambiguous.  I find that I often spend extra time trying to disambiguate something in e-mail when it would have been way, way faster to call and let someone as questions.  Still, a lot of collaboration that I do involves looking at text or files together.  Chat is really crucial for these kinds of tasks.  I use it every day at work.

SMS

I don’t have a texting plan and I share my mobile phone, so I’m not the hugest txter but I like that it’s more purvasive than e-mail but less intrusive than a phone call because it lets people get the information first before deciding their timeline or content for response.  It’s also better than a call or voicemail for infromation that you might have to lookup again (a phone number or address for instance).

Skype/Conferencing

For the times when you want to be more personal than chat, voice/video conferencing is perfect.  We have a fancy system at work for having meetings that span Indy and Bton but I think folks can achieve much of the same functionality with Skype, cheap webcams, and projectors.

Paypal

Cash rules everything around me … There are probably better alternatives, especially if the organization seeking cash is a 501(c)3, but Paypal is definitely the easiest to use.  The awesome Pledgie service helps you use Paypal to organize campaigns.