Using Google Wave, Colin Curtis, Sarah Burris, and I came up with this list of free online tools that are useful for organizing, communications, and productivity with political organizations in mind.
Free website/blog hosting/software
WordPress – WordPress is currently the most popular blogging platform around today. With a huge library of free themes and plugins, it is easy to customize to your own specific needs. Free site hosting is available from wordpress.com, but you are required to have .wordpress.com in your domain name and there are limits to customization and the types of things you may embed. You can host your own installation of WordPress with the free software from wordpress.org (which is what I do for KevinBondelli.com), and be able to use your own domain name with no limits to customization or content, but you will need to pay for site hosting from another company.
Tumblr – Tumblr was originally created for what used to be called micro-blogging before Twitter redefined it by 140 characters. Today Tumblr is a full-featured free hosting platform with a built-in network of other users. For an example of an A-list site on Tumblr, check out Gary Vaynerchuk. Tumblr has many customization options, is extremely easy to use, has a bookmarklet for sharing, and best of all allows you to use your own domain name without any additional cost.
Blogger – Blogger, which is now owned by Google, is another popular free service for hosting blogs and websites. I used Blogger for my first blog (if you don’t count LiveJournal) years ago and it has improved quite a bit since then. Similar to wordpress.com, hosted sites have .blogspot.com in the url. Since it is a Google service, it integrates very well with other Google tools. Some big sites that use Blogger are Google’s blog (obviously) and PostSecret.
TypePad – TypePad isn’t as popular as it once was, but still provides a good free hosting service. Site urls include .typepad.com in the name. TypePad has added a number of social networking features to the service (check out Zachary Quinto’s site for an example) and offers additional services, such as using your own domain name and full site control for a monthly fee.
Ning – Ning is more a free hosted social network than it is a traditional website. I have mixed feelings about the service. I used it a few years ago for the YDA Southwest Region with only lackluster results (It has since been abandoned). I’ve talked about my issues with creating your own social network before, and some of those arguments hold for Ning as well. However, there are some groups who are able to use the service effectively. The YDA Women’s Caucus has done a pretty good job with it.
Drupal, Joomla, and MovableType – Behind WordPress, these three pieces of free software are the most popular content management systems for self-hosted sites and blogs (Future Majority is built on Drupal).
YouTube – The service that everybody already knows about. Has the benefit of being the first place people go to look for online videos as well as a strong user community.
Seesmic – The original Twitter for video. Seesmic has a strong online community with threaded video discussions and the ability to embed entire discussions onto a website. They have great support and a ton of tools to make the service even more useful.
12 Seconds – If Seesmic is the original Twitter for Video, 12 Seconds is the most similar: swap 140 characters for 12 seconds of video. Unlike Seesmic, where there is not a strict limit to video length, you only have 12 seconds per video.
Ustream – Ustream allows you to live broadcast video online and gives viewers the ability to chat alongside. It is perfect for conferences, question and answer sessions, as well as interviews.
TubeMogul – TubeMogul allows you to upload videos to a number of platforms concurrently, as well as providing detailed analytics. Horizontal segmentation is important, and not just across different media but also across different platforms within a media type, and TubeMogul makes it easy for online video.
Qik – Qik lets you share live video taken from your mobile phone. Think of it as a mobile Ustream.
CNN iReport – This may seem outside the box, but not uploading videos to CNN iReport is a missed opportunity. Both Sarah and I have had our videos played on CNN (Sarah multiple times) after uploading them. For example, students in the University of California system could definitely get traction by posting videos of the tuition protests, statements from students who may have to leave school, etc.
For a huge list of online video resources, check out Mashable’s Video Toolbox.
Google Calendar – Not only can you keep track of your own schedule with Google Calendar, but you can share and coordinate with your friends, create event calendars for your organization and publish them, as well as embed them onto websites.
Evernote – Evernote is a combination online/offline note-taking tool. With a desktop application, browser plugins and bookmarklets, and iPhone application (opens iTunes), and the ability to access your notes anywhere, Evernote is a great tool for keeping your thoughts and organizational notes in order. The free service will be sufficient for most users, but there is a robust premium version available for an annual fee.
Bubbl.us – Bubbl.us is a collaborative mind-mapping tool that allows multiple users to work on outlines, charts, and more. One of the best features is the ability to embed your mind-maps onto a website.
Google Wave – As invites are becoming easier to find, more people are on the Google Wave preview. While most people are still figuring out how to use it and what it should be used for, it has the potential to be a strong collaboration tool. As I mentioned earlier, we used Google Wave to come up with the tools for this post.
HassleMe – If you are the type of person that needs to be reminded of things often, HassleMe is probably a good tool for you. You are able to set up the service to periodically remind you to do things via email. While it is not so great for strict deadlines since they send their emails at “semi-unpredictable intervals,” it is good for other recurring tasks with rough deadlines. For example, if there is a general info email account for your organization that you are always forgetting to check, you can have HassleMe email you a reminder every couple of days.
Online Storage and File Sharing/Management
Scribd – My personal favorite file sharing service. I use it primarily for my paper length work or manuals, but you can post any PDF, Word, PowerPoint and Excel file. You can embed the documents onto websites, people can rate and comment on them, and you can link your account to Facebook and Twitter. You can also choose to allow people to download your files, making it a great way to post organizing manuals, bylaws, etc.
Dropbox – Dropbox enables you to create a virtual shared drive in the cloud. Files in your dropbox are available online and will also sync with selected users that also have the desktop application. It also features an excellent iPhone application (opens iTunes) that lets you view your files from your phone. The service is free for up to 2 GB of storage, and monthly premium options are available for 50 GB or 100 GB.
SlideShare – SlideShare was originally designed for sharing and embedding PowerPoint presentations, but now also works with PDF and Word documents. The embeddable presentation player is excellent and it is easy to post your presentations to websites and social networks. Check out an example of the White House using SlideShare.
Issuu – Issuu is a file sharing service that focuses primarily on online editions of magazines and reports. The interface of the player gives your document the feel of a magazine, with the viewer able to flip through the pages. There is also a premium version available.
Keep and Share – Keep and Share lets you share documents and photos, provides an online calendar, to do list, and address book, as well as discussion boards. The main negative of Keep and Share is that it is extremely ad heavy, and we are talking ugly Adsense all over the place.
Zamzar – Zamzar is an online file conversion tool. You can change the file formats of image, document, music, and video files without downloading desktop software and a ton of codecs.
RSS, Tracking, and Dashboard Tools
Google Reader – Probably the best RSS feed reader available. Adding new feeds is extremely easy, and the ability to organize, tag, share, like, and comment on stories sets it above other readers.
Netvibes – Netvibes allows you to create a home page dashboard. For example, if you are a statewide Young Democrats chapter, you can have a box with the RSS feeds of your local chapters’ websites, your organization’s Facebook activity, Google and Twitter search results for your chapter, etc. It enables you to get a birds-eye view of what is happening online in your organization as well as what other people are saying about you.
Google Alerts – It is important to know when people are mentioning you or your organization online. Google Alerts email you when certain keywords are mentioned or sites are linked.
Topikality – Topikality is similar to Google Alerts but with easier targeting and a back-end. It will also suggest articles based on your preferences, serving also as a discovery engine.
SocialMedian – I was an early Alpha tester for SocialMedian back at the start of 2008, and the service has really come a long way since then. You can become a part of different topical news networks, clip stories to share or read later, and subscribe to people to be your “newsmakers.” I head up the news networks for Technology in Politics, Democratic Party, and Youth in Politics. You can create your own news network, choose the sources that you want to populate it, and clip stories to the network as you see them.
Check out Mashable’s RSS Toolbox.
Skype – Skype is a great tool for people to talk for free within the United States via their internet connection. Skype has built-in conferencing functionality and many people use it to record podcasts when not all the participants are in the same place.
Google Voice – While Google Voice is more of an individual tool, I see opportunities to use it for an organization. An example would be to set up a Google Voice number for the organization. You could have the number forward to multiple different people’s mobile or home phones.
Google Analytics – Google Analytics is the most popular web analytics tool available. It provides detailed information about the visitors to your website, allows you to set and track goals, and will give you the information you need to improve.
Woopra – Woopra is a live web analytics tool that enables you to see your site traffic in real time. Woopra has a WordPress plugin and a desktop AIR application, allows you to chat with site visitors, and see how many visitors are on your site at any given time. Woopra is free up to a certain number of pageviews.
Feedburner – Feedburner, now owned by Google, is the best RSS feed tool for site owners. Upon setting up an account you use your Feedburner link instead of your standard RSS feed link for your site, enabling you to track the number of subscribers, what they click, and how they accessed your feed. Feedburner also allows people to subscribe to your site’s feed via email.
Disqus – Disqus is a popular blog commenting system that operates in the cloud as opposed to natively on your web server. The good thing about this is that Disqus users do not need to create a separate account to comment on your site. The bad thing is that you technically don’t have your comments on your server. Disqus allows for threaded comments, comment rating, and video comments.
Flickr – Flickr is the biggest player in the online photo business. There have been a lot of great tools built from the Flickr API that let you embed photo slideshows from your photostream and other applications. There is a limit to the number of photos you can have in your stream with a free account, but the pro account is available for a ridiculously low annual fee.
PhotoBucket – The strongest alternative to Flickr. It has similar features but a weaker community.
Check out Mashable’s photography toolbox for a lot of resources.
Online Office Tools
Google Docs – Google Docs offers word processing, spreadsheet, presentation, and form tools. It is by far the most popular collaborative online document tool available. The form tool is especially useful in creating surveys, collecting sign-ups, and signatures for online petitions.
Adobe Buzzword – The best thing about Adobe Buzzword, now a full Acrobat productivity suite, is that it is pretty. It features a word processor, presentations, tables, PDF export, and with ConnectNow an online meeting function (though the free version only allows 2 additional people in the meeting).
Facebook – Pretty much everyone knows what Facebook is, so in lieu of a description I am going to include a couple of links to posts about how to use it as an organization.
MySpace – MySpace might not be the king of the hill like it once was, and trust me I sure hate it, but it is still the best place online to reach out to non-college youth.
LinkedIn – Ever since LinkedIn added more social functions to what was originally just an online resume, there have been more opportunities for organizing with it. You can create groups and discussions as well as answer people’s questions, which builds up your profile as well as your organization’s.
FriendFeed – Friendfeed is a life-streaming social network that has yet to really hit the mainstream. Friendfeed allows you to consolidate your online presence from multiple sites into a single stream, where other users can like, comment on, and share your content. I created an account a while back for the Young Democrats of America.
Twitter – While Twitter is also a social network, I primarily view it as a microblogging platform (though the name microblogging kind of sucks). Here are some resources I put together in the past about Twitter.
Twitter Search – While it is now technically a part of Twitter, Twitter Search is important enough to be included on its own. You can use it to see what people are saying about your organization or issues in real time, as well as subscribe to RSS feeds of searches. For example, I had subscribed to the RSS feeds for “YDA” and “Young Democrat,” and on occasion someone would ask a question about how to find their local chapter. Since I was tracking the search I was able to respond and direct people to the right place.
Twitterfeed – Twitterfeed lets you automatically tweet your recent blog posts as they are published using its RSS feed.
act.ly – act.ly is a Twitter petition tool that lets users ‘sign’ the petition by retweeting.
Ping.fm – Post to nearly all of your accounts at the same time. Works with mobile phones as well.
Plurk, identi.ca, and Jaiku – While none of these platforms have anywhere near the userbase of Twitter, they do have dedicated followings. By using the previously mentioned Ping.fm you can hit these networks as well.
bit.ly – bit.ly is one of the most popular shorteners right now because of its integration into Tweetdeck and the fact that you can get statistics on your links to see how often they were clicked.
TinyURL – The original. Allows custom URLs which is extremely convenient.
PodBean – PodBean is a free podcast hosting tool with a good feature set. I used to use this when I had my brief 2 episode podcast, but when I tried to log back in to my account today it said it was locked. I guess use it at your own risk.
For a ton of podcasting resources check out Mashable’s Podcasting Toolbox.
Though this list may seem long it is nowhere near comprehensive. That’s where you come in. Is there a free online tool that you love that we didn’t include on the list? Is there one on the list that you absolutely hate? Share in the comments!