Web Activism & Social Change

A message forwarded to me, which I’ve posted here for all of your enjoyment:

Thoughts on Web Activism & Social Change
compiled by Mike Gifford, OpenConcept Consulting

History of Internet Campaigns:

1) Pre-Web (1990-1992)
a) Email - person2person communication
b) Mailing Lists/Newsgroups - broadcasting/Interaction
c) Workstation based email lists for targeted campaigns
d) Online community systems -- Compuserve, the Source and (of
course) the Well
e) Bulletin Board Systems -- Web forums, file sharing, community
f) The Association for Progressive Communications - The first global
organization of progressive techies
Campaigns: Raising awareness about a campaign meant sending it to a
mailing list or a sending it to a small list of addresses.  Community
building and coordination through email and early electronic

2) Early Web (1993-1997)
a) Lists of links
b) Workstation based html editors (WYSIWYG)
c) The web becomes an electronic pamphlet
d) One person uploads content to the site
e) Early experimentation with public fax your MP servers & online
Campaings: Build a nice looking site, with lots of content and bring
folks into look at it.

3) Early Dynamic Sites (1998-2000)
a) Banner Advertising
b) Commercial sites start using database backed sites
c) User feedback incorporated (Guestbooks, forums, etc)
d) A restricted group can post to the web
e) Viruses and security become an increasing problem
Campaigns: Fax/Email a politician.

4) Collaborative Sites (2002-now)
a) On-line Communities of interest allow many people to publish
b) Web forums, discussions take place in a number of formats
c) Spam out of control (Web climate changes)
d) Open Source web solutions become more mainstream
e) Giving users space to customize website preferences
f) Content Sharing/Syndication
g) Customer (activist) Relationship Management.
Campaigns: Building profiles of activists and targeting personalized

Central ideas for organizing a successful on-line campaign:

1) Catch people's attention - ie. RootingOutEvil.org
Real World Metaphors: Protests, marches, Civil Disobedience
a) Promote the site, banners, metatags, email to a friend
b) Make sure the information is easy to read
c) Provide external links, they add credibility
d) Irony/Humour is often a good hook to encourage folks to visit the
first time.
e) Participate in existing online communities to help promote your
2) Get folks to make a single small commitment to an issue.
Real World Metaphors: Sign a petition, send a postcard, tell a friend
a) Get a valid email, name & other relevant info into a database
b) Provide some basic info on the subject
c) Ask them if you can contact them again on this issue
3) Contact them again with a follow-up action or related news item
Real World Metaphors: Weekly vigils, phone trees, newsletters
a) Setting up a regular eNewsletter is a good way to keep in touch
b) Automate where possible to ease the user into completing the
4) Provide opportunities for virtual community building
Real World Metaphors: Protests, Organizing Meetings, Fundraisers
a) Encourage folks to meet in person with folks in their community
b) Provide spaces for user driven content (but moderate discussions to
weed out wackos)
c) Where possible personalize actions/information to your activists
physical community
d) Provide pamphlet/poster/sticker material to be easily customized
for local organizers
e) Tell your eActivists where successes have been made
5) Look for ways to engage keen volunteers on & off
Real World Metaphors: Organizing Events, Fundraising, Delivering
a) Ask for help in (promotion, local organizing, postering)
b) Can you set up virtual roles to further develop the campaign
c) What can really keen volunteers do?
d) If eActivists are contacted by the government or company, send
rebuttal information and ask them to follow up with another email and/or
phone call
e) Contact media and write articles about the subject to the editor


1) The more personal a political action is more likely it is to be
2) The Internet is just a communications tool.  Look for functions
that physical web campaigns currently use, then look to see if this
can be done better with new Internet applications.

Online Campaign Disasters:

- Running a anti-GMO site off of a proprietary Software (heck, using
proprietary software)
- Web campaign comprised almost entirely of flash animations
- Sites which use fames (why do that to anyone?)
- Confirmation/Outreach email messages don't link to a general
information site
- Ability to sign a petition multiple times with the same name/email
(Lack of verification)
- Best viewed with IE (Accessibility is always going to be an issue)
- Using generic 3rd party solutions which direct folks away from your
- Long Ugly URL's (anything which makes it more difficult for folks
to forward your site)
- Spamming folks
- Not asking folks to sign up to receive a newsletter
- Not giving folks a confirmation that the action that they completed
was successful (folks want immediate results)
- The Internet is International.  If it isn't explicitly local, your site shouldn't be either.


Ideas http://www.benton.org/Practice/Features/environdefense.html

Conceptual - good examples

Technical - good examples

Thanks to:

Alan Dixon (Web Networks), Mark Surman (The Commons Group), Russell
McOrmond (Flora Community Web), Agent Humble

Mike Gifford, OpenConcept Consulting, http://www.openconcept.ca
Open Source Web Applications for Social Change.
Featured Campaign - Rooting Out Evil! - http://rootingoutevil.org
Honest disagreement is often a good sign of progress. - Gandhi