Winning the Internet

Action Network just crashed a few gates

After a great run, the Winning the Internet blog has been retired. However, you can still keep in touch with New Media Mentors here.

Last week the Action Network launched with the promise of providing free digital tools to progressives. The tool they launched is well designed, simple, clean and even makes functions like reporting (which are usually awful) easy to use.

But they went quite a bit further than that by really crashing some digital gates which will ultimately result in more effective activism and better digital tools for everyone. I don’t often say this, but if they’re successful in attracting people to the platform it should be game changing.

Prior to this launch your options as an individual or small organization were pretty limited.

You’ve got a number of petition platforms ranging from things like MoveOn’s petition tool (formerly to to things like CREDO’s member driven petitions. There are many others I’m not mentioning, but these cover the bases. The benefit all of them provide, which I’m not sure Action Network will provide, is that if your petition garnered enough support it would attract the attention of staff to help you build your campaign/work on your behalf or it would go to the memberships of those organizations and they’d essentially take on the campaign. That’s no small thing, a lot of great campaigns have been won when individuals tell their story and professionals wage a campaign around that. So these are all powerful user driven tools in their own right, but it’s a much different offering than your own integrated CRM.

If you have a little money you can also cobble together free or cheap toolsets depending on your size to perform some of the functions that Action Network performs. Those toolsets don’t usually integrate well with each other and they usually only perform one function well. This patchwork strategy is often what we see with small groups and non-profits, it’d be rare for an individual activist to spend a few hundred dollars a month for these tools.

So here’s why I think this is a big deal.

Collaboration. The model for collaborating with other activists or groups is something wholly new that I haven’t seen in another tool. The closest thing is probably the Obama campaign’s toolset which let you form groups to support the campaign. Some of the best campaigns come from groups who cross silos to work together on a problem. It’s unclear whether people will really embrace this feature, but I think it’s one of the standout things about this toolset.

Free integrated digital toolset. Most importantly this provides a fairly comprehensive digital toolset that’s simple, clean, and very well integrated to work together. About the only thing it doesn’t include currently is the ability to raise money online or integrate with something like ActBlue to do so. But this really smashes down some doors for people who don’t have hundreds of dollars a month to spend on tools. Sure, you sort of need to know a little bit about what you’re doing for these tools to be useful for you. This toolset is not going to make you an organizer simply by virtue of it existing. But there are already a lot of savvy people out there who are simply priced out of other options and there are tons of training programs out there for these skills.

New power for localized campaigns. Many of the petition tools I mentioned earlier work on the idea that any member can start a petition and make change. But the reality is you have to really hit a homerun to ever get to that level if it’s something that’s not in the national news cycle. This tool gives you the power to work with a full suite of campaign tools no matter how local your cause might be. And if something starts getting popular you always have the ability to run actions through one of the popular petition platforms for the benefits they provide.

Competition. Surprisingly, the set of digital tools you can buy on the marketplace right now (whether it caters exclusively to progressives or not) haven’t gotten appreciably better in years. There’s a lot of institutional lock-in on these tools for various reasons ranging from high costs of switching to multi-year contracts. So everyone more or less maintains their slice of the market and no one’s really investing big dollars in engineering departments to really innovate. So even though Action Network doesn’t directly compete with many of these software companies, it’ll put pressure on them over time.

So go create an account and give it a spin, let us know what you think in the comments if you’d like to.

About Raven Brooks

Executive director of Netroots Foundation and Netroots Nation.