Personal Democracy Forum ’06

This past Monday, while in the midst of a campaign, I had a prior commitment to a friend to help the Personal Democracy Forum to do their podcasting and speak on the panel, “Free, Easy and/or Cheap Tools That Anyone Can Use”. After a terrific conference with various speakers which included NY Attorney General Eliot Spitzer, Markos from Daily Kos, Jerome Armstrong (formerly of myDD), Congressman Anthony Weiner, Joe Trippi and a host of other luminaries in the political and technology world – it was said that this conference was a resounding success.

During my panel, I was talking about a number of products that I found to be very useful in doing a number of tasks necessary in political campaigning. And to that end, I wanted to list them for public consumption. These are not necessarily “endorsements”, they are recommendations to others on my experiences of products I have used to deliver the needed services during my time in eCampaigning. Note – this is a list of free, cheap and/or easy tools – ones that give great service for the price (when price really matters).

  • Content Management Systems: Democracy in Action
    I have used a number of CMS tools in recent years and while I have an affection for tools like Atomz and GetActive, know about cheap systems like OrchidforChange and appreciate the free nature of civicspace and Drupal, I have found DIA to be one of the better, inclusive products available for campaigns in the past year. I worked with them on a recent campaign and, while they have some bugs at time (like changing the URL from the candidate’s domain to their own), the system is easy to use, somewhat flexible if you are technically saavy, and integrated to handle bulk email, contributions, petitions, databases and (very limited version of) email CRM. They recent relaunched with some new tools within their product line, and I look forward to seeing them.
  • Database Management: NGP Software
    I have worked with NGP pretty much most of the time I have worked in political campaigns, and their are a number of reasons why NGP is the software of choice for most, if not all of the campaigns for fundraising, voter file management and compliance. While not perfect, they have become the de-facto standard for Democratic campaigns looking for a good database solution without having to pay a heavy price for services as some other solutions require. And, with recent investments in consulting and a new product NGP Field, they look to develop their product line further to be in the process of managing campaigns with a seemless offering throughout the cycle.
  • Scheduling: google Calendar
    A complete surprise to me – after being addicted to my Microsoft Outlook and Exchange Servers all this time. google Calendar with it’s multiple calendaring function, SMS and email reminder integration, ease of use with their mapping functions, clean, crisp and clear hardcopy schedule generation and reasonable reminder integration with Microsoft Outlook calendaring – I found an incredible tool for scheduling and coordinating across the campaign.
  • Podcasting Tools: Microsoft WordPad and Audio Magic or GarageBand3
    One of the challenges still in place today are prepackaged tools for podcasting and/or blogging. And while I am a personal fan of Moveable Type and heard wonderful things about WordPress, I am still a fan of hand-coding my XML for my feeds (like the Yi-Tan Conference Calls). For that purpose, I use Microsoft WordPad. For audio recording, I recently acquired GarageBand 3 – which was relatively easy to use (once I figured out – with the help from Howard Greenstein – how to overcome the confusion of their different offerings) for audio recording. If you are not a Mac user and do not want to shell out money, there is always the standby of Audio Magic to record your audio. And, for an easy condenser mic solution, Sam Ash offers a host of podcasting solutions which include a simple condenser mic with a USB cable that is ready for recording use. Not on the same quality as some of the other condenser mic solutions – but unless you want to get into XLR cables, phantom power and mixing boards – I would highly recommend their offerings at this time.
  • Video Podcasting Production: Final Cut Pro
    Sorry Microsoft and Adobe, but when it comes to easy video editing and creation of video content, nothing comes close to FinalCut Pro. You can see how powerful this tool can be at one of my favorite sites, Goodnight Burbank, a funny, satrical sketch comedy combining the sarcasm of Ricky Gervais, Aaron Sorkin’s “Sports Night” and a local, TV newscast. (Disclosure – I have done some of their technical work). They used FinalCut Pro extensively – and it is quite a job. Enuf said.

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