Thursday, September 27, 2012

Wednesday, January 4, 2012

Announcing DemDash Pins

We've got a new feature to announce, but first, here's a quick update on how the last election went. While we did not meet our goal of getting 10% of the San Francisco electorate to use DemDash last November, with the help of our LoudSauce crowdfunded ad campaign, we did reach a little over 2% of the voters that voted in the election. Not the huge win we were hoping for, but a great experiment. We knew this but now we have more data: it is just plain hard to get the average voters we've been targeting interested any time before the last few days -- at least not for a local election.

There's a whole pile of reasons why we're not going to quit, but the main one is that the fundamentals haven't changed: voters (starting with young folks) simply are not going to keep make voting decisions based on piles of mail and TV ads forever, and we're sure we've got a good start at what a replacement is going to look like. Eventually, the $5B+ political communications industry IS going to be disrupted. We're pretty sure our approach is the closest to solving the problem for the end-user/citizen, so while we have a long way to go, we're on the right track.

Now it's time to pick up some steam, and we're happy to announce the release of a new feature: DemDash Pins. Pins are an accessible and slower-paced way of organizing and sharing information about big ideas, candidates, and whatever else you fancy.

This is our first tool designed primarily to be used away from an election. We've had some kind of link-sharing apparatus in mind to build for months, but it was Pinterest's wonderful user experience that finally inspired us to figure it out. What we're releasing now is a quick hack: really a sketch of the feature. It's definitely rough but it took less than a week of part time work to get a basic version up, and then it's been a couple more weeks of some light user testing and poking at it. There's a lot of obvious and awesome stuff that Pinterest does that we're not doing yet, like sets, and comments on pins. That's coming soon but we're probably taking a quick detour into some candidate organizing tools soon that we're super excited about first.

Adding pins is probably the roughest part, it's still definitely a lot more tricky than it could be. But we hope you'll give it a try anyway for one simple reason: if you are reading this, we are deeply curious about what you think is important! And we have some other kinds of media that we want to support in pins, such as Soundcloud links, that we'll hopefully have up soon.

There are two specific use cases that triggered wanting this feature. The first was this great, in-depth piece of reporting on Mitt Romney's time at Bain Capital. This is exactly the kind of reporting that gives real insight into what kind of vision a candidate has for the country... and gets completely lost in the back and forth, horse-race, freak show coverage of the 24-7 cable news and social media firehose spew cycles. We hope that pins are going to have a slower pace, and be a pleasant, easy to use and very much more accessible source of information.

The second use case comes from a conversation with my Dad. A news magazine had run a big cover story about how terrifying and impossible to fix the national debt is. But I asked him about the graph that had been going around about the origins of the debt, which he hadn't seen. And it seemed like there should be an easy to use, friendly place to get information like that.

If there's interest in this feature, we'll link it up to the candidate database soon. What this means is that the more activist-focused segment of the DemDash community will have a chance to pick the most important articles about candidates that regular voters will read later in the campaign cycle. And someone who wants to get up to speed on ideas (like inequality) and movements (like Occupy, and since we're nonpartisan, it'd be great to see some Tea Party links on there too) any time will have a good place to go for them.

Please give it a try. Add a pin you'd like to share, and let us know how it goes!

Thursday, September 22, 2011

46,000 Citizens Or Bust: Join, Listen and Share

Today we are announcing a goal of getting 10% of San Francisco voters using Democracy Dashboard for this election. That's 46,000 some-odd voters. We're focusing on San Francisco and California for now (and we've started getting ready for 2012); citizens can sign up anywhere and we'll let them know when we go national. (and then, international!) We have 613 users as of when we're posting this. We just put a counter up on the front page, so we can all see how we're doing. We have a long way to go, but with your help, we think we can get there!

So if you want to be part of something special to improve the political system and empower millions of voters, here's how you can contribute. Just join the site, listen to a couple candidates and groups, and use the social media share buttons to let the world know you've done so. When you're ready to start making decisions, you can build slates like this one. But you don't need to take a position or endorse a candidate or anything to get started. Just signing up, listening and sharing will start the process of convincing campaigns that making a direct connection on DemDash is more helpful than expensive mail or TV ads.

We also just built a great tool for listening! Under Your Next Election, check out ElecTweets: we're making it easier than ever to easily follow what's going on in any election, including this November in San Francisco and this little election coming up in 2012.

We know that using Democracy Dashboard to vote works. If you use it to vote this year or next year, you will too. 100% of the feedback we got from people who used the alpha version to vote last year was positive. You'll feel more confident than you ever have about your vote, from the top of the ticket on down the most confusing local proposition. And if you choose to share your ballot and your thinking, your voice will be amplified more than it's ever been.

The challenge we're facing is clear: not enough citizens know we're here. One thing we've learned from getting involved in changing politics is this: there is no cavalry. Change really is up to us. So go sign up, listen to a few candidates and then share it with everyone you know. Twitter, Facebook, email it out to folks, clay tablets, carrier pigeons, sidewalk chalk graffiti, whatever. If your parents or grandparents live in San Francisco, try it out and give 'em a call. (You remember the telephone, right? We've tested the site with a couple grandmothers so far. They love it. Everyone loves it!)

Imagine a world where voters are paying attention to what groups and people they trust, not to TV commercials. And those piles of mail can stay where they are now: as nice happy growing trees! Imagine a world where candidates can focus their energy on talking to voters, discussing ideas, studying solutions, and understanding systems rather than dialing for dollars.

You know that in ten years, the system of democracy in the United States will look completely different than how it looks now. You have a chance to help build this next great version of our democracy.

We have the power. Join, listen and share, on Facebook and on twitter. 45,000 citizen users to go! Thanks for helping to spread the word!

Monday, September 12, 2011

Your Campaign Needs To Be On Democracy Dashboard

Democracy Dashboard is a new platform for citizens to engage with their democracy, including following campaigns and political organizations. We've got big plans, but the first problem we're solving is making the process of voting a whole lot easier for average voters. One way we are doing that is by giving campaigns and organizations, and the activists that support them, easy tools to broadcast their hard-won political smarts.

For Campaigns

The case for why your campaign needs to be on DemDash is simple: some number of people are going to use DemDash to vote in this election, and you want your supporters on there saying nice things about you. Your campaign is probably already using other social media tools, like Facebook, Twitter, Flickr and Youtube. Those tools are important and helpful! But DemDash is important too, because it's the only site that those voters are going to use when they go to vote.

If you're still unsure, here are some details we uncovered while looking at our traffic from last year's election. The bottom line is that the number of visitors to our site in 2010 (most of whom came from San Francisco) was MUCH larger than the margin of victory in several San Francisco races! This chart compares the number of unique visitors to DemDash around the November 2010 election to the margin of victory in a few local races:
So even last year, there were far more visitors to our site than the margins. For this cycle, we've set a goal of getting 10% of the San Francisco electorate, or 46,000 voters, to use Democracy Dashboard for this November's election. This is what that would look like:

 As you can see, the number of users we'll get if we hit our goal -- or even if we miss it by a mile -- could easily be much greater than the margin of victory in any of the races, including for mayor.

We are also working on lots of new features that will make it easier for campaigns to get the word out to supporters and prospects about the campaign -- and better yet, that won't require any more work for you, since they'll leverage other new media strategies and sites you're probably already using. Our first step towards this is Election Tweets, or ElecTweets for short. For an example, check out out ElecTweets for the San Francisco 2011 Municipal Election. (or for this other little election coming up in 2012)

If you're convinced, join now, create a group for your campaign, grab some buttons (and you can always find the link to the buttons on the bottom of each page), and start emailing and tweeting links to your profile on DemDash. If you're not convinced yet... well, at least we tried to warn you!

And For Organizations

There are thousands of neighborhood groups, party clubs, chambers of commerce, trade groups and single- and multi- issue groups doing all kinds of great work engaging with our democracy, and that's in San Francisco alone! And yet, far too few people know about the hard work these groups do. At one of our first Hub Ventures pitches, I asked how many people there had heard of one of my favorite statewide groups that does very high quality independent analysis of propositions. Only two of the 30 or 40 generally civic minded folks assembled recognized the name, which I found heartbreaking. Even worse: voters are often misled by those fake slate cards that unscrupulous consultants sell endorsement spots on and then mail out in bulk.

If your organization endorses candidates, propositions and referenda or both, our hope is that DemDash will serve as a bullhorn (ok, a polite bullhorn, if you can imagine that) for your organization. We've got to try and build an audience for this kind of local information ourselves, and yet the project is too large for any one group.

And soon, we'll be working out a way to give organizations access to data about their supporters. (including data matched to the voter file, where possible) So sign up, create a group and a slate, and start sending your supporters towards it. And if you have any issues please don't hesitate to contact us at or by using the feedback tool that's available once you log in. Thanks, and we're looking forward to seeing your group on the site!

Thursday, August 4, 2011

The Power of an Endorsement

A few weeks ago I was sitting down by the Ferry Building, feeding Marco a little lunch and letting him crawl around on the nice grass while the folks in suits grinned at his cuteness. A scene was playing out next to us that everyone who lives in San Francisco or has visited over the past few months has probably witnessed: a guy with a clipboard making the rounds, picking up signatures for one of the mayoral candidates. This person to person signature gathering was one of the positive byproducts of the city's public financing law, and it's one of the ways that candidates with real people power backing them have an advantage.

As he got a little closer I eavesdropped shamelessly and noticed how tight his pitch was: personal but not too personal, right on message, brief and compelling. I didn't see a single person say no to him! So when he approached us I told him what I thought of his skills, a little about Democracy Dashboard, and asked him if I could grab some video of him. He said sure but he'd have to check with the communications folks at the campaign. (like I said, he was good) So he checked in, got the OK, and here's his pitch:

This is a succinct and powerful reminder of the real power of a well-crafted endorsement. This is the power of deliberative democracy that we're tapping into with the current version of Democracy Dashboard. It's what the team realized was really working when we used the site to vote in November of 2010, and this is what we're focused on getting the most out of in the San Francisco mayoral election coming up this November.

Maybe this video is leaving you wondering if we're going to do video endorsements on the site. The answer is: definitely! As great as it is to read people's quick summaries of their thinking (what they type into the "Why" box in the position widget), there's something about the direct connection you get from video. We're planning on supporting that real soon.

Monday, March 14, 2011

Platform for the Future of Democracy Seeks Product Focused Cofounder

Who We Are

We are building DemDash, a consumer facing set of mobile and web applications that deepen voting and political engagement by making it easier, more effective, social and fun. Our founder, political consultant/organizer/developer Dan Ancona, has helped hundreds of campaigns get the most out of data and tools at California VoterConnect and TargetSmart Communications. He’s backed by a team of four advisors from the Bay Area political and technology communities that have built numerous startups, political campaigns and nonprofit organizations. DemDash’s alpha was released in 2010 and is in production at, and we were accepted to the Hub Ventures 2011 social venture incubation program in early 2011.

The Opportunity

We believe the $5+ billion political communications market today is where the music industry was at in 2001, right before the release of the iPod. It is dominated by a few major channels and badly in need of user-centered disruption. We’re starting to disrupt that market by augmenting (and over time, replacing) endless election season TV ads and piles of mail with beautifully designed and socially curated political information. By working with us you will have a chance to help accelerate that disruption and shape the future of democratic participation, starting here in the US and then expanding globally.

Who You Are

You must...
  • Have a demonstrated passion for improving our democracy, and a hunger for creating disruption.
  • Want to build an organization that is exceptionally performing, democratic and soulful.
  • Have part time availability now and full time availability very soon.
  • Be located in or close to San Francisco.
A product focused position is our top priority. We're looking for someone who has done this before. You will have built something small and beautiful, had it grow, and driven your users wild with glee. Ideal skills include:
  • user and customer interviewing
  • wireframing
  • mockups and design in photoshop
  • front-end construction in HTML and CSS
  • optionally, enough django to at least have grokked the template system
If you are not a builder but have a demonstrably well developed aesthetic, UX and design sense, we may be able to craft a role around your strengths.

We are also going to have technical, design and business development positions open soon. For the technical and design roles, you must have helped build something significant and large, helped build something significant using django, or ideally, helped build something significant, large and in django. On the business side, we're looking with someone with deep reach and high level experience in some combination of the California or DC consultant, campaign, technical, startup or political communities.

Simple Revolutions has a baseline diversity requirement: we can not succeed without diversity across as many criteria as possible. Women and people of color are strongly encouraged to apply.

Opportunity and Compensation

This is a true co-founder position: your compensation will be equity only at first, and you will be helping us raise seed funding. We are moving quickly and we expect to be well on our way towards raising our initial round by mid-2011. Your salary will depend on requirements and experience, but you will play a role in helping to determine the pay and equity structure for the firm.

How To Apply

Send email to with your resume or a suitable bio, links to projects you’ve worked on, and anything else you think we should know. Be sure to let us know what your schedule is like, how much time you have to work on such a project, and why you are interested.

We look forward to your submissions!

Thursday, December 2, 2010

Introducing DemDash Actions

Today, we're releasing an alpha version of DemDash Actions. We've created a few so far, including one on breaking up the banks, one that came from a speaker at the most recent TEDMED regarding a bill to create a federal Department of Peace, one on the controversial White House deficit commission, one on ending the Bush tax cuts, and one on chemical safety. You can see these on your homepage dashboard on the right hand side if you're logged in, and notifications as citizens sign them will appear in the timeline.

An obvious question is why the world needs yet another actions tool, and we agree, there are a number of fine solutions out there. However, we still see a gap for something that's lightweight, simple, multi-group aware, and flexible in what kind of organization you can target. Not to mention for a solution that only takes one click! It drives us a little crazy that a decade into the 21st Century, it's still more difficult to provide basic democratic feedback than it is to order a book from Amazon.

DemDash Actions are certainly lightweight. In fact, all they do right now is count users and groups. But as Willie Brown puts it, learning to count is the first rule of politics. They're quick to set up and can target any of our group types, from individual representatives to caucuses to party organizations to commercial entities. So the next time Congress does something to drive you crazy, think of us, but also think of us the next time a big company does something evil. DemDash Actions are, at their heart, a general tool for applying democratic pressure to any organization or process.

There are three other benefits that we think are worth mentioning, one that's built in to the current design, and two that are coming soon:

First, DemDash Actions are user-focused. They're not solely for list building. We love both partisan and nonpartisan organizations and we want them to succeed beyond their wildest dreams. However, the sheer volume of organizations out there clamoring for resources has resulted in a kind of tragedy of the commons, where the commons is the aggregate attention span of the citizenry. If you've ever hesitated before sending a group money or signing up for their email list because of the deluge of requests for attention and money you know it will trigger, then you're familiar with this problem. We hope that by building a channel for the great work these groups do, we can increase (hopefully greatly) the number of people they reach, and that by gently managing the data flow between groups and individuals we can both lower the cost of participation and better manage the attention commons. In a sense, DemDash is a bit like a VRM (Vendor Relationship Management) tool for democracy.

Second, better reporting. While we don't have the reporting available publicly just yet, since we know what political districts our users reside in (which we have to do to build out the Civic Profile page), we'll be able to build reports based on any districts that signees and groups are in. So if an office that's being targeted to wants to see just the signees that are voters in their district, they'll be able to, whether that district is a county or city district or a congressional district. We strongly believe that any elected representative should consider themselves responsible for listening to any citizen who cares enough to provide input on any decision they're making, but we understand that they need to know where that input is coming from. So as well as making it easier for citizens, we're making it easier for the offices of our elected representatives (and their long-suffering staff) as well.

Third, better feedback and results tracking. Think of all the actions you've signed: what ever happened with them? Too often, these things get lost in the shrouds of time. They aren't live yet, but we're already working on better tools for targeted groups to respond with, as well as tools for tracking the history of issues.

Sometimes we describe DemDash as an "organizing platform," although this description isn't very helpful unless you have a working definition of what "organizing" constitutes. We see organizing as the process of persuading someone to deepen their level of commitment to the democratic process. So the future of Actions will be all about augmenting any kind of democratic participation that anyone takes, from making a contribution to reaching out to a neighbor to creating a piece of art to marching or engaging in any kind of direct action. This is often called the "ladder of engagement." In reality sometimes it's more of a zig-zag than a ladder, but whatever people's paths to engagement are, we want to give them a way to both broadcast and remember their hard work. This is at the core of the design for DemDash; in fact it was the first thing I wrote down in the design of this version of the system that crystallized in 2008, shown in the image at the right.

While Actions are live on the site now, we don't quite yet have the tool for creating them up yet. That will be coming soon. In the meantime if you have any idea for a quick action or group and you'd like to promote it, or if you have general ideas how these should work, don't hesitate to get in touch via email at feedback at demdash dot us, or through the feedback link inside the site.

Thanks for your interest, and we're looking forward to taking action to expanding participatory democracy with you!