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  • Writer's pictureMartin McSweeney

AVALANCHE IS FINALLY HERE



Background


There were times when I thought the end of Avalanche development would never arrive. It's been almost 2 years since I and my partner in crime Shari Schroeder started on this epic journey. The original plan was to create a message library and a set of gold standard graphics. The intention was to create a better version of the 'Toolkit' solutions that were and still are out there.


We began consulting with digital activists, candidates and advocacy organizations in order to better understand how we could make their messaging more efficient and effective. Overwhelmingly, the view seemed to be that it was about putting resources into unified space where content and messaging were curated and fully searchable. A trusted space in which users didn't have to worry about if content was misleading or inaccurate. More importantly, users wanted a workspace in which they could just write their message and not have to copy and paste it into their various social media platforms. Great frustration was expressed at having to go in search of content to punctuate their message. Users want to be able to work on messages that can sent immediately to all their social networks, or send them later in the day or even days later. Advocacy organizations we spoke to, also wanted to be able to confidently translate their messages to target the specific language demographic groups of US voters.


Understanding The Requirement


We listened carefully to everything activists told us and concluded the following;


  • We needed a really easy to use system that would not be intimidating ANY user.

  • A system that was 'message first' i.e. put the message at the heart of the process.

  • A system that did not involve copying and pasting content to the various social media platforms.

  • A system where the content they wanted to use did not have to be downloaded to their device.

  • It had to offer a draft message function.

  • It had to have scheduling capabilities.

  • It needed to offer accurate and trusted language translations, and the ability to add translated content to images.


Having listened carefully to people who made activism a central plank of their lives, we were able to formulate a process and database architecture to not only meet their needs, but to exceed them. It was our job to look beyond the specific needs of the various user groups and develop a system that seamlessly met all their needs in a single workspace.


Delivering on The Requirement


Our primary objective was for the user to be in the driving seat at all times. Avalanche is like a messaging Swiss army knife at your disposal 24/7. It is primarily a tool to assist you to always be at your messaging best. It protects you from potential account suspension by pre-screening your message and advise you if any message fails any platform guidelines. While it has a wealth of content, you are not obliged to use any of it. You can just create a message from scratch, upload an image and press send as you normally would on any platform. Avalanche is not here to police your messages it's here to protect your ability to send them efficiently and effectively. It understands the social media algorithms and makes sure you get maximum reach for the messages you send.


Should you choose to use the resources available, then Avalanche offers thousands of baseline messages, memes, quotes, slogans, oppo research, as well as images and video content. Avalanche is here to make sure what you want to say has maximum impact. All content is policy tagged making it easy to quickly access content on a particular policy. For example, if you select 'Abortion' as a policy, Avalanche will gather together all message clips, hashtags, images and video content ready for you to use instantly. And you always have easy access to the very latest messaging, images and video content. We also provide policy hashtag library with tagged trending hashtags.

Message clips can be used as they are, or simply as inspiration for your own messaging. YOU are in the driving seat. We also provide a 'Message Of The Day' and hashtags of the day too. You can choose to use them to help promote a key message of the moment.


If you are short on time, Avalanche has a set of policy Templates that will serve up a message on say Education ready to go with a message and an image. Again you can make it your own and you are good to go. To us this is about removing the barrier to participation.


From the outset, we wanted to simplify the process of creating and sending focussed Democratic messaging with the ability to counter the chaos messaging nonsense coming from the GOP messaging monster. We wanted to make it simple to get your message to all the various social media platforms. The concept was simple enough, but we wanted to make it data driven in a way that allowed external messaging shops to upload messaging into the system and for trusted content creators to do the same. This way we keep the content current and highly relevant. We constructed a technical architecture based on an outstanding process flow which Shari designed, based on the feedback from stakeholders. It was built as a modular framework so that downstream we can utilize new external data services such as stats and polling as they become available.


The real challenge was to wrap a potentially very complex framework into a really easy to use interface. Anyone who designs UI will tell you, this can be an extremely challenging endeavour The objective was to produce a system that could be easily used by the various identified user groups regardless of technical proficiency, in a way that allowed resources to be shared where required but kept private where wider sharing was not appropriate. I won't bore you with how we did this, but I will tell you it led to many frustrating and mind bending challenges in the early hours of some long dark nights. Given I was the sole developer I had no sounding bord from a team. I simply had to give myself a stern talking to and press on. I like to think these challenges made me stronger for having experienced them, but it gives me nightmares revisiting those times in my mind today.


Having established what we needed in terms of technical architecture the next not insignificant challenge was to build it. This was a ground up development from a blank sheet of paper and was an enterprise development project that normally requires a team of database, application and UI designers. There was just one problem. The shit loads of money required to make it happen. I have always been of the belief that 'If you build it they will come'. The project graveyard is full of ideas that never became a reality and left those investing with nothing but what could have been. It's well known that ideas are much more difficult to fund than a working prototype. Just like banks are happy to give you an umbrella only when the sun shines. As we had access to a full stack developer and data management professional (ME). So we made a decision to NOT pitch the idea for funding but to build it first. Little did I know at the time how big a challenge this would become. Even with me providing development time at no cost, we still needed to buy in services like server infrastructure, access to data services etc that would cost money. This meant committing to around $1200 per month between the two of us. And so began the journey of putting our money where our mouth was and building it with absolutely no guarantee of success. So with limited funding we set off up the steep hill.


The Long Road to Delivery


It's taken us 8 months longer than we had originally estimated, largely because we have constantly had to juggle with increasing costs, but mostly because of the arrival of AI relatively early in the project. One of the major challenges we faced from the outset, was how we would manage the data and the day to day challenge of keeping everything up to date and so much more. When Chat GPT came along, we jumped on it immediately to help. We wanted it to assist us with being able to keep messaging fresh, handle translation and if possible, demographic targeting of messaging. At that time the results were very limited, but we simply saw the potential and took the risk to integrate it. Large Language models offer exciting opportunities for a project like this, but we were acutely aware they also bring with them dangers of what they call 'hallucinogenic' behavior. i.e. they can at times make shit up! To cut a long story short we have incorporated a number of AI components within Avalanche to deal with specific tasks from conversational language translations to rephrasing and some proprietary stuff we can't discuss in an open forum. In short, we have all but removed the possibility of Avalanche producing anything that is deliberately an 'alternative fact'. We believe we have a huge responsibility to use AI responsibly and be fully transparent about it's use. Images created using Avalanche AI contain a footer marking them as such and the use of AI to produce messaging is very carefully limited to translating, rephrasing, summarising, and expanding HUMAN messaging. It is a tool available to users, you can choose to use it or not. Should you choose to use it, we have trained it to restructure any clumsy writing and bring focus to the message content. For example, you might have a lot to say and then ask Avalanche to distil your thoughts specifically for social media and maybe even a specific audience. That's bread and butter to Avalanche, it can do this all day every day. You can also for example, write a short message for X and want Avalanche to expand that thought for Facebook. One button press and you have a baseline message ready for you to adjust to suit your needs.


Demographics


We believe that for messaging to be GREAT messaging, you need to have a laser focus on your audience. We have been working not only on translation, but demographic targeting of messaging too. For example, Avalanche can take the message you have created and rephrase it for say a GenZ audience or a Republican leaning teacher etc. While this area is still under development, we have had some really good results and we only see it becoming more efficient as the technology improves. The point I'm trying to make here, is that we have already built in the capability to explore and exploit these technologies as they develop.


A Few of Our Favorite Things


One of my favourite uses of AI in the system, is what we call 'Meme Assist'. You can create a message, select a background image then with one button press, Avalanche AI will analyse your message, create a meme statement, overlay it on your image and you are good to go. In addition, it can also create a key point bullet list as your message text. Of course, you can then refine the message and the image, changing text color, font etc, you can even layer your image construction and place opacity panels behind your text, all with absolutely no design knowledge. Click a few buttons and. you have what you need. And of course you can translate the text.


Auto Threading in X


You don't have to worry about running out of characters in X. Avalanche provides a visual countdown of the characters available. Once you go above 280 characters, Avalanche will automatically thread your post and give you option to add images to each part of the thread. Again it's about the message NOT the platform.


One of the things we are most proud of about Avalanche, is the amount of time you save creating critical messaging. All our testing with our BETA group suggests message creating time can be reduced by up to 70%. One tester amusingly noted "It's embarrassing how fast I can get my messaging into amplification rooms" If we can help you free up time, or you need to expend less time to participate, this helps remove just one more roadblock to participation. There is no question, Avalanche helps you consistently be at your messaging best.


Placing Data at The Heart of Everything


Great messaging is knowledge driven and data is knowledge. To this end, we have invested a great deal of time and effort giving you access to key data. We have a dataset which contains every newsletter created by every member of the House & Senate to their constituents since the 2020 election. This is fully searchable and AI can be used to analyse any search results. For example, you can ask what Ken Buck has said on Abortion to his constituents and automatically summarize that data. You can provide a web address for a news article or piece of research and Avalanche will scrape that article with one button click. It can also bring back images from the article at the same time, to use in in your messaging. And create a set of baseline messages for you. This makes rapid response to a key political news item a breeze.


Avalanche doesn't stop there, we have provided a function that can go out and fetch Republican talking points from websites you specify and provide you with baseline rebuttal messages to those talking points. This can be for a political opponent, or a local or national issue. All Avalanche needs, is for you to point it to the source of the information. This is invaluable for rapid response campaigns at any level. The system holds a dataset of every elected official at both federal and state level with contact details and links to social media feeds where available. We also have data modules for polling locations and opening times etc. In short, Avalanche has been designed to plug in any external dataset and plug it into the workflow within a couple of days.


Favorites


We appreciate that Avalanche has so much content it's almost impossible to keep track of it all. So you have your own space to store great images you come across or great message clips. Fear not, we've got your back. You have a favorites option in every part of the system. Simply favorite a message or a piece of content and it is stored in your favorites library. That way you can build up your own resources on the issues YOU are passionate about.


Modular Design


The modular structure of Avalanche means we can connect ANY trusted partner, from the White House Communications team, to a state party messaging team into the system. This ensures they can pass messaging directly into the Avalanche message library or content library. We have incorporated additional geospatial location options to allow you if required, to see only data relating to your specific location. This means you can just see messaging content for your location, or for a specific federal or state race.


Candidates and Campaigns


For campaign managers and candidates, Avalanche opens up a whole plethora of opportunities. If you subscribe to Avalanche as a campaign, then Avalanche puts her big girl pants on to deliver some really cool stuff. You can provide either a link to your about me page on your website or a series of pages that tells voters about who you are and what you stand for. Press go, Avalanche will go analyze the content and deliver:


  • A summary to introduce you to voters for you to adjust and approve.

  • Add you to the Avalanche candidates database to expose your campaign to our user base so they can help get eyes on your campaign.

  • Once you approve your candidate summary, Avalanche can create a script for an introductory campaign video and asking you to upload a piece to camera or images you want to include. Once you press OK, it will create a 20 - 30 second intro video for your campaign ready to go.


We are working constantly to refine this function, but we believe this is a game changer especially for down ballot candidates that receive little to no funding from the center. We understand that candidates will use Avalanche in a different way to digital activists and the system fully takes account of that. In addition to the core messaging capabilities, Avalanche offers integration with email lists and sms lists, to extend reach from the system into these spaces. So a single message can be sent to all selected social media platforms. At the same time, those on your email list and or SMS list can receive the message at the same time. AI will take care of adjusting the message lengths for the various target output.


Advocacy Organizations


The workflow for candidates and campaigns is much the same for Adcocacy Organizations. Avalanche has been built to support the many issues for which these groups advocate relentlessly all year around. We are in awe of their dedicated work to build a better America. Their fight for abortion rights, voting rights, social justice and gun reform to name but a few is an inspiration. Avalanche is a partner to facilitate wider reach and more efficient communication with group supporters.


An awesome function Shari conceived called 'Vaults', is a powerful tool that allows you to add a collection of messages and content related to a specific issue this vault can then not only be shared with your team, it can also be shared with the wider Avalanche community so they can push your cause too. Both campaign and advocacy group users have the added benefit of a private space within Avalanche that is only available to your user group. For those who participate in tweetstorms, Vaults offer storming on steroids.


If you've made it this far down this post, congratulations. I'm impressed by your staying power. It's difficult to distil almost two years of 15 - 18 hours of work into a short blog post. Believe it or not, I have only scratched the surface of what Avalanche can do, but please stay tuned as we will be releasing a series of videos over the coming week showing it in action.


The Pitch


Here's the pitch. We have upheld our commitment to build this monster of an application to bring sharp focussed messaging to the Democratic campaign to preserve democracy and save the nation from a tyrannical sociopathic sexual predator. This is NOT a vision, an objective, or a dream, it's a reality. It's a living breathing application that delivers on all we have described above and then some. Every function is born out of listening to activists, advocacy groups and candidates to best understand the mission critical requirements. It is as one person described it in a demo, "The thing Democrats have been trying to build for decades" another described it as "An absolute game changer". This is personal for me, I am passionate about equality and social justice. I believe the threat to democracy in America in November is VERY REAL and I believe it extends to a global threat to the rules based world order and to justice and the international rule of law.


You could call Avalanche a labor of love. I call it the most consequential contribution to democracy in my life. Speaking personally, I have reached beyond a level of endurance I ever thought possible, starting sometimes at 4am and working until 9pm day after day without asking for a cent from anyone. We as a team did this because we don't think anyone should commit to help fund a project until they can satisfy themselves their money is well spent and provides good value. This isn't about anyone saying thank you, it's now about delivering an application into a high availability server environment and delivering native IOS and Android versions of the app by May 1. We want to release the web app version beyond our early adopter group on 2nd April, followed by the native mobile versions in May. For context, the mobile versions are already well on the way to completion.


I believe Avalanche represents an opportunity for a collective small dollar investment in a project that clearly aims to help in this existential battle for the soul of a nation. We appreciate that times are still tough for many, so we do understand that not everyone can chip in. Equally, we know that others are able to chip in a little more. You will find a donation button at the bottom of this post. Every contribution is valuable no matter how little or large the contribution, we are deeply grateful for them all. This is not a for profit venture, anyone in this space understands the cost of deploying an enterprise level application in a secure high availability environment is NOT cheap. That's before we talk about the data service subscription costs involved in providing all the the integrated functionality. We appreciate we are on a short fuse, but if we can get this fully deployed by April 2nd we believe Avalanche could help deliver the marginal gains that are the difference between winning and losing elections. Now that Avalanche is a reality, it will be here not only for 2024, but for every year and for Democratic candidate who is dedicated to a fairer more equitable society where no child should go to bed hungry and no family should be left behind.


In the coming weeks, We will be posting blog updates as we move towards our release dates. For those that have registered for early access, you will receive an email advising on the roll out schedule. You can also register for early access to the system by clicking here






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