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#OccupyWallStreet-Friendly Coders Spent This Weekend 'Hacking for the 99%'

BY Nick Judd | Tuesday, October 18 2011

"Occupy" logo from OccupyDesign

Deciding to do more than make signs, several dozen programmers in three cities around the country got together to use their tech skills in support of Occupy Wall Street protesters.

"Many of the people there had not yet been engaged in the Occupy movement," Matt Ewing, a former field director at MoveOn.org who now runs a solar startup in San Francisco. Ewing organized a hack day for pro-Occupy coders in San Francisco. "They had not yet been down to the protests or the rallies but were sympathetic to the cause and had skills that they knew would be valuable."

Ewing said that about 40 people came to the Friday event at the Hub, a workspace on Mission Street in San Francisco. The New Organizing Institute hosted a smaller event in Washington, D.C., on Saturday, and Meetup.com gave "occupiers" space to work that day in New York — all events the organizers say sprung up organically and just happened to take place the same weekend.

Here's a few of the things the San Francisco group worked on:

  • OccupyTheHub is a mashup of Facebook and Twitter posts with the San Francisco version of the live video feed that has become a trademark of Internet-enabled protests since the cellphone feeds from Tahrir Square in Egypt.

    "A lot of people are participating in this by watching the live stream or something like that," Ewing said. "It's hard to feel the power of it. So they mashed together Livestream with Twitter and maybe Facebook so it sort of feels like a virtual protest."

  • OccupySMSnet, if it's finished, would use the Twilio framework for SMS applications to give Occupy groups an easier way communicate — for now, though, it's just a proof of concept.

    "The problem with GroupMe right now is you can only put 25 people on a text list," Ewing said. "The way this is set up, anyone who texts in the same, basically, hashtag, gets put into a group. So if you and I both text 'techpres,' we would be in the techpres group and we could communicate with each other that way. It's ad hoc text messaging, which is useful if you're trying to organize large groups of people."

  • Occupy Design: Jake Levitas, a designer, consultant and activist, led a project to create a "common visual language" for the Occupy protests. The work, from logos and icons to visualizations, is at OccupyDesign.org.

    "It's a way to sort of up your game from writing on a pizza box," Ewing explained. I couldn't follow up with Levitas in time for this post.

  • How to Occupy: A question-and-answer site for occupiers, with questions like, "what are the guidelines for building consensus?" or "how can camps become public art?"

  • Occupy Advertising: As I noted last week, occupiers are working with the Kickstarter-for-ads platform Loudsauce to drum up the funding they'll need to place ad spots on television. In conjunction with that, a group is curating videos coming out of the Occupy protests and encouraging people to remix them into 30- or 60-second clips for TV.

Coders and technology people worked on several more projects, but those are the ones that seem closest to complete.

Part of what's interesting here is the arrival on the scene of people from NOI, which teaches progressive activists how to do grassroots organizing in a tech-savvy way.

"We were watching it, obviously," said NOI's Stefan Fox, a programmer, "and once it started to reach that critical mass — I guess it was two weeks ago now — half the staff, I think, took a field trip up to Occupy New York just to see what was going on."

Fox said he and some tech-savvy friends decided to find a way to support what the occupiers were doing, and this was the result. Open-source advocates are finding common ground with protesters, Fox said, because some groups are deciding not to use tech tools that aren't open source.

Ewing expects to see more of this happening.

"You see a merging of hackathons, which have always been the realm of San Francisco startup geekery, and protest," Ewing told me. "Seeing them come together like this is kinda neat."