Democracy is not a spectator sport. If you want representatives who actually represent you, you’ve gotta get them elected. One of the most effective ways to do that is call your neighbors and ask them to get out and vote for your candidate. In recent years campaigns have begun using online tools to help making and tracking the calls easier, but when it came right down to it, the volunteer still had to punch the numbers into their phone by hand, and pay for any long distance charges. But dialing all those phone calls can be tedious – and expensive.
Suppose I were to tell you that phone banking could be as easy as clicking on the phone number in Vote Builder, or Neighbor to Neighbor, or any other online tool, and then just answering the phone? And suppose I also told you that the calls would all be 100% totally, completely free – so your volunteers wouldn’t have to pay long distance charges to phone bank, no matter where in America you called? And suppose I told you that you don’t even need a credit card or anything like that, because, like I said before, it’s FREE? Wouldn’t that be AWESOME?!?!
I bet you’re asking “Well, can we?”. YES WE CAN! By combining three very cool Google products, you can set up phone banking in Vote Builder, Neighbor to Neighbor (on barackobama.com), or almost any other phone banking tool or website to work exactly that way!! How?? Well, it works like this:
Google’s “Chrome” Browser + Google Voice + Google’s “Google Voice Extension for Chrome” + Votebuilder, etc. = Click To Call phone-banking AWESOMENESS!!!
Here’s how to set yourself up for easy, free, click to call phone banking in three easy steps:
Step 1: Install Google’s “Chrome” web browser on your computer (it’s available for Windows XP & later, Mac, Linux, and of course Google’s own Chrome OS – which comes with the Chrome browser by default). Using any other web browser you happen to have, just visit Google.com/chrome – then click the install link, agree to the terms, and it will install automatically.
Step 2: If you haven’t already, sign up for Google’s free phone service, Google Voice at Google.com/voice – which will let you make free phone calls to anywhere in the US (or Canada) and send and receive free text messages, too. Believe me, you’ll be glad you did! You’ll get your own free phone number for life, and a number of other really powerful functions (Google Voice is probably the most advanced phone service in the world, and it’s free except for calls placed to non US or Canadian phones). Once you are signed up you need to set up Google Voice to ring at the phone of your choice. This could be your cell phone (if you have unlimited incoming minutes, most plans these days do, except of course for pre-paid plans) or of course your home land-line phone, even if you don’t have long distance service (you don’t need it). There’s a great tutorial (with pictures – yay!) on getting signed up & set up with Google Voice on eHow:
Step 3: Install the Google Voice extension for the Chrome Browser. Using the Chrome Browser, once installed, you should surf over to the link below, and click the “Install” button. Of course, this will not work unless you go to the site using the chrome browser. Here’s the link:
Note: When you click the “install” link, you’ll get a pop-up warning that says the extension will have access to basically everything you do online. Don’t worry about that, because it’s basically the same as signing into your Google account using any browser. Like most major websites these days, like Facebook or Twitter, while you are logged in to Google track what you do automatically. So, if you like the Chrome browser and want to use it for going on Facebook , for example (and you don’t want Google to know you like checking out Sarah Palin’s profile for a laugh) then you can just log out of Google, just like on any other browser. And then you just log back in by clicking the phone icon when you’re ready to make calls. If you want the calling functionality WITHOUT big brother Google looking over your shoulder on everything else you do, you just need to tell Google to “pause” your web history. Like, forever, if you like. That way, you can just stay logged in, click on phone numbers to call them, and the only part Google will track is which numbers you call (like any phone company does). Here’s a link that explains how to set that up (it’s easy):
And that’s it! You’re all FIRED UP AND READY TO GO!!
Now, that you’re all set up for easy, click-to-call, FREE phone banking (even to long distance numbers) when you use Vote Builder or any other phone banking tool or website (like Neighbor to Neighbor on barackobama.com – which works best if you use the print friendly version) inside of the Chrome browser, all the phone numbers in Vote Builder will be turned into links. All you’ve gotta do is click on them to call them! A few seconds after you click the link, your phone will ring – all you have to do is answer it. It’s that simple! Plus, all the calls will be free! Even if the call is long distance, as long as you are calling a US number (which of course you always will be in Vote Builder) the calls will all be free. It’s hard to beat that!
Once you’re all set up, using Votebuilder in Chrome with Google Voice couldn’t be easier. Just log into votebuilder as normal (if you don’t have a login, contact Organizing For America – you can volunteer online at www.barackobama.com). Once you’re logged in, get into your virtual phone bank the way you normally would, and ge t started. You’ll notice that the phone numbers have been turned into links – all you have to do is click on them to make a call! A pop-up will come up which lets you choose which of your phones you want it to call. Since you should already have the phone you want to use set up as your default, just click the “call” button, and wait a few seconds while Google sets up the call. Your phone should ring, just answer it, and wait for the other party to pick up. You should hear ringing while you wait, just like normal.
It’s that simple!! This is what it will look like:
Votebuilder in Chrome with Google Voice
Using The Call Tool
If you don’t have an account on barackobama.com of Votebuilder, but still want to do some phone banking, you can use the Call Tool, which is open to the general public. In my opinion, it’s more user friendly than Neighbor to Neighbor, and it’s a lot like Votebuilder.
It couldn’t be simpler. Assuming you’ve already set up with Chrome and Voice from Google then all you have to do is go to https://call.barackobama.com/ and start clicking the numbers to call. If you’re trying to call into one location from another (for example, you might be in Minnesota trying to call into Iowa) you can just click the “location” link in the upper right hand corner, and enter in the appropriate zip code (which you can locate at: http://zip4.usps.com/zip4/welcome.jsp ).
It’s that easy! This is what it will look like:
Obama's Call Tool in Chrome with Voice extension. (click for larger version)
Using Neighbor to Neighbor
If you use the Neighbor to Neighbor calling tool to phone bank from inside your http://my.barackobama.com profile, you can use Google Voice inside Chrome to use N2N with click to call simplicity, too. But there is one hiccup. For some reason it doesn’t work that great unless you use the printer friendly version (it still converts links to numbers in the main N2N panel, but clicking them has no effect – so use the printer friendly version for the clicking and calling part). What I find works well is to do it like this:
First you log into barackobama.com and launch the neighbor to neighbor tool as usual. But then, right click the printer friendly version, and open the printer friendly version in a new tab. Then click back to the first tab, and do that all over again, so you have one tab with the regular N2N interface, and two tabs which each have the printer friendly version. You’ll scroll one of the “printer friendly” tabs up to the start of the script, which I always do even if I’m not using Chrome since it’s easier to read that way (if you don’t mind reading the script in the main N2N interface, you don’t really need two printer friendly versions open). You’ll use the other “printer friendly” tab to click on numbers. All the information is right there on who you’re calling, too. I use the scroll bar to keep track of which number I am calling by keeping them on the top of the page (but if you ever lose track the info is in the first, not so printer friendly, tab as well). Another trick is to highlight the name while the phone is ringing. As you make calls, you can record your call results in the first tab – in the regular neighbor to neighbor tool. So, switching from tab to tab with the mouse, you can go really quickly.
Just like in Vote Builder, you’ll notice that the phone numbers have been turned into links – all you have to do is click on them (in the printer friendly version) to make a call.
All in all, I find it easier to use Vote Builder or the Call Tool, but whichever tool you need to use, you can. Here’s what Neighbor to Neighbor will look like if you do it my way:
Neighbor to Neighbor in Chrome with Voice extension. (click for larger version)
Now, I’m not going to tell you that Google Voice is without it’s bugs. Usually, it works flawlessly – but sometimes you’ll run into minor bugs. The one I experience the most often are that the phone doesn’t ring after I click the link. In which case, after a few seconds, I just click it again. No big deal! Another issue that comes up once in a while is that after the phone rings, when I answer, I don’t hear what I should hear – which is the normal ringing you’re used to hearing while waiting for someone to answer the phone after you call them. Sometimes I’ll just hear silence, or there will be static noise over the ringing sound (which usually means a bad connection). In either case, I just hang up, and click the link again to start over. Again, no big deal. Bottom line: 90% of the time I just have to click the link once to call. About 10% of the time I’ll have to click it a couple of times to get the call to place.
But even with those minor bugs, phone banking using Google Voice is just as fast as (and is probably faster than) phone banking without it. And not having to dial the phone at all is very convenient! And of course, when using Google Voice phone banking is free – and you can’t beat that price!
Does your campaign need a kick in it’s technological pants? Contact me at email@example.com for help.
Sometimes in a phone banking system (such as Votebuilder) you want to share a calling list with a volunteer, but unfortunately they don’t have the right credentials to view it. So, even if you were to save a copy of the list into a folder you share with them, they’ll be unable to load it. Now, you could just make a screen shot of the list and email them a copy, but there are some problems with that. First of all, it might take an awful lot of screen shots to cover the whole list. Secondly, you can’t enter data into a screen shot. Third, if your volunteer is taking notes by hand not only is that a pain in the neck, but they can’t easily share those notes with you.
Fortunately, there is a free and easy way to deliver the list to your volunteers in a way that will let you both keep track of their progress as they go. And it will only take a few minutes to get it ready to go, for a typical call list.
What you’re going to need to do is convert the list into a spreadsheet on Google Docs, then share the spreadsheet with your volunteer – or even a whole team of volunteers. This way you can all edit it and see how they’re doing. Best of all, if your volunteer is using Google’s Chrome browser with the Google Voice extension installed they’ll be able to call off the list just by clicking on the phone numbers – and the calls are free!*
Google Spreadsheet Phone-banking (click for full size version). Shown in Google Chrome with Google Voice extension, enabling click to call function.
Here’s how to set it up in a dozen easy steps:
- Step 2:
Open a new tab and go to google.com/docs, then sign in.
- Step 4:
Go back to the Votebuilder tab, and copy the data from the list to your clipboard. Since this is the first page, you’ll want to copy the column labels too. To do this drop your cursor to the left of the N in “name” (be careful not to click on the word name or it will reorder the list if you do, click it again to return it to normal) and then highlight all the text in the list to the bottom by dragging your mouse to the left and down until you have all the data (and just the data) highlighted. Now hit ctrl+c to copy it.
- Step 5:
Switch to the Google Docs Spreadsheet and drop your cursor in the A1 field. That’s the uppermost cell in the first column (top and left). Then hit ctrl+v and watch the data magically appear, already fully formatted. Even the top row is preformatted with the column labels if you did this right.
- Step 6:
Scroll to the bottom of the spreadsheet. You’ll see a little form element that lets you add more rows to the spreadsheet. Think about how many names there are in the list. Now, subtract 21 from that for what you already pasted in, and put that number in. So, if you started with a 300 name list type 279 in that box. Now the spreadsheet has enough rows to handle the whole list. At this point, save it for the first time and give it a name.
- Step 7:
Repeat steps 4 and 5 over and over (just copy the data, not the column labels) until you’ve worked your way through the whole list and it’s saved into your spreadsheet. You should save the spreadsheet frequently as you go.
- Step 8:
The next step is just to clean it up a bit, and then add some columns for tracking results. First, begin creating your call tracking section. Starting in the first empty column on the right, title the first six empty columns as follows, from left to right: TA, LM, WN, HU, Y, N. Those abbreviations stand for: Try Again (TA), Left Message (LM), Wrong Number (WN), Hung Up (HU), and Yes (Y) and No (N). Now, just widen or narrow all the columns to fit the data in them (narrow the tracking columns to the width of their names).
- Step 9:
Now your spreadsheet is ready to be shared with your volunteers. You’ll notice near the title there’s a link that shows the privacy setting. By default it should say “private only to me” next to a small padlock icon. Click that, and in the pop-up window that comes up, add your volunteers as collaborators by putting their email addresses into the provided box as instructed (they should all have a Gmail account).
- Step 10:
Now you’ll want to set up the notifications feature, so Google will keep you posted when the file is updated. Go to “Tools” then “notification rules” in the drop down menu on the spreadsheet. Now just set the rules how you want them (ideally so you’ll be notified of all changes and new collaborators, at least once a day).
- Step 11:
Send your volunteers an email that tells them to be on the lookout for an email from Google Docs that has the link to the spreadsheet. Include a basic run down of how to use it (what the abbreviations mean, that they should type an X in the appropriate column for their call result as they go along). Be sure to remind them to save often.
- Step 12:
Save a backup copy to your local computer. In the spreadsheet go to “download as” under the “file” drop down menu, and save the file as an excel file (which most spreadsheet applications can read). If need be, you can later upload it again. Don’t worry if you don’t have Microsoft Excel, you can just get the fantastic, free Open Office sofware from http://www.openoffice.org (it’s at least as good as Excel, reads and writes excel files, and it’s free).
* Requires Google Voice account. All calls from & to the US and Canada are free.
It’s that easy, folks! Happy campaigning!
Does your campaign need a kick in it’s technological pants? Contact me at firstname.lastname@example.org for help.
When Iowa Senator Sharon Steckman told me she needed a website made we scheduled a phone conference and talked over what she had in mind. What she wanted to do was to keep her constituents up to date on what was going on in the Capitol on the one hand, while on the other she needed a campaign site to highlight her policy positions, organize volunteers, and raise funds.
So, I built her a two sided website. One side is her campaign site, which focuses on her political positions, volunteer recruitment, and fund raising. The other side is her blog. And then I tightly integrated the two sites together with cross-linked menus.
Sharon's campaign site
Most modern, dynamic websites are built using a content management system. But, in order to give Senator Steckman’s website the diversity of powerful functionality and styles which it features, I combined two powerful content management systems, Joomla and WordPress, to give the site it’s full set of robust features, including:
- Custom forms for volunteer recruitment
- A “letters to the editor” system which allows the Senator’s constituents to write to local newspapers.
- A contact form that protects the Senator’s email account from spam.
- A fund raising system that collects funds in accordance with the rules of the Federal and Iowa election commissions.
- An easy to use blogging platform which enables the Senator write blog posts with it’s built in word processor.
- A comment management system that allows the Senator’s staff to moderate comments on her blog and respond to constituents.
- Slideshows on the front page of the site and blog.
- A robust automatic syndication system which syndicates blog posts not only to feed readers but also integrates the site with Twitter and Facebook, automatically updating social networks with Senator Steckman’s latest comments.
- A photo gallery that allows the Senator to upload her snapshots to her site for her constituents to peruse and comment on, turning photos into conversation starters.
- An events management system that allows the Senator to keep her constituents up to date on her schedule and appearances.
- An easy sharing system to allow website visitors to share content using popular social networks and scoial bookmarking sites like Facebook, Twitter, Myspace, Youtube, Digg, and Stumble Upon, etc.
The site design also included a good deal of graphic design work. I started with two standard layouts (or “themes”), one for each content management. Of the two, the Joomla theme required the most work. I created a custom background which brought together several thematic elements (the Iowa motto, a bald eagle, fields of corn, blue skies with clouds, vairous typographical elements, and a photo bust of the Senator). Then I modified the existing theme’s Style Sheet (CSS) to better fit the design I had in mind. One of the particular challenges was getting the menu to fit into the backdrop, which required tweaking the overal site CSS and skinning the menu to match. The WordPress layout was less tricky. I customized the colors and adjusted the styling a little here and there, added in a floating Twitter “follow me” element and adjusted it’s position to get it just right, and did a few other tweaks to get everything right. Some other graphic design tasks included creating custom buttons, favicons, and photo montages.
The site seems to have worked well for the Senator, facilitating a constant loop of communication between the Senator and the people of her district which extends beyond the website into the social networking world on sites like Facebook and Twitter, and into the press in the form of letters to the editor.
If you need a solution to get in touch with your customers, community, or constituents, contact us today!
This, of course, is easily my most famous project ever, and the one of which I am most proud.
In the early stages of the Obama Administration’s push for the eventual, historic health care law that was passed about a year later, in early 2010, I was participating in an Organizing for America conference call discussion how best to handle the push back we all anticipated from the political opposition and the special interests. The decision had been made to collect stories from ordinary Americans all over the country to shed light on their struggles with health care and health insurance to illustrate the problem. But there were several challenges:
- How could they collect stories from all over the country?
- How could they share those stories effectively, once they collected them?
- How would they keep the workload from becoming overly labor intensive?
- How could they illustrate to people the enormity of the problem, and how it was impacting their neighbors?
- How could they drum up positive national and local media attention?
After the call was over I kept thinking about the problem. That night I tried to sleep but couldn’t, I had an idea trying to break through. And then, in the middle of the night, I had the “eureka!” moment. Of course! A website! In my mind, I saw it complete. A website with a map, dynamically showing the United States with markers showing how many people in the country were struggling with health insurance, and how they were all over the country, in every rural area, town, and city. People could fill out a form to tell their story or show their support, be encouraged to link to their own websites or Facebook profiles, and to post videos of themselves telling their stories on Youtube, all linked to the site. And the site would use a built in database to catalog the stories and link them to the map.
With a website like that, I thought, not only could they show people that their own neighbors were suffering, but they could drastically cut the workload of tracking, collecting, and filing all those stories by cutting out the paperwork and the middle men and letting people input their stories directly into the database using the website. Plus, they could share links to their family and friends to highlight their own story, or a particularly touching story, and tell their own stories. Users would be able to rank stories, which would help to find which were the most relevant and touching, which would help lawmakers to make their case, and help the press to find the most newsworthy stories to report on.
I felt certain it could be done by bringing together the Google Maps framework with the right content management system and social networking/bookmarking system. So, I logged into my Google Developer account and started having a close look at the documentation and core functions of the Google Maps API. I spent the next couple of days familiarizing myself with the details of how Google Maps work, and what it the framework was capable of. I created a few test maps and played with the code until I figured out how to make it work the way I had envisioned it.
I didn’t sleep at all that first night and barely slept over the next few days as I figured out how to make it work. Once I did, I worked late into the night writing up a proposal and making a design mock-up (like a digital sketch, or rough draft) of the site I was proposing they build. I included detailed descriptions of how to make it work and links to the test maps I had created for them to try it out with, and use as a starting point.
The Original Concept Mockup of President Obama
Then I sent the finished concept design and proposal to Shira Miller, who was the Director of Iowa Organizing For America at the time, and asked her to pass it on to the White House and see if they wanted to use the idea. Shortly thereafter we spoke about it on the phone and I answered her questions on how various things might work. About a week or two later she called me back to let me know that the White House had approved the project and that they’d be doing it in house Organizing For America’s New Media team, working off my concept.
The final site was almost exactly what I had envisioned, with some neat finishing touches that surprised me, too. Incredibly, hundreds of thousands of Americans from all over the country, and even Americans living internationally weighed in with their stories of their experiences with the American health care system. The site got a lot of press, mostly positive, and lawmakers used the stories collected in the site on the floor of Congress and the Senate to make their arguments. One senator even told me personally that he had read the stories in his office, and was moved by them.
The final Health Care Stories for America website's front page.
More than anything, seeing the site go live, and seeing how it played a crucial role in passing the historic legislation that brought health care to 36 million Americans living without it, and the emotional power of the voices of so many Americans living in fear of getting injured or falling ill was incredibly humbling and inspiring. And while I never asked for or received a cent for my work on the site, I can say with absolute certainty that it was the most rewarding piece of work I’ve ever done.
As fas as SEO (Search Engine Optimization) is concerned, it’s long been my opinion that how well a website ranks in the search engines is about equal parts what the site content and concept are, how well it’s designed, how well executed it’s meta tagging and keywording is, and how much publicity it receives. By all these benchmarks, this site is optimal.
And it shows, since the site ranked #1 on all the major search engines for most relevant search terms, as shown below:
Healthcare Stories for America #1 on Google
... and on Yahoo!
... and on Bing, too!
The site is still live, and you can still read the touching and heart breaking stories collected there, and submit your own, at:
And you can read some of the news coverage of the site at the links below:
The site was even highlighted on Fast Company – which for me as a web designer was a real thrill! My favorite line in the story there is where they compare the Health Care Stories for America site with the site the GOP launched in response, which Fast Company described as “sparse and basic and without any of the flash of Obama’s expert web projects”. Expert web project, huh? Why, thank you very much! ;-)
Here are a few of the Youtube videos that were posted to the site, just a couple examples:
And here’s a link to an Op Ed Editorial President Obama wrote for the New York Times, in which he discusses some of the stories the site collected:
UPDATE: Now the White House has another website, launched as key aspects of the health care bill went into effect on Septemer 23rd, 2010, as well (the original is still up though). The new site is clearly based on the same concept, but tells just one of the most compelling stories collected per state. The new site is called “50 States / 50 Stories” and also features a map with markers. You can check it out at: