Activism 2.0: myBLOC Rocks!
Youth Call The Shots
Matin explained that the idea for myBLOC first came out of a 2004 meeting of youth organizers. "What do you guys want?" asked matin, wanting to understand how he could help the groups organize and communicate. Matin said MySpace came up, and someone suggested creating a MySpace profile. Matin told the story, "But somebody was like, 'Why don't we have our own MySpace?' And folks were like, 'Yo, how do we do that?'"
So matin set out to learn how to do just that. "We went around the country asking people what they wanted this to be--that's the user-centric piece it started from the user," said matin, referring to his rubric for technology tools for youth activists. "You build and create the internet out of ideas. They're your planks and wood."
The value-centric piece, matin explained, is about being clear about your motive. "If you are going to use the internet, you have to be sure what your values are, because if you get involved with other people's values, it's going to be a failed experiment."
Jessamyn Sabbag, 27, director of Future 5000, explained the site's own user-centric development. Future 5000 is an evolution of the 2002 book Future 500, a resource for anyone interested in youth activism. The book was the first of its kind and provided profiles of organizations, analysis and interviews with activists and organizers. In the five years since the book was published, many organizations have come and gone. Sabbag said Future 500, while still a valuable resource for information, is in many ways out of date.
That won't be the case with Future 5000, "The organizations own all their own profiles so that the info doesn't get out of date," said Sabbag. "If you meet the basic requirements, then you can set up a profile." The long-term goal for the site is to have 5,000 profiles; Sabbag said there should be at 700 by the end of the year.
Matin explains the "supports face-to-face organizing" and "culturally-relevant" pieces. For the face-to-face component, myBLOC is a source of information--the site posts news provided by WireTap, rather than entertainment--no music, film or TV pages. With this structure, myBLOC isn't trying to see how long it can get users to stay online; instead, matin said, he would like users to log on, get the information they need and then go out and do something with it.
Sabbag expressed the same hope for her project. "Future 5000 is not trying to take the place of face-to-face organizing," she said. "Its primary function is to support movement building."
Using the analogy of a politician trying to decide how to reach young people of color, matin explained that it was important that all of the developers involved in building myBLOC.net were people of color. "Would that politician use a more traditional campaigning strategy, or does he hire a hip-hop street team?" asked matin. "The street team is going to know how to reach the people."
This, matin said, is the culturally relevant piece. That's why it was important to matin to get coders who could relate to the needs of the user. "There's not a bunch of white, progressive social justice types saying, 'we can figure it all out for you,'" he said.
Future 5000 puts the user at the center of it all by allowing each organization to own its own profile. Sabbag sees the site as a facilitator. "We want to be a tool," she said, "by connecting the youth movement for change. The site is a one-stop shop. It's cohesive and collaborative."
Sabrina Ford is a California native who holds a B.A. in journalism from San Francisco State University. As a student, she became active in the Bay Area Black Journalists Association, first as student representative and later as secretary. Ford is now at Columbia University Graduate School of Journalism and was this year's winner of the Black Alumni Network scholarship.