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NationBuilder, a New Online Activism Platform, Previews Today

BY Nick Judd | Wednesday, April 6 2011

Jim Gilliam. Photo: Brave New Films / Flickr

Online activist, Brave New Films co-founder and Personal Democracy Forum 2011 speaker Jim Gilliam is planning to give a live preview of his new platform for online campaigns, NationBuilder, at 4 p.m. ET today. It goes into open public beta tomorrow.

In an interview last week, Gilliam told me that NationBuilder is an evolution of an earlier tool, pro.act.ly — which is itself loosely based on his act.ly project, the tool for circulating petitions on Twitter. From the NationBuilder dashboard, a campaign can manage its website content, online donations and finances, email lists, mobile campaigns — it has mobile and phone messaging features built on the Twilio platform — post to its Facebook or Twitter accounts, and look through supporters and messages. A tag-based constituent management system allows the campaigner to sort supporters by influence or Klout score, and follow each user's activity.

It's supposed to be cheap and easy-to-use enough for the renegade types, folks who are acting without the blessing of their local political party or professional group.

"What we did at Brave New Films — we took the concepts of political organizing and we applied them to distributing documentary films," Gilliam told me. "We wanted to make these movies but they weren't the kinds of movies that Hollywoold networks would touch ... we needed to organize around these movies and getting them seen.

"Our events were around screenings," he explained. "Our donations were about funding the films ... what we're seeing now is a whole new group of people that are starting to understand that model ... this is why Kickstarter is becoming really popular."

To work in that bottom-up, distributed, viral way — if anyone even uses the word "viral" anymore — you need more than Kickstarter, of course. An email list helps. So does Twitter and Facebook, and a website would be nice. NationBuilder is supposed to pull all of these threads together and lay a single dashboard on top of them to track and manage them all. The meta-story is that this platform reflects what a real student of online activism thinks the comprehensive "toolkit" should be — one without email-your-legislator tools, for example, but with a flexible voice and SMS activism component.

Gilliam pledges that it will be apolitical and nonpartisan — a service open to anyone who wants to use it, with a starting price of $19/month. Passaic, NJ Tea Party: I specifically asked if you're invited to sign up. You are!

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