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Ways to organize online

So you've started a Facebook group and it's got 15k+ people who are rip roaring ready to organize. Quickly you'll notice that Facebook sucks as a platform for organizing. This is because it is a platform designed to mine data about you in an effort to increase your engagement with advertising partners. It is a crappy digital technology for organizing (great for mobilizing though!).

In this document I'll go over what I think might be some good platforms. I did tech organizing in #OCCUPAYWALLSTREET, Occupy Sandy, and have learned some lessons. I'm no authority and these are my most humble suggestions. That said, here's the core take away before I cover solutions.

We need cultural technology for making group decisions, holding safe space, promoting historically marginilaed voices, and keeping digital spaces from turning into spammy unsafe echo chambers run by people who look like me. There is no magic digital tech that will do that. To put it another way, every platform sucks.

Reddit.com

If you know of this platform then you'll surely know that it is full of young moderate "liberal" white men who make reddit.com a fairly unsafe space. Here's the thing though, reddit is a community of communities and each community is able to set it's own rules and create it's own culture! read more about what reddit is, and how I intended to pitch it as a platform for occupy.

Reddit is a great platform because a community can share links and text "self" posts. The community can then upvote (or downvote) these posts and each post has a comment section with threads which can also be up/down voted so the best conversations, ideas, etc. rise to the top.

Here's the idea for using it to organize:

  • Someone create a private subreddit, don't share the name publicly.
  • Share the subreddit name with trusted people, peer to peer. Anyone who applies to join can be assumed to have been told about it by someone trusted.
  • When you join the subreddit use a new account, unsubscribe from all other "default" subreddits
  • Start the community by creating a self post "community agreements", each "top level" comment will be a proposed agreement (example "this is a anti-oppressive space") comments on those agreements can be discussion or proposed edits.
  • The community up/down votes agreements they agree with.
  • From there the subreddit can self organize

Pros:

  • Reddit has a democratic system for surfacing the "best" links and the "best" comments on those links
  • Conversations are much more organized
  • Lots of people are already on the platform
  • There are other organizing efforts bing used by the platform

Cons:

  • Existing "dominate culture" on the platfrom is fairly toxic in places (though you can ignore those spaces with an account)
  • Subreddits are controled by "MODs" or moderators, who can ban and delete posts, so a democratic process for selecting trusted mods is going to be needed.

Loomio

So reddit is good for communication and discussion and info sharing but we also need to make decisions. Loomio is a online consensus tool. You can make proposals and work through them.

Pros:

  • Consensus!
  • Built by friendly awesome people from the Occupy movement
  • People use this successfully

Cons:

  • Lots of people who haven't already built trust with each other and who don't already share a common vision might not be able to get much use from it...

Slack

Slack is basically just a team space with lots of chat rooms. You invite people into a team and then make chat rooms where you can chat and share files. It's great, I use it to organize, it is way better than email. It's also overwhelming with more that a few people and can quickly become so cluttered and chaotic that it's useless.

You'll want to make a team and set some cultural normals really quick. Around how channels are used and all that jazz.

You also have to trust that slack.com wont give away all your data to the NSA. Which is where a neat alternative comes in:

Semaphor

This is a "zero knowledge" platform much like slack with it's chat rooms, file sharing, and teams but the people who run it (spider oak) can't get at your data.

The free plan allows anyone to join a team and make chat rooms and all chats disappear after 30 days. This is great for quick organizing, talking to peers, and making plans.

I trust the Spider Oak team who makes this platform, you can review their code, and I have used their secure cloud backup for a while.

Other social networks

There are a whole lot of different alternatives to facebook. They all run into the same problem:

  1. They aren't very good for deep conversation and organizing
  2. People have to adopt them, and I doubt people will be able to break away from Facebook's gravity AND agree on an alternative (when we know it already kind of sucks anyway)

Conclusion

We need to organize, wanting a big network with thousands of people is super cool. However all these people make it hard to do stuff. Small groups can really do much more. If we can figure out how to organize into small groups and share between each other (think spokes council) we will be more distributed, not have single points of failure, and be able to experiment with platforms.

I'll shamelessly promote something I work on called Agile Learning Centers, it's a education model that strives to create learning communities. I think that some of our cultural technology (which is often nothing more than a white board and sticky notes) can inspire some ideas. Here's links to 1 page outlines of our idea and some of our tools

Please share this and think about it. Comments can be made on the gist here or maybe on the Facebook post I'll make linking to this document.

In the end we just need to choose something, give it an earnest try, and be okay to move on if it fails. Small is good!

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