My.BarackObama.com needs better volunteer leader tools
by Shai Sachs, Sun Sep 21, 2008 at 09:39:18 AM EDT
Having spent a fair amount of time on My.BarackObama.com and at Obama volunteer rallies over the last couple of weeks, I think it's safe to report that Obama's grassroots are reasonably well-organized. However, its grasstops could use a bit of help.
Perhaps this is an artifact of living in the Boston area, where you can't swing a dead cat without hitting a dozen Obama supporters. But from all appearances, Obama volunteer organizers in the area are slowly getting overwhelmed with the tidal wave of demand for volunteer opportunities. Recently I spoke with an organizer who told me that he had posted a small phonebanking opportunity on My.BarackObama.com at some unholy hour, like 3 am; he had a dozen volunteers by 11 am. As far as I can tell, he and a handful of other organizers are making a heroic effort to keep up with this demand, but they just don't have sufficient support from the campaign.
Now, in some ways this is just a problem we have to grin and bear - I don't expect Obama to put many resources in Massachusetts, and I'm actually a little surprised that there's even a single Boston field office. (It's dedicated to funneling volunteer power to New Hampsire, and registering students here so that they can absentee vote back home.) But there is a lot more that the campaign can do to support its volunteer leaders, particularly through My.BarackObama.com. Follow me across the flip for more on how this site could be expanded to help volunteer organizers...
If you've explored the site in any depth, you've probably seen that My.BarackObama.com is a pretty good, action-oriented community site. There are some lightweight social networking features there, similar to what you'd find at DFA-Link or PartyBuilder - the ability to create groups, to blog, and to establish friendships with other users. But the real bulk of the site is dedicated to allowing you to find and attend events, raise money, and make phone calls for the campaign. This site answers a basic question - "how do I get involved?" in a very detailed way.
Where My.BarackObama.com fails, though, is in helping people who are very, very involved take the next step up, and help organize their fellow volunteers. There are a number of features volunteer leaders could make excellent use of, and which the site could provide. For example:
- Leadership roles within groups
- Private messaging between leaders
- Event planning for leadership-only events, especially organizing meetings
- A public email address for leadership - e.g., firstname.lastname@example.org - which all leaders can access and which volunteers can easily use to contact leadership
- An issue tracking or project-management system - similar to dotProject, or Mantis - which is integrated into the public email address and which leaders can use to process requests and keep each other appraised of various ongoing projects
- Document sharing features
In many ways what I'm suggesting is that the Obama campaign add something like the 37Signals suite of office communication tools into its system, and then open up those tools to a limited set of "super-volunteers", perhaps on an invite-only basis.
Now, I'd doubt that the campaign has the time it requires to pull something like this together in time for it to make a difference. However, this is the kind of thing that a group of volunteer web developers could pull together without some effort, using open source tools like Drupal and, when necessary, pulling in functionality from Google Documents and other sources.
I'd be curious to hear whether or not there are already efforts like this underway, or whether there are enterprising web developers looking to slap something like this together. And I'd certainly like to hear from super-volunteers - is this something you could actually use, or have you already found a solution on your own? Please use the comments to let me know.
One way or the other, I hope the lessons learned from this campaign don't evaporate after election day. The political social networking tools in the progressive universe, having evolved from DFA-Link, to PartyBuilder, and now My.BarackObama.com, have come a long way, but there are still more improvements that should be added, in order tohelp embattled volunteer organizers next time around.