Activist Networks: How to Build an Interlocking Local Activist Networks to Expand upon the Indymedia Mission

I wrote this for IndyMedia Centers ( type groups).

What is the website? – campus version. – general version. - developers site. Code download.

Who is behind it?
Aaron Kreider. A former student activist who left grad school to work on this, and has done over 90% of the work. It isn’t directly linked to any specific organization, though we’re happy to work with fellow travelers.

Who funds it?
Currently it is funded by some very small ad-revenues and Aaron is paying the rest (and is looking for part-time consulting jobs in php/mysql).

When did it start?
I’ve wanted to do an online database since 1997 – to help organizers. In the summer of 2001, I learnt about php/mysql and came up with the idea of doing this site. The main example,, launched in April 2002 (roughly the same time Friendster came out). The source code was released in June 2002. The main point is that I’ve been working on it for five to six years – the project is very stable, and self-financed.

How many people use it?
The main site,, is visited by between 1500-4500 users/day (admittedly many of them don’t stick around). Currently it lists over 1500 groups, 3500 people, 450 resources, 1500 events (most have already happened), and approximately 70,000 resources have been downloaded.

What is the current state of project activity?
It is as active as it ever was. Recently I’ve been focussing on restructuring the code to make it easier for other developers (as well as myself) to change it, so the functionality hasn’t been expanding. Also, I’m becoming more interested in networking with other organizations, and less focussed on programming.

The niche: What is an activist network? How does it differ from a social network?
The primary goal is to promote activism. Socializing will happen as a byproduct of that goal. MySpace’s and Facebook’s goal is to make money, and thus they entice you to waste your time to maximize the number of ads that you view (and click on). Socializing plays a critical role in activism, but a lot of the socializing is best done when you are working on the same campaign as another person, or in-person (not online) through meetings, conferences, protests, conference calls, personal calls, and other in-person events.

I’m trying to get the basics done right. Having simple things like an events calendar, a group directory, and a resources directory – are valuable tools for activists that should be at the core of our definition of online activism. It makes sense to get the simpler things working and used by a lot of people, before we try to figure out more advanced ways of networking.

Integrating your IMC with social movement/social movement organizations
This software is useful for integrating your IMC with social movements. It supports an expansive role for the IMC that includes serving as an organizing hub – providing local activists with the tools to be more effective. IMCs are ideal for this due to their existing web-presence, their technical skills, their multi-issue constituency, the existing IMC international network, and because many IMCs have already taken on the role of being a hub. You cannot have a progressive independent media without social movements. Getting social movement organizations working together and thriving will help your IMC.

What are data silos? How does Activism Network avoid being a data silo?
Our system goes beyond being free software to implementing free data. We’re the only organization that has opened up our data to work with others... we’re just waiting for other organizations/systems to do the same. We share our data using web services (NuSOAP). You can write a short php script that asks our site for a list of anti-war groups in an area, resources about organizing ranked by popularity, or almost anything else that you can do at our main site – AND then have the results appear on your own website. You can write your own client to do this, or use the one that we provide.

Why should we use this software, instead of creating another? What alternatives are there?
I’ve been working on this software for over five years. It works. Thousands of people regularly use it. It is constantly improving. There are alternatives, but no other open source project is this advanced. An example of an alternative is the new site WiserEarth (, they say they will release their software soon). Even assuming that WiserEarth releases its software, they aren’t using web-services and thus it cannot be used to create a network of sites that share data (they might do this in the future – but it’s hard to predict) – and sharing data is critical.

What form of moderation is used? Who is the moderator and what are the standards?
I currently moderate incoming content once a week for grammar, capitalization, proper categorization, viruses, and to ensure that it belongs (broadly speaking) to the left half of the political spectrum (moderate democrats, liberals, greens, progressives, socialists, anarchists, etc).

In the future, I’d be happy to decentralize the moderation tasks. For instance, a volunteer could be responsible for moderating content that comes from their area.

What would it look like on an IMC site?
You could implement the Activism Network as a section of your site, customizing it, inter-weaving it with the rest of the site (by using inter-linking, name branding, a customized logo, changing some of the descriptive text, etc).

How does it fit in with the Alternatives-IMC theme?
The resources part of the Activism Network is most relevant to the Alternatives-IMC theme with its goal of distributing leaflets, essays, case studies, posters, and other materials that relate to building positive alternatives. This system will help individuals and organizations that want to increase their material distribution, as well as provide a way of organizing the materials, and serve as a central repository. The events calendar and groups directory would also help by promoting events and groups focussing on alternatives.

Building a User Base – The Power of an Email Newsletter
Activism Network has an existing email newsletter that sends out upcoming events (targeted by geography) and a list of new resources every two weeks. About half of the users opt-in to subscribe. This could be combined with a list of news headlines from your local IMC that would link back to your site. Building up an email list of several hundred to several thousand people will increase the use of your IMC, and provide a base for fundraising appeals.

How would events fit in? Eg. If you wanted your events to appear on both Activism Network and a Drupal or another Content-Management System (CMS)?
Events are perhaps the biggest overlap between the functionality of the existing IMC software packages and Activism Network. This is something we need to work on. We plan to support the iCal event standard, so events could be exported from Activism Network into other systems.

How would it fit with a CMS like Drupal?
We could implement a simultaneous log-in system, so that the user would log-in to Drupal and Activism Network at the same time. And when they create a user, it would create one on both systems. Currently the ability to fit-in to Drupal is limited as Activism Network uses web services as a critical part of the system. I think that it would be very difficult to modify and maintain Drupal to use web services. Drupal works fine for a single site, but it doesn’t work so well for a server/client system that is designed to support multiple sites with information stored in a common central database (like Activism Network).

CMS-Independence: An Advantage for Building an International Network
IMC sites run different software. Any given CMS (whether an IMC one, Drupal, etc), has only a limited range of use by IMC sites. By having the software be independent, it can be easily added to any existing IMC site (or other site, like that of an organization). Activism Network is decent software, but what makes is really powerful is the number of users. The inconveniences of it not working directly with your CMS is worth it, in exchange for being part of the only distributed activist network – with, ideally, dozens (or more) of instances. The network provides dynamic content. The content is the fun part.

What Support do you offer for Internationalization?
Activism Network can be easily translated into other languages by using a simple program that shows you a string of text in English, and then you type in the translation (we’re using PoEdit). Non-techy translators should be able to handle this easily. We also have international geocoding using a database of 3 million world cities to translate international locations into a longitude and latitude (for mapping and facilitating geographical based searches). One of the uses for this software is to create a network for your country (that could be part of the general network, or its own network).

Can you add XXX feature?
Sure we’d love to. In practice, we’ve got a long list of features that we want to implement. However, we’re making steady progress on them, and take all user recommendations seriously. If several people independently make the same recommendation then it is even higher priority.

Can I get involved in this project?
I’d love to see people getting involved in this project!!! We need testers, people to give us ideas/feedback, and developers.

Possible Types of IMC Implementations

1. National IMC Sites
Choose your country in the installation process and you will get a site featuring events, people, and groups that are from your country -- as well as a small number of international events and groups. With a little more work you can translate the software into your language.

2. State/Regional IMC Sites
If your site is for a state, then you can easily just choose a state. If your area covers multiple states or only a part of a state (like the western half of a state) then you can approximate it by picking a center point and a radius. So you are picking a circle that best matches your area.

Then you get people, groups, events from that area - and any people/groups/events from the nation that your state is in, and a small number of international groups and events.

3. City IMC Sites
Pick a city and state in the installation process, or a zip code and radius.

Then you get the people, groups, events from that area - plus any state-level groups and events, plus any national groups and events, plus any international groups and events.

One of the main advantages of doing a local or state installation is that Local Events will appear in your calendar. Otherwise local event events don't show up in the national calendar, because it would be too overwhelming.

4. Other
You could implement it as an issue, network, or campaign-based network.