CivicSpace, the free open source community organizing web platform, is migrating to Groundswell, which is essentially the same thing, but with a subscription fee and a promise to shield users from technical challenges. It’s not surprising: CivicSpace was impressive, but it seemed to occupy a limbo between open source and consumer software. CivicSpace invited non-technical users by making it easier to build an online political operation. But it was never easy enough, and maybe never could have been, given that just installing it required some minimal familiarity with the LAMP environment. Handling all the ensuing support requests, for free, must have been quite a burden.
Some time ago I interviewed Zack Rosen, a founder of the CivicSpace project. I then got submerged in my own work on political campaigns, and am now poking my head up to take a look at the state of open source political tools, an exciting area since Rosen and others pioneered their use on the Howard Dean presidential campaign in 2004. Groundswell is one of the latest developments.
According to an announcement from the newly configured CivicSpace On Demand, Groundswell is “a complete, integrated solution for your community website, online donations, blast email, and supporter database needs” for a relatively low monthly subscription fee. The activities supported are fundamental for any political campaign or advocacy group.
Like Civicspace, Groudswell is a meta-platform, based on two other platforms: Drupal, a leading open source web content management system, and CiviCRM, a leading open source customer relationship management (CRM) tool. I’ve worked with all three, and I suspect my experience mirrors that of many users. I got into online political organizing as a volunteer webmaster (one with more managerial than technical experience behind him). I started with CivicSpace, grateful that it even existed given the cost of competing commercial solutions. But eventually I migrated to working directly with Drupal and CiviCRM, choosing deeper technical immersion in exchange for greater control over customization and upgrades. Rather than wait for CivicSpace to integrate an update to Drupal, for example, I could do it myself. That trade would not have been worthwhile for users who didn’t have the time or the inclination. For them, moving from CivicSpace to Groundswell is a potentially attractive choice.
The trick will be to make it truly easy. That task is difficult, and usually expensive. No doubt it’s in recognition of that fact that the CivicSpace folks are also offering turnkey custom site development services for hire.