Are the online activist tools developing at a fast enough pace? In the world of activist toolmakers, there’s been a dialogue the last few days, ever since EchoDitto’s COO, Harish Rao posted an assessment of the activist tool space:

the progressive movement is screwed (technologically, at least)

Tonight, Nicco and I had dinner with Dave Winer. We talked about our podcasts, and a little bit about what we’re up to. Our conversation was at a cheap Italian place, over dinner. The conversation quickly turned to the core business of EchoDitto, and one of the main issues that we face:

There is no good (i.e., comprehensive, inexpensive, and easy-to-use) web platform that does content management, blogging/podcasting, credit card processing/fundraising, bulk email management, event management, metrics & reporting, CRM, and voterfile management (yes, all of these things should be integrated) properly. Now, there are several solutions and vendors that have some of the pieces. But none of these solutions are comprehensive, and they certainly don’t play nice with one another (i.e., data sharing is non-existent).

Frankly, we progressives are screwed unless we solve the technology problem (the lack of a decent integrated web platform), because technology should be the least of our worries. Topping it off, we don’t have a lot of time.

I think we should create an inexpensive (i.e., open source) platform ASAP that draws the best features of all the products out there. And no, I don’t think that it’s bad business to open source software, especially in nascent markets.

Zack Rosen and Dave Winer commented on Harish’s statement, and Harish followed up with Parts II and III, concluding,

But, we still have a problem. Important political campaigns for the next cycle (and I’m talking 2006, not 2008) have already started. We’re about a year out from the Dean campaign, arguably the most technologically advanced of the time. And, frankly, we don’t have a lot to show for it. It’s imperative that we talk about this problem, and find a solution.

A Spirited Response

Yesterday, at the Personal Democracy Forum, Michael Cornfield noted Spirit of America’s support for citizen journalist coverage of the Iraqi election, and PD’s editor, Micah Sifry noted that the Spirit of America site has a strong set of tools for its members (Disclaimer: Micah and I are working on a few initiatives together, and I act as Micah’s tech support for his switch to Mac):

[Editor’s note: Online political activists of all stripes might want to take a look at the back-end tools created for members of SpiritofAmerica to manage their own relationship to the project: a nifty “member dashboard” allows people to select their specific areas of interest, track their donations to specific projects, create an activist team, schedule events, or find out about local events created by others in the network. If that sounds a little like the tool set built by Howard Dean’s Internet squadron, it’s not a coincidence, as one of the key developers of SpiritofAmerica’s back-end is Britt Blaser, who spent a week a month in Burlington in 2003, helping the Dean campaign with its Internet activism. He discusses the thinking behind the design of the SpiritofAmerica site on his blog, here.]

I recently reviewed most of these tools for a client and discovered that the Spirit of America suite is the strongest in the social networking functions I care so much about, no surprise. But I was surprised to learn that the SoA admin function is in a class by itself.

It set me to thinking. Even though it’s not open source, and wasn’t specifically designed for political campaigns, the Spirit of America tool suite may be closer to what Harish wants than most others. I look forward to re-connecting with Harish, both socially and regarding where we go from here.

11:18:35 PM    

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