Apps supporting activists

Over the past couple of years there has been an absolute explosion in the number of smart phones and devices on the market.

It’s truly exciting to see how versatile, useable and functional mobile technology has become (and continues to innovate). This is especially the case when you think back to some of the original tablets or mobile phones.  There are numerous apps that are very useful for the mobile activist. Whether you’re waiting for public transport or hanging out with friends at a café or bar, it’s possible to continue working for your favourite cause. It’s also not the first time I’ve posted about applications for activists because I am myself an online activist and use my smart phone to keep working for my favourite causes while waiting for public transport.

With the growth and spread of range of smart devices and not just the fruit kind, it’s necessary to be a little more broad and include more mobile OS platforms.

[Now there is a substantial debate raging about apps versus mobile sites and I won’t go into that in this post. However if you feel strongly about it please leave your thoughts in the comments.]

What you won’t find in this list are applications for Facebook and Twitter. Facebook has its own excellent application (including task-specific apps to manage messages and pages) and there are any number of Twitter clients to choose from, which seems to come down to personal preference rather than must have.

So to help activists, or anyone for that matter, to support their favourite causes while on-the-go I recommend the following applications. They are not in any particular order of importance or functionality. It’s worth noting ahead of time that nearly each app mentioned in the list requires you to have an account.

1. Documents

One of the things you often need as activist while on the go is access to documents. There are lots of occasions where I’ve found myself out but needing access to my files. You might need key information from a flyer, or access to a set of notes taken at a meeting. There are lots of reasons for why you might want to access your files while you’re on the move and there are a bunch of tools available that can help you access your documents while you’re out.

First there is Google Docs. Just like when you’re at your laptop or desktop, Google Docs allows you to upload, open and edit documents on your smart device. You don’t need to be lost without that crucial information because you can store it all on Google Docs, making it accessible even when you’re not at a laptop or desktop.

In fact the entire mobile Google suite is pretty damn good. You can download the Google Docs app but I’d suggest biting the bullet and download the Google Suite.

Another is Dropbox is another way you can make your documents accessible. And if you have heard of Dropbox then you’ll know it’s a great way of making your files available through the cloud.  Wherever you are so too are your files. However unlike Google Docs, you will need to have the right software on your smart device to edit documents stored in your Dropbox.

Of course if you want to go the extra mile, so to speak, you can download applications that will remotely connect with your desktop or laptop sitting at home. There are some tricks to using these applications; one of them being that your desktop/laptop is on and connected to the internet.

However, the Google Suite and Dropbox are both free to download and more than powerful enough for even the most hardcore online activist.

2. Blogging

Blogging is an essential activity for the online activist. It enables the online activist to maintain their connections and update people about the latest details surrounding their favourite cause/campaign. You can read more about that here.

So if you are blogging you’ll want to make sure that you can keep up with your blog while you are out-and-about. There are a couple of great apps for blogging. If you use WordPress then you need to download the WordPress app.

It’s a simple and easy to use app with the ability to incorporate pictures, videos and links as well as a range of other functions. It comes with the ability to create new pages and moderate comments.  One of the other features of the WordPress app is the ability to manage multiple WordPress blogs. The app even comes with a simple stats page.

If you’re into Tumblr then you definitely need to download the…yep you guessed it, the Tumblr app. Like the WordPress app, the Tumblr app is easy to use and allows you to incorporate a range of media with your post. You can schedule posts and moderate comments. Simplicity is the key with this app and is particularly good for those online activists that like to make quick notes that are a bit more than a tweet but not as long as a blog post.

However, if you’re a Posterous nut then you’ll already be enjoying the fact that you can email in your posts. Though a few platforms already offer this feature.

The WordPress and Tumblr apps are both free to download.

3. Picture sharing

There are numerous ways of sharing your pictures on your favourite social network. There are also a number of picture sharing sites like Flickr and Photobucket. And these sites offer their users apps for their smart devices.

The Flickr application is very easy to use that allows you enter the name, description, tags, location, device and determine the set as well as determine the privacy setting. It allows multiple uploads, the maximum being five uploads at a time. One handy feature is the ability to determine the size of the picture (and file) to be uploaded. Any pictures, or videos, you have on your phone can be uploaded through the Flickr application; of course there are file size restrictions. Overall the application has suffered few glitches or drop-outs while uploading pictures.

The Photobucket application, like the Flickr app, is easy to use. It enables the user the ability to enter the name, description, tags, location, device and determine the album for the picture. There are options to allow the user to set the privacy level of each picture. Like the Flickr application, the Photobucket app enables multiple uploads, with five being the maximum number of uploads at a time. Photobucket also enables users to upload their videos.

4. Picture editing with PS Express

How often have you been at a rally, demonstration, march, community forum or whatever and have taken a bunch of pictures with your smart device? How many of those did you junk because they were junk?

There are ways you can touch up and fix some of the pictures and make the effort worthwhile. It also means you have better pictures to share with others through your favourite social networking sites. PS Express is a handy app to have to touch up your pictures.

It’s a cut down version of Adobe PhotoShop and is an impressive tool for your smart device. It allows you to crop your picture, change  the lighting, tint, contrast and exposure of pictures or even sharpen them up a bit. Plus you get the option of adding special effects or borders.

The application is very easy to use and takes pictures from your gallery or you can take a fresh picture to play with. And the application saves your picture to your devices picture album. There is no need to have an account with Adobe to use PS Express.

5. Cover it Live

Cover it Live is a live blogging platform that allows you to type updates without having to physically update the original blog post each time you have an update. As the ‘producer’ you are able to add video, pictures, pre-written text, polls, Tweets and more. The ‘producer’ is able to moderate comments before releasing them as well as enable multiple remote producers to assist with producing an event. Because people can participate in the live events, the producer is able to engage directly with the audience.

The Cover it Live app is an excellent mobile version of the platform.

It is powerful enough to enable the user to upload basic media like pictures and some video, as well as moderate comments while still providing new entries. You can imagine that it doesn’t have the same functionality as the desktop version but it is definitely powerful enough to cover any event as it’s happening.

As an activist you can cover events like rallies, community forums or even election night while it’s happening. This gives your audience an insight into what is happening as it’s happening.

The application is well worth adding to your tool kit but be warned you will need to pay if you want an audience larger than 25 people.

6. Video sharing

While you’re on the go you may come across something worth capturing footage of and sharing it with your friends. Or maybe you’re going out to a rally, march or community forum. You can capture and share your video by using apps like Qik and Viddy.

Both of these apps enable you to capture footage and stream it live to the internet. Both apps enable you to share what you are streaming, or have uploaded, with the main social networking sites. They are intuitive to use and offer different kinds of filters to make your videos look, for example, darker; brighter; and in sepia etc. Another excellent feature of the applications is the ability to upload videos to YouTube.

Using such applications is another way of covering an event live or doing things like video vox pops. Doing something live or uploading a video direct from the action within minutes of it happening can help drive traffic to your video. And for live events it also means your audience is directly connected with the action as it’s happening, which can be shared with your own networks.

Truly powerful stuff.

Applications like Qik or Viddy are must haves for your mobile activist tool kit.

7. Communications tools

The cost of sending out texts are a hidden cost for many activists volunteering time and effort for the campaigns/causes they support. And sometimes these costs can result in lessened activity from activists as the costs become too much of a burden. However, there are apps to help ease the cost of communications.

WhatsApp is one of a range of apps that piggy back off of your net connection to allow you to text your friends for a fraction of the cost of sending a text. Apps like WhatsApp allow you to send pictures and videos with your texts as well as send out group broadcasts with other users without excessively increasing the cost to you. It is necessary though to make sure that everyone you need to stay in contact with each other have the same app.

Alas you cannot cross-over between these applications; well not yet anyway.

But if you’re coordinating a campaign or group, these apps are a great way of coordinating them virtually for free. These apps can be useful for coordinating doorknocks, letterbox drops or an event etc.

Skype may be more familiar. The app is like the desktop version but with a less functionality. The reduction in functionality in no way hampers the app.

The app is intuitive to use and connects directly to your contact book and your Skype account. You can send text messages to other Skype users for free and include pictures. You can use any credit you have through the app to make phone calls and it enables you to call your international and globe-trotting friends.

Of course it helps if your friends have Skype.

Unfortunately these apps are susceptible to weak connectivity to the mobile network, with the exception of Telstra’s network, in my experience. However the good news is that despite the minor glitches here and there, either app is worth being in an activist’s kit. Don’t forget to make sure your friends have the same application to make it worth your while to download.

8. Capturing and sharing audio with Audioboo

Using an application like Audioboo means you can capture the sounds and speeches of community forums or rallies. You can even get those audio only vox pops. An application like Audioboo means you can use your smart device to record something which is uploaded to your account and ready to be shared through your favourite social networking sites.

Audioboo is an extremely easy tool to use. You pull up the app and you speak into the microphone and it records it for you. It then asks you to save it or save it and upload it to your account. It’s as easy as that. On a number of occasions I’ve used this tool in very noisy situations close to heavy traffic and loud noises. The audio has been very good without too much background noise.

There is no way of editing the audio before it is uploaded to your account, however it is possible to set the audio to private making it unavailable to others. One of the benefits of this approach is that it is available wherever you have access to the Internet and as an account holder you can download the audio. If you have the software you can do some editing before re-loading it.

It is a great way of sharing the stories and sounds of a campaign.

Concluding remarks

As you can see there are some impressive applications available for an activist’s smart device. It is possible to continue to work for the campaigns/causes you care about while at the cafe, down at the shops or waiting for public transport. There are numerous ways to now to help report on campaign activities and events and help spread the word while out and about.

Are there any apps you think I missed? Have you used these before; what did you think of them? Leave a comment with your thoughts.

NOTE: I am in no way associated with, employed, contracted or sponsored by any of the companies mentioned in this post. I have not made any financial gain from mentioning the applications named in this post. There are many applications available and I have used many of them out of professional and personal interest. I only mention these applications due to their functionality, and useability and based entirely on my own use of them in the course of being an online activist.

Other posts of interest:

  1. Thanks for this Alex, much appreciated.
    This looks like a useful app for monitoring police violence at protests – the Legal Observer app

    • You’re very welcome Holly and thanks for leaving a suggestion too. This looks like an extremely worthwhile app and definitely one that every activist should have in light of the way some police agencies are acting around the world.

  2. Thanks for these tips, Alex. I must download them.

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