Colin Delany December 18, 2006

Yay! Yet Another Way to Spam Congress

Update: A couple of readers have written in to say that I misunderstood how this one works or at least missed some significant features — wouldn’t be the first time. See below.

The folks behind a dead anti-spam service called Blue Frog have decided to adapt their technology as an advocacy tool, which they’re calling Collactive (get it?). As Ryan Singel reports in Wired News, Blue Frog was based on a model that was similar to a distributed denial-of-service attack — once the system identified a site as a spammer, it coordinated mass hits from Blue Frog subscribers’ machines to the offending company’s server to shut it down. Ultimately, Blue Frog itself fell victim to a Russian spammer’s DDOS attack (at least the retaliation didn’t involve polonium).

The Collactive folks claim that their system will be easier to use than existing advocacy solutions and also imply that it will be cheaper for sponsoring organizations to install. Hmmmm, have these guys looked at exactly how many online advocacy vendors are already out there? Let’s think about another obstacle — for individual activists to use the system, they’ll need to install software on their computers. Man, it’s already hard enough to get people to join an email list, but now you want them to put something new on their hard drive? That might have been an effective model for an anti-spam network, since a lot of folks will do just about anything to screw with a junk-mailer. But activists? I don’t have to go out on much of a limb to predict that the sign-on rate will be much lower than for an email list.

The bigger problem? The promise of yet more mass emails to Congress, whose persuasive value will be close to zero. I don’t want to denigrate email advocacy as a tool, since I definitely think it has some good uses, but mass unedited messages are just about the least effective way for your activists to let their views be known to a Congress that already gets 300 million emails per year. A personally written message, a fax, a phone call or a good old-fashioned piece of snailmail would be much less likely to find itself summarily deleted. Thanks, Collactive, for a “solution” that may well make the problem worse.

cpd

2 Comments:

  1. AnonymousReply

    Colin,

    This is way different then you describe it, and has very little to do with a client (i.e., you can use RSS to get the alerts).

    Take a look at the way Privacy Alert Network’s first alert. In this case, users fill in a simple form, which is then being fed into the very confused regulations.gov site. To truly understand what they have done there, try submitting a comment yourself about the “Automated Targeting System” (hint: the docket number is DHS-2006-0060). You will need to search for the docket number, click it, scroll down, enter your detail and confirm the comment.

    Now, try this again at http://ws.privacyalertnetwork.net/points/point?id=444 .

    Thanks for the clarification. Here’s what

    Wired said:

    “The Collactive software is offered as a generic distribution to organizations, who then configure it for a particular political issue and give it to users as a downloadable software package or Firefox plug-in. Once it’s installed, the organizers can send alerts to users or update the software with scripts that know how to take particular actions, such as automatically filling in feedback forms on a politician’s website. End users can also forward e-mail alerts to their friends, who have the option of installing the software themselves and joining the network.”

    If it’s not true that people need to install software, as the article says, then Collactive had better get something up on their skeletal website explaining how it works. If it does, then I stand by my original statement.

    As for the non-edited-messages issue, looks like I did overstate based on some general statements like this one in the article:

    Their new Collactive platform takes the drudgery out of grass-roots action, letting armchair activists fill out online petitions, file comments in rule-making proceedings, send letters to their representatives in Congress and seed collaborative web forums with sympathetic news items — all with the push of a button.

    So, like just about every other advocacy tool, this one CAN handle custom comments, one presumes if it’s configured properly. We’re back to the question of HOW the campaign is run, then. – cpd

  2. RogerReply

    It doesn’t seem to be used only for write-in campaigns and the like. Look at the things in the WorldCoolers community the article links to. They’re doing some social media marketing as well.

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