Over the last 6 weeks, technologists affiliated with Occupy Wall Street have deployed a number of a systems to support the growth of Occupy Wall Street and the other occupations emerging around the world.
This document will briefly describe the challenges the movement faces, the systems we have deployed, and strategies for moving forward.
The occupiers of Wall Street are extremely diverse, but we all seem to share the following values:
- Consensus based decisionmaking
- Voluntary action
The intentions of the Internet Working Group and Free/Libre/Opensource Solutions Working Group is to pursue technology strategies that embody these values while increasing the movement's productivity.
 Web Presence, or A Tale of Two Sites
Ever since we began designing the 2.0 version of the NYCGA site, there has been an ongoing conversation about exactly what the site should be. Since the launch that conversation has only accelerated. I have given it a great deal of thought and I'm going to share my conclusions in this post. My point is not a simple one and I will try to make it as clearly as possible, so I apologize for the length of this post.
While there are dozens of complex and detailed audiences, or "user stories" for the site, as I see it, they can really be boiled down into two dramatically different categories:
- INTERNAL: People in Liberty Plaza, or anywhere in the world, that want to be involved in the movement in the park. They want to be productive and get work done. They want to find a meeting later today. They want to figure out how to talk to someone from facilitation. They want to know how to get their flyers printed. They want to continue a conversation they began in a meeting earlier. They want to review minutes and proposals to decide if they're going to attend GA tonight. They want to build a network and embrace the community here. And much more. Note that these people are not necessarily geographically in NYC, but they are definitely trying to be active participants in the Liberty Plaza-based movement. Anyone in the world might fall into this user story. It is open and entirely un-exclusive and self-selecting.
- EXTERNAL: The rest of the world who says "What is this whole #OccupyWallStreet thing? What do they believe? What is going on there? Can I give them money? I have something on my mind and I want to rant about it to anyone who will listen! I want to see official content and curated news content and press releases. Again, there are no geographic or demographic limits to this story.
Now, there is obviously a lot of crossover between these two audiences and an individual will frequently transition from story 2 to story 1, or at least we hope so. To be clear, I COMPLETELY agree that we need to be serving story 2 just as strongly and fully as story 1. Lots of great content is being generated by the folks in the movement and it should absolutely be publicly shared in a more structured way than an activity feed. I also agree that the current nycga.net v2.0 site does not do that. It focuses primarily on story 1. I get the need for a blog and a news source.
The catch is (and it's a big catch) that while I think story 2 must be served, and served well, I think that the nycga site should NOT be the place for serving story 2. I think that trying to make one site serve both of these two dramatically different audiences simultaneously is a recipe for disaster. There is a reason that Facebook and the Huffington Post are 2 different websites. They each have a certain degree of focus. Some people visit facebook, some people visit HuffPo, and many people visit both on a regular basis, to fulfill different needs in their daily life. We can all recognize that the movement needs an official blog and news source, but that doesn't mean that the only (or best) answer is to add a blog to nycga.net. This would be like saying "Since I need to eat, and I need to sleep, I'm going to plop my pillow down on the kitchen counter". It just doesn't make sense.
Beyond that, I think that if we try to turn nycga.net into a site for story 2 by adding blogs and news and media content, we will do serious damage to the amazing thing we are creating with the current site. The idea of a social network for social revolution is a pretty exciting one but it depends on a certainly level of involvement and investment to work well. This site and the social network it is building are still quite fragile. If it were to be flooded with the whole world of story 2 traffic that is interested in this movement, we would, in my assessment, render the current site useless for serving the needs of story 1. We would have overwhelming group membership, devastating activity feed traffic, and rant-filled forums without any room for real conversation. This is not even to mention the inevitable technical problems we'd have with the back-end of such a dynamic site handling the massive influx of traffic. The site is just now beginning to really pick up steam and serve the needs it was meant to address. The events list is growing, the contact info for groups is becoming reliable and centralized, and the GA is frequently referencing the site, just as we hoped when conceiving these ideas weeks ago. This is all wonderful to see, and to ruin it by overextending the use-cases of the site would be a real tragedy and a set-back for the movement and logistics in the park.
To go even further, besides ruining the current site, any effort to turn the site into a story 2 solution will both fail and confuse the messaging of the movement. We will fail because we are not in a position to win. Very few people in the world know what "NYCGA" stands for, or even what a general assembly is, for that matter. Instead, we need a public-facing site at a much more recognizable, high-profile domain name. This is where our new OccupyWallStreet.net domain name comes in. We must turn our new OccupyWallStreet.net into the actual official site of the movement. It will be open, transparent, and accountable, and thereby earn it’s place as the official external online home for #OWS. Just as OccupyBoston.org and OccupyOakland.org are the official external-facing sites for their respective occupations, OccupyWallStreet.net must be ours. Once that site is managed and administrated in a more accountable and open way, the possibilities for it are enormous. It can incorporate the amazing stuff going on with the NewsWire project, it can become an even more direct line of communication from the GA to the world, it can be home to all official statements and press releases, and it can continue to reach a vast global audience.
So, in summary, I firmly believe that these two sites are equally important, but uniquely purposed. They are two prongs of a single digital strategy for the movement. Nycga.net is a tool while OccupyWallStreet.net will be a megaphone. We admittedly have a lot of work ahead of us to build the new OccupyWallStreet.net site, but I hope we can pursue that goal vigorously and before long have both halves of our web strategy online allowing us to effectively serve both user stories.
 Sharing real-time news and information
We want to access real time news and information from all the occupations around the world but want distributed (as opposed to centralized) information networks without single points of failure.
Our strategy is to foster the growth of an ecosystem of information solutions by making feeds easy to format, publish, collect, tag and view.
Our first initiative is to collect the XML/RSS feeds from as many occupations as possible and place them into a system that makes it easy for people to read and tag items within the feeds. Once we've organized the movement's feeds, we can help occupations create their own curated news-portals by providing them an easy to use curation website. (See NewsWire.) We can also work with occupations to optimize their feeds for maximum visibility and usefulness to the movement.
- Register your occupation by filling out the Occupation Registry form. Your feed information and tags will go into our OMPL Library and your contact information will go into our CiviCRM.
- Tag content coming from the OMPL Library and into our NewsWire - a Managing News Drupal Distribution.
- Visit our news portal to see how we're displaying news to our community.
- Use the feeds to create a news portal for your community.
We need help!
- Register and authenticate occupations
- Organize news feed items
- Work on our NewsWire
 Documenting best practices and retaining knowledge
Participants in the Occupy Movement are learning a lot, from how to feed hundreds of people to collaborative project development, using consensus-based decisionmaking to asserting one's right to assemble.
A well organized documentation resource would allow people to share their hard won knowledge with eachothers, enabling the movement as a whole to increase it's capacity to make change.
There are a number of knowledge management software solutions out there. The most widely used is MediaWiki, the same software that powers Wikipedia. We're using it right now for this website.
We're investigating other knowledge management solutions, including:
- OmCollab, "a composite product that brings together capabilites from multiple products such as mediawiki and wordpress."
- Twiki, an "Open Source Enterprise Wiki and Web 2.0 Application Platform"
- Learn how to harvest useful information from your occupation.
- Join the wiki management list serve to discuss
- Contribute information to the wiki
- Volunteer to garden a section of the wiki
 Building our capacity to organize
The Outreach Working Group requested a CRM system from the the Free/Libre/Opensource Solutions Working Group so they could more effectively manage and communicate with their contact. In response, we've deployed a free/libre/opensource CiviCRM system.
FLO Solutions recognizes that building email lists could/should be considered incompatible with the values of horizontalism, but, unfortunately, organizations that don't share our values have already begun building lists "on our behalf," making it abundantly clear that if we don't provide people with an email engagement channel, others will.
Since we understand the power of CRM systems, especially their direct mail function, we've come together with members of outreach, movement building, internet, flo solutions, and other working groups to form a digital media cluster that will manage the use of our CRM and other tools related to contact management and consistuent engagement. We're still evaluating whether or not this task merits the formation of a working group, but we're committed to continuing this process in a transparent way and will publish meeting minutes to the NYCGA site under an affiliated working group.
- Join the convesation about constituent engagement on the digital strategy cluster listserve
- Sign up for a CiviCRM training
- If you have a contact list you'd like to add and operate through our CiviCRM, please fill out this form.
 Developing alternatives to the status quo
If the media is going to classify us as 'demonstrators,' then we should 'demonstrate' the amazing technologies we deploy to solve real world problems more efficiently and more equitably than the dysfunctional industries that have motivated us to Occupy Wall Street.
Safety first! The Medics need a solution for tracking patients. VistA, the VA's simply effective open source solution is a great start for the myriad of health care solutions we need to create for our world.
The banking industry is a primary target of OWS, so we should create products that make it easier for people to compete with them. That's one intention behind PermaBank, which will leverage the ecosystem of alternative currency projects to create 'gameplay' that helps people void using conventional currencies during exchanges.
- Bernal Bucks
- Occupy Land
 Creating our own information infrastructure
Our revolution is taking place on someone else's information networks. That's a serious problem. Until we not only control, but produce, our own information networks we'll be vulnerable to coercive market forces.
Liberty Plaza already has it's own mesh networking "freedom tower." We need more, not just in New York but at every occupation publishing an content feed!
- Assemble your own Freedom Tower