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Things Online Organizers Say

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, February 22 2012

What do you get when you put hundreds of left-leaning, meme-obsessed activists in the same place at the same time?

There are two correct answers. One is Rootscamp, a weekend gathering of the progressive organizer tribe in Washington, D.C., that wrapped up Sunday. Hundreds of activists convened for an unconference to talk about new tools and tactics for organizing online.

The other correct answer is an, um, stuff people say video targeted to their peers and with a series of guest cameos by leading online organizers, including Rebuild the Dream's Natalie Foster, MoveOn's Daniel Mintz and Julia Rosen, Reddit cofounder Aaron Swartz, and more.

Here's a quick guide to things online organizers say:

  • Reddit's Aaron Swartz: "What are they doing on Reddit?"
  • Drinking Liberally's Justin Krebs: "Does anyone read email anymore?"
  • A topless Daniel Mintz: "Give me five minutes for the videoconference."

The video scans like an index to the buzzwords and top trends in the online left over the last year or so: The mainstreaming of A/B testing for everything;'s rising profile; the organizing idea of a story of self; Occupy Wall Street; and more. Although I'm not quite sure why Mintz, a campaign director, is sans shirt. Maybe I had to be there ...

Below, all the inside jokes online organizers will ever need:

And in case any of the folks in the video look familiar, here are the ones we could pick out. Let me know if I missed anyone:

Update: Readers pointed out some omissions, and that should now be fixed:

Noah T Winer
Ben Brandzel
Jess Morales
Tiffany Lofton
Sarah Baker
Stefan Fox
Drew Hudson
Ian Kim
Justin Krebs
Matt Ewing
Heather Holdridge
Kimberly Muñoz
Rafael Noboa y Rivera
Kathryn Peters
Zack Exley
Erica Sagrans
Doug Foote
Julia Rosen
Aaron Swartz
Scott Roberts
Natalie Foster
Taren Stinebrickner-Kauffman
Tate Hausman
Daniel Mintz
Keron Blair
Laila Mokhibar
Jackie Mahendra

Update 2: The Korean Resource Center's Yongho Kim offers this annotated list of jargon definitions. My notes on them are [in brackets]:

- A/B test: a marketing test method that hit it big with online organizers after Obama's 2008 blockbuster campaign: One easy thing to test is the subject line, and see if more people open and click it based on a different subject line [Ed.: Organizers can A/B test a lot more than that these days, from the body of an email to the text and images in a fund-raising page.]
- twitter: online activism is big on twitter. some names are mentioned.. david axelrod, and.. judith freeman? [Judith Freeman is New Organizing Institute's co-founder and executive director — Ed.]
- the ask: organizing lingo meaning "the actual thing we want from the decision maker". (most typically a new law) the term was coined for online communications to mean "the action we want the reader to take (typically donating or signing a petition)
- they are not even on X.. "do we have a X": more obsession with the latest tools/channels. this sounds like ED talk, not the online person.. we would say "do we have a X account"? The Pinterest mention is funny because the service is currently in invitation-only closed beta.
- ladder of engagement/theory of change/story of self: fairly new terms and concepts purporting to make the organizing work more sophisticated.. funders love it! Ladder of engagement: people are supposed to go from "i don't care about the issue" to gung-ho activists - the ladder divides this in neat phases. Theory of change: how your organization thinks its stated mission will happen. Story of self: never heard this before.. but probably means "life story" a la Marshall Ganz? [The "story of self" is pure Ganz — see link above — Ed.]
- what mailer does occupy use? like everyone else, we are excited to learn what tools other famous campaigns in our field are using.. do they have a secret recipe? another big moment was when the obama campaign and later took drupal [Occupy Wall Street in New York is using a solution the tech team built on top of CiviCRM. — Ed.]
- the only thing that will ever change the world are petitions: petitions are easy to set up and get going.. there's been some self-reflection about what online petitions really mean, do they do anything or are they useless, etc, hence the humor. Also, this is a Mead quote pun..
- conversion rate: marketing term adopted in organizing meaning the percentage of people who will do the ask (donate, petition, etc) out of those who received the email
- click-to-open rate: percentage of people who will click a link on the email, out of those who opened the email. These two are considered important number through which the success of an online action can be measured, and people wrap their heads around improving them, hence the long-winded monologue.
- I just got an email from OFA.. Obama's 2008 campaign is the online organizing hero for many, so just analyzing their campaign emails get people excited.. (OFA is Obama's campaign organization. Wait.. under DCCC.. they still are right?) [In 2008, OfA meant Obama for America. After the inauguration, it became Organizing for America. In 2011, it became Obama for America again, and refers to the president's re-election campaign. Throughout this process, OfA has lived at — Ed.]
- experiences of marginalized people: well.. it only gets one mention..
- "president wants to have dinner with me"/"walk dogs". I don't get this [The Obama campaign has been raising money off of "Dinner with the President" emails — give $3 or $5 and you may win a chance to have dinner with the president. We Also Walk Dogs is the software company that built's back-end. Named after a Robert A. Heinlein short story, the firm is led by Patrick Michael Kane — who is also name-checked in the bit where someone suggests that a friend "ask PMK" about a piece of technology. — Ed.]
- pretty successful online campaign website. maybe it's an inside joke about some high profile organizers who were recruited there? [ has been recruiting heavily and pursuing an aggressive press strategy. — Ed.]
- Nation Builder: one of the many online campaign packages out there, among DIA, etc.
- "ping me" i don't get this one either [Internet companyspeak for "reach out to me about this online later." Ping is a Unix command that sends a request to connect from your computer to some other machine, then uses a successful connection to test out the speed of the connection. — Ed.]
- vegan/humus: this is not necessarily an online organizer thing.. not sure what the funny point is