What's New With Protest.net?

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Facilitated by Evan “Rabble” Henshaw-Plath, Protest.net and Josh Crawford

Protest.net has been a resource for activists and protestors for over a decade. Evan and Josh will talk about the technical innovations they're incorporated into the latest incarnation of the site, and invite dialog on how the site might better serve the activist community.

Session Notes


  • The purpose was to inspire people when they see action more than for people to figure out what to do this weekend
  • Most communities have a self-appointed person to keep up a calendar by hand
  • More like Digg or Delicious
  • "The helpful part is packing up what happened after the event"
    • Storytelling
  • Pushed out to flickr etc., properly tagged, linked together
  • "This is the place" to come for this thing
  • Delicious style report backs: As random people see stories on other blogs, they can link/tag it to the event
  • Email is an important method of communication
  • Canceled events are a big issue. Who gets to say it's canceled? Even if it's from the same person, what constitute a cancellation?
  • Community editorial problem rather than a technical problem
  • Don't compete against the local calendars that already exist

Report Back

  • The purpose was to inspire people when they see action more than for people to figure out what to do this weekend
  • Don't compete against the local calendars that already exist
  • Community editorial problem rather than a technical problem
  • "The helpful part is packing up what happened after the event"

Presenters: Rabble Josh

Why protest.net exists Online calendar Late 90s in college Lots of stuff happening, only hear about stuff by word of mouth Inspire people to mass organization, community when they see the number of protests being organized

History of protest.net 99-01 - updated Perl/CGI app Source code sold to Palm(!) For-profit public calendar online - social public calendar, competing against weeklies, alternative papers, etc. Not open-source - they got a license for the code - a mistake in hindsight Tear-gassing in Seattle distracted from license negotiations

Tried to do CSS CSS is inlined/hardcoded No templating systems back then Wrote their own templating system - binaries that only work on 32-bit machines Lots of legacy code/issues with lots of limitation

2003 rewrite Did their own web framework RIOT - like crappy version of Ruby on Rails but in Perl Object Never actually got around to rewriting the actual protest.net calendar itself!

Now moving to Ruby on Rails

In 2009 a lot has changed Feeds What should a calendar aggregation/hub behave like today? In activist groups, usually one single (self-appointed) person who updates the event calendar E.g. BAPD, mailing list in Seattle Demographic: woman, older, has access to computers How to meet this person's needs? protest.net - more of an aggregator rather than a content source?

Q: Do you rely on outside orgs to send their listings directly to protest.net, or can any 3rd-person party recommend listings for protest.net - The 2nd model: "curator" role

Q: What is the use case for the "consumers" of the event content? - "Day of Action" code - 95% of the code is about building mailing lists, report-backs - After the fact, package up what happened, stamp them with their location, collated as packages for specific districs/congress members

- What protest.net is missing compared to "Day of Action" is the "This is the Place" cachet, go-to place for events - Editorial/relevance

Q: Another use case for protest.net - After-the-fact utilization of special skills - storytelling, writing well - Clearinghouse for post-event follow-up, resources, contacts, websites

Q: Use case: semantic web-type stuff: I'm interested in events within 50 miles, events related to save-the-sea-monkeys, give me a feed that matches my interests

Q: Understanding the user's geographic scope of interest

Q: Abuse of protest.net; gaming the system - Tofu spamming: posting a one-time event on a daily basis - Scoring system to rate profiles

Q: Instead of having people come to protest.net to post listings, pull listings from feeds, CMS

Q: Social ranking of events - Let people upvote/downvote, including non-attendees - Digg, Delicious, bookmarking model - Trackbacks/pingbacks - linked to events

Q: Issue: the data entry problem - Converting an email to a calendar listing - time-consuming when done manually - Extracting metadata from emails, e.g. location

 * Only two companies that currently do this - both are protest-unfriendly

- Authorities, governments scrape protest.net - Extract date/time can easily - Extract keywords - Currently no login system - because how do you vet the legitimate owner of the event listing? - Maybe a wiki-style revision framework - you can see for yourself who edited the event & what they did

Q: Argument against having user logins - This website is being monitored by adversaries etc. - best not to have links with individuals

- Big support request for supporting event cancellations - also how do

Q: Organization model/User model - Strict organizational model may not work: there are coalitions, subgroups, loosely

A previous feature - could match the look-and-feel of their own website, but not worth reproducing this functionality today

protest.net is a magnet for disruption - Paid disruptor? - Extreme views? - Or just f*cking crazy?

Even the smallest group event website attract douchebags, a**holes, and jerks

Q: Is there a need for protest.net to be a source for disseminating events? E.g. post protest.net events to Facebook - No, the other way around - suck events down from Facebook, Drupal connector, onto protest.net - Provide a Wordpress.com widget

Q: Open model invites disinformation - Make the barrier really high - A week delay to sign up - Boot out offenders

- Spam button - Thumbs up/down - Make it easy to post, also easy to flag bad posts - Community/editorial problem, not technology

Event broadcaster - Enter the listing once, blast it out to many calendars, services at once - Authenticating to multiple services - keeping your authentication data (is this scary)

 * OAuth the way to go, most services supporting it now

- Radical Designs upcoming project: Find out where discussions are happening about your issue - then engaging with those places

Q. Earth First - potential collaborators for helping out with moderation?

Q. How does protest.net NOT compete with "National Day of Action" websites? - On Day of Service website, if you create a event you become the mod for that event, you get a control panel - Clickthroughs don't compete with Day of Service websites

Tomorrow - planning a protest.net codesprint on github - Need to work on time zone support - actually a hard problem to solve - Planning for future events in different timezones than your usual one - even Google Calendar doesn't get this right - Open source solution for geolocation - determines location of IP address, default location -> timezone? would this help? - Ruby library - TimeWithZone - Olsen database of timezones - information loss, has limitations