Wednesday, September 01, 2004

WSJ.com - Get the Word Out

WSJ.com - Get the Word Out "The most popular service, which an activist created for the Democratic convention in Boston last month, is called TxtMob.com and works like this: Users go to the TextMob.com Web site to sign up for distribution lists or create their own -- based on their interests or affiliation with protest groups. The only requirement to join is supplying an e-mail address and cellphone number; the site doesn't ask for names or addresses. Once signed up for a distribution list, a user can send messages that are delivered to all of the other members of the group -- typically within a minute or two. Like all cellphone text messages, they are limited to 150 characters or less, making for terse communications.
In time for the Republican convention, TxtMob's service was updated from what was created for Boston, allowing users to send messages to the list using their cellphones rather than via the Web. The service has become more mobile and nimble. For instance, activists could trade intelligence from spots throughout the two-mile-long line of a huge rally on Sunday. One message advised, "People are blocked from entering the assembly area from 14th St by PD. Best entry: 9 Ave or 5 Ave."
"It helps to reduce uncertainty about what's happening in a march, and it alerts to trouble spots," says Hany Khalil, a coordinator for United for Peace and Justice, which organized Sunday's march. For instance, he says UFPJ-marshals used information circulated by demonstrators via text message to gather at the site of a float that was set afire near Madison Square Garden. A few hours later, organizers sent another message to spread the word that because of the march's massive size it had lasted for more than six hours. Such text-messaging "has a political function in the sense that it inspires people," Mr. Khalil says."
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