Staving off a bad case of the Mondays after a good Thanksgiving holiday, I came across a few tools that I think ought to be given a look by the more digitally inclined (read: likely to survive) Young Dem as we start gearing up for 2008.
Why mobile video? Because the news cycle is getting faster and faster, and MSM is more inclined to bring us pictures of burning buildings, car crashes, and shootings than things of more relevance to political activism absent a visual hook. But when the hook is there, watch out: look at the rapid implosion of Redneck George Allen's campaign after his macaca-moment. That required a dedicated intern driving all over hounding him with a camera; a group like ours would do better to rely on the shorter-commitment but more-highly-distributed resource of members with cameraphones, methinks.
On the evenings of the primary and general elections, there was much buzz about "live blogging," and some of us bloggers even got invitations to sit at candidates' parties and blog about...well, God knows what, perhaps who was wearing what, who was getting drunkest, and what people thought about election returns. On election day, however, I thought it'd be more interesting to try live video blogging -- partly because I thought I would have a new cameraphone in my possession by election Tuesday that would enable a negligibly short upload/posting delay. That didn't happen, obviously, but ever-present broadband connections and video clips from pocket-sized digital cameras can still enable a group to put timely video content online relatively quickly, and we got 4 videos uploaded to YouTube in about 10 hours; not bad, considering we were also working.
Enter Veeker, a tweaky-named new website that quickly takes any video clip you send from your registered cellphone and slaps it up on your Veeker feed, player, and page -- and it sure has the folks over at Personal Democracy Forum all worked up. Partnering with YouthNoise, Veeker put together a large collection of cellphone videos documenting young people's impression of election day. The PDF folks talked it up quite a bit -- "Veekers "Veek The Vote" received over 750 mobile video messages from Americans using the video camera in a mobile phone to show the world where they stood on Election Day (thats a lot compared to Rock the Votes 24 submissions and Video the Votes 96)." -- so I signed up and got me one o'them Veeker thingies. To the right there you can see the one I've stuck on my personal website to give it a test drive. Once I was a member and started watching the Veek the Vote campaign, I was underimpressed; judging by the voice behind the camera, they only hit such an impressive number of submissions through the energy-drink-fueled video message compulsion of a few extremely motivated kids (interns, perhaps?). And while I like the flash player widget -- it does look like exactly the kind of blingy crap the yout's of today are happy to paste up on their MySpace page -- after playing with it for a while and comparing it to the alternatives, I'm not so sure how useful it can be to a group like a YD chapter. Your Veeker player shows on the first row the video clips ("veeks" for video peeks) you have, and in rows below that, the latest veeks from your friends. As you can see, I have no friends, but in my and Veeker's defense, this is still a new service with what appears to be very few users (and finding them is less than friendly; while you can search for people by name -- first OR last, searchign for my full name actually doesn't find me, sadly -- or email, the Veeker site currently lacks the social components of other sites, like browsing by interest or public Groups that can be used to aggregate veeks by content).
Other blogging tools, such as Postie for Wordpress blogs, can take a video or picture message sent by email from a cameraphone and put it on your website directly -- though there are still some bugs in the implementation (I can only get videos to show up as links and not embeds, due to necessary Wordpress security precautions), and of course there's the platform-specific nature of such tools. More generally, Blip.tv and YouTube, where we have video hosting accounts, can both accept cellphone videos by email, albeit in a less secure manner than Veeker or Postie, using a secret email address that only certain people are supposed to know; there's no verification built-in of the sending address(es), so anyone that discovers your secret email can upload videos to your account (holy upskirt disaster, Batman!). Those sites can then be configured to upload your video (and message text, if desired) automatically (say "automagically" again and I'll kick your teeth in), though the annoying boilerplate text from your cellular provider will show up in the post as well (Postie can detect and eliminate that crap; perhaps there are other workarounds possible).
Perhaps more useful would be to simply set up a thumbnail gallery of latest videos in your sidebar or on your MySpace page, like this obnoxious thing right here.
On the downside of YouTube, self-proclaimed "IT Git" and active netroots media entrepreneur Mike Seyfang warns share-friendly groups like ours to eschew YouTube for alternatives like BlipTV due to YT's more restrictive licensing conditions. Pretty good advice from someone who's using Windows Live Spaces, *cough*MySpacecopy*cough*. :-P) BlipTV's sidebar widget is also much, much cleaner than YouTube's and doesn't require an iframe; I only used it here due to the dearth of "youngdems" videos on BlipTV (read: it's just us so far).
Putting the Fun back in Fundraising.
Hoo-boy was that just about the cheesiest thing I've said on this blog in a long time, but it does, if lamely, convey an important part of another nifty internet widget I recently read about.
Most groups have PayPal accounts for accepting donations and dues from their members and supporters. Some groups even have systems that integrate payments with their website, perhaps even with a catchy graphic widget to track fundraising progress, like the CampaignWindow CMS does. For the rest of us, there is now ChipIn, a free, simple, and most importantly, easily dispersable fundraising tool that can hook up with your existing PayPal account or, if you don't have one, send you a check a make a direct deposit to your bank. Unfortunately, selecting the option to have payments go directly into your PayPal account results in the same per-donation transaction fee ($0.30 + 2.9%) as the old-fashioned PayPal donation buttons, so if 100 people give you a buck, you'll only end up with $64. I'm trying the ChipIn account & mail-me-a-check approach with the current Chickensuit campaign to see what kind of may or may not apply in that case; ChipIn's website is disappointingly vague about what will happen to fees after their "introductory period."
Again, this is not a giant leap in electronic financing at its core, but what might make it much more successful for groups like ours is that little "Copy" button in the middle of the widget. Go on, click it -- and then copy the text it gives you and paste it on your MySpace, Facebook, or Friendster page, your website, or your blog. In seconds, supporters of yours that have more MySpace bling than money can help your campaign not by donating but at least by propagating your fundraising widget throughout their pimped-out world. So, if you want to help me fulfill my vision of a YDAtl Rapid Response Team ready to mock Sonny Perdue's SonnyDo list of ways to screw average Georgia families, won't you ChipIn to the Perdue Chicken suit campaign?
Perhaps MySpace is not the biggest waste of server space in the world, after all; I'll admit it, I was wrong. TechSoup presents a few interviews on how nonprofits are utilizing MySpace to raise awareness. I'd already realized before I saw that article that the problem with YDAtl's MySpace efficacy wasn't in MySpace, it was me: I wasn't using MySpace properly, because let's face it, 32 is old these days, and I just didn't know what I was doing in there. For instance, my first reaction to YDA's MySpace userpic campaign was rather cynical, though that probably had more to do with disappointment with the content of the SMS text messages they kept sending me promising me a "surprise" when I voted. However, the results were impressive: Tony Cani showed screengrabs of how quickly the "I Voted" image started popping up on friends lists like Whack-a-moles, so that when other people logged in on November 7th, they were assaulted by ever increasing numbers of reminders to get to the polls and vote. Turns out, it was a brilliant campaign, because it was brilliantly simple.
Copy. Paste. Repeat.
That right there seems to be the key to social sites like MySpace. I find so many of these profile pages visual affronts to human dignity for precisely the same reason they can be effective streams of communication: kids on MySpace love to share graphics, videos, and anything else they can quickly embed in their profile or comments with a Ctrl-V and Submit. That's why something like the ChipIn widget is such an exciting new idea. You might argue that no messaging campaign should be put on the social web without including a way to distribute the underlying code, not if it's going to be maximally effective. If the YDAtl MySpace page is to generate a buzz, we're going to have to chum the water with HTML bling...we're just going to have to invent a 25th and 26th hour in the day to keep it up.
So, with that voluminous Christmas List of e-goodies, I bid y'all farewell. I hope you find some good ideas in there, and the time, oh precious time, to implement them. Good luck, Young Dems, it's been real.