Action Network plugin now in WordPress repository

I have finally posted my Action Network plugin on the plugin repository. You can find it here:

or, you can now just go to Plugins > Add New in your WordPress backend and search for “Action Network” (right now it’s a few rows down, but I presume it will move up as folks use it more).

The 1.0 version includes couple of new features:
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Why Your Website Should Be More Like an App

The term “web app” has been floating around for several years now. It has been derided as simply a trendy term for a website featuring lots of user interaction, or as a way to charge more for websites, but in a December 2013 poll on the developer site 72% of respondents thought that making a distinction between “web sites” and “web apps” was useful.

While I’m not sure I agree that a distinction between the two (being able to put a particular web “thing” into one category or the other) is useful, I do think that thinking about your website as an “app” is helpful — especially for folks who are not developers.

At Webskillet, we always work with clients to identify the purpose, goals and audience of any new or revamped website. But those things can pretty easily mushroom. Thinking about your website as an app forces the question: what do you want people to do on your website?

One of the distinctions proposed between “sites” and “apps” is performing tasks vs. providing information and content. But, of course, finding and accessing information is itself a task – one whose difficulty is often underestimated. When we redesigned the National Domestic Workers Alliance website last winter, we realized that their work had gotten so complex, with so many different projects and audiences, that the navigation system on their old site (a traditional menu across the top with secondary sectional navigation on the sidebars of interior pages) made it really difficult to find information about any particular project. Thinking about navigation as an app to find content, rather than where to put things in a menu structure, helped us design a much better navigation system, featuring megamenus that help group and categorize the many projects and initiatives at NDWA.

And, of course, apps are generally written to do a particular thing – listen to music, share short status updates with the world, send email, etc. So the question to ask is not only what you want people to do on your website, but what is the one thing you want people to do on your website.

This also helps the explain the recent (and, in my opinion, good) trend towards “microsites” – small sites, sometimes with only a single page, but certainly no more than a few, that serve exactly one purpose. Just as my co-worker Bekah recommends that emails only have one ask to avoid “decision fatigue,” I think it’s great that people are creating sites that are dedicated to just one purpose – that give the visitor exactly one task, and focus on making that task as easy as possible for the visitor – whether that task is learning about Burlington’s livable wage ordinance or convincing people to join a new effort to hold local politicians accountable.

But thinking about your site as an “app” doesn’t need to be confined to microsites. One of the largest and most-used websites, Wikipedia, is really just an app for finding information.

Another website that we have done recently where thinking about the site as an “app” has helped us create a really focused website is Spoiler Alert! This site is, essentially, an app for exploring a recently published report about pop-culture strategies for the progressive movement. The animation and inclusion of video, Storify content, and other multimedia create a much more dynamic experience than simply downloading a PDF (although that option is there).

So, if you are thinking about a new website, or a redesign of your existing website, take some time to consider what the one thing you want people to do on your website is. And let me know if I can help you think about it.

Case Study: A Wish for the Holidays

When my company, Webskillet Cooperative, started working with the National Domestic Workers Alliance in 2011, the first real online campaign we did with them was called A Wish for the Holidays — part of a broader campaign called We Belong Together, led by NDWA and the National Asian Pacific American Women’s Forum, to bring women’s perspectives to the immigration debate.

We think this campaign is worth looking at in depth for its combination of various online organizing techniques, together with offline organizing. It is also a great example of bringing simplicity and moral clarity to what is sometimes made into a complex issue. We Belong Together has just launched the 2012 edition of this campaign, and we would love to have folks participate, and to use the comments section below to help us think about innovative ways to use social media and online organizing to reach our 2012 goal of 20,000 letters.

The heart of A Wish for the Holidays is a campaign to get children to write letters to Congress expressing one, shared wish: stop deportations so that all of our families can stay together. Every day, families across the country are separated by deportations and immigrant detentions, and 5.5 million children live with the fear that a parent could be deported. Any child can relate to the fear of losing a parent — which is the first important lesson we draw from this campaign: there is a clear, communicable goal (ending deportations and detentions) and a simple, communicable moral stand behind that goal (children shouldn’t be separated from their parents).

Both years, the campaign was launched with a video:

The video, which we spread via both email lists and social media, and which achieved a certain amount of viral lift, lays out the basic premise of the campaign, narrated by children. It also directs people to a micro-site at to sign up. Using a short video (this one is only a little over 2 minutes) is, of course, a great way to introduce a campaign — and people are far more likely to share a video than a website link. However, equally important is the fact that the video has a very clear call to action (go to the microsite to sign up), and that the microsite is set up with a single purpose: to get people to sign up. This is far more effective than a general pitch to “visit our (general) website and get involved.”

The microsite is built with a distinct look and feel from the overall campaign website (We Belong Together). Even more so than in offline organizing, having a clear ask is crucially important in online organizing — and general organizational websites, which frequently have a lot of content and complex menu structures to navigate it, can create a lot of distractions. When people go to the Wish for the Holidays microsite, by contrast, everything is geared towards getting them to sign up for the campaign, and providing them with the materials that they need to participate. The link to sign up, as well as the existing number of pledges, is displayed prominently on every page, and the form loads via a javascript lightbox popup (and is available in the HTML for people using screen-readers and other assistive technologies), so prospective participants don’t even have to wait for a second page to load.

The campaign was also launched with a clear goal of how many letters we hoped to collect (when people sign up they make a pledge to collect a certain number of letters) — last year 5,000, this year 20,000. Having a goal gives the campaign a narrative arc that allows our emails and social media to continuously engage people (we just reached milestone x, can you help us reach milestone y?)

Finally, and most importantly, this campaign was not even really an online campaign — it was a great example of how to use online organizing tools to facilitate “real-world” organizing across a broad geographic area. The basic action — a child writing a letter — took place in community meeting spaces, classrooms, and living rooms across the country, with pens, crayons, markers and paper. It was a campaign than, in theory, could have been organized completely “offline.” But the online tools (the email list, the microsite, and social media) allowed the organizers to communicate to both potential participants and those who had pledged, keep them updated on progress (including scans of letters as they came in), and — crucially — to circulate a report-back video after the letters were delivered. While many, perhaps most of the letters were collected by organizations that were already part of the We Belong Together campaign, the campaign’s lively online presence, and the interplay between online and offline actions, helped individual families, teachers and community leaders across the nation who participated feel connected to people in other cities and states.

So, to sum up our takeaways from working on this campaign:

  1. Having a clear goal and a clear moral stand are important for any campaign; they are especially important in order to spread a campaign online and through social media, where tweets are limited to 140 characters and Facebook statuses not much more than that.
  2. Video is an excellent way to introduce a campaign, but it is important for the video to have a clear call to action (non-profits who enroll in the YouTube Nonprofit Program can actually embed clickable links directly in their videos).
  3. Building microsites for campaigns, instead of just creating pages on existing organizational websites, helps keep potential participants focused on the campaign.
  4. Having a goal creates a narrative arc for the campaign that can help to draw people in.
  5. Regular interchange between online and offline organizing helps keep both vibrant and exciting, and can create a sense of connection among people taking isolated actions dispersed across wide geographical areas.

This year, we’re excited to have launched the campaign earlier, and with much greater social media capacity — use the comments below to share any thoughts or suggestions for social media strategy on this campaign.