JessyCom, a community mobilization platform.

JessyCom, a community mobilization platform.

Some of us may remember our parents being part of a calling tree or phone tree while we where in school.

Each Parent would have a list of a few other parents, when the school had a message, they would call the parents on top of the tree, who would then call the other parents on their list and so on, until the entire community got the message.

Cory Doctorow, quoted by Becky Hogge in “Barefoot into Cyberspace,” notes that “The main job of activist organizers prior to 1995 or so was stuffing envelopes and setting up phone trees […] Mailman and Apache took 95% of the heavy lifting of the shoulders of activists”

The JessyCom system is something like Calling Tree 2.0.

The system was inspired by the fact that many residence of the Jessy Cohen neighborhood, where the system was launched, have infrequent internet access and little or no calling credit.

JessyCom implements a variation on the “Random Phone Call” broadcast model to efficiently enable a community to share information by having the system call people and connect them to each other on the phone, creating an ad-hoc Phone Tree.

For social movements operating in underprivileged or peripheral communities participation is made possible by the fact that only a phone that is able to receive incoming calls is needed, calling credit is not required in most countries where inbound calls are free. Internet access is not required.

The mobile phone is by far the most ubiquitous technology on the planet, no other platform can hope to reach as many people. Conservative estimate of mobile phone usage indicate that 1 in 6 people globally have a mobile phone, while internet access is available to less than half that number.

And yet, despite it’s accessibility, a calling tree is not inefficient.

Each tier of the tree grows exponentially from the size of the previous one, it remains a very fast and efficient system for getting information out to a lot of people. Since people often answer phone calls right away, but may not read email for some time, a community can be mobilized a lot faster. People also generally answer the phone far more often then they read bulk email, even when it comes from a wanted source.

One of the applications that military organizations have used calling trees for is the rapid deployment of reserve troops. Social movements, also, could benefit from a system that can quickly deploy engaged supporters.

When people of think of Flashmobs or Smart Mobs they generally imagine people using microblogging or SMS texting to organize, but telephone conversations facilitate such mobilizations even more efficiently.

The impersonal nature of the email and web pages delivered by Mailman and Apache, results in more superficial and weaker links within movements.

Supporters become more inclined to simply forward generic texts and links, and not often actually engage with each other to discuss and spread statements and calls to action. Participants becoming more focused on a nucleus of movement leaders, rather than each other.

While Cory’s claim that internet based organization eliminated 95% of the work of activists may well be correct. It also removed ways in which people could actually connect and engage with a movement. So movements have less people actively involved and more people passively involved.

There is quite a large difference in focus and engagement between passing on a call to action by actually talking to a real person about it as a part of phone tree, vs quickly clicking “like” on a Facebook status update and hoping your friends will notice it.

The JessyCom network broadcast model is based on conversations between real people. Feedback allows the person delivering the message to correct misunderstanding, etc, and even receive information from the person they are calling. Relationships among people who have talked to each other are naturally stronger than among those email address is simply included on the same distribution list.

Telekommunisten will continue to work with the Digital Art Lab to take the prototype developed as part of the Jessy Cohen Project and bring the platform to other communities looking for ways to engage and mobilize. Such communities are welcome to contact us to get involved.

Information about the current Jessy Cohen Project based system can be found here:

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