Tuesday, 10 May 2016

Liberal Democrats to scrap Nationbuilder?

Note: posts on this blog are published by a small team. Therefore the name listed as the author of the post is not necessarily the person who wrote it, but rather is the person who was responsible for publishing it.

Sources inform Liberator that Liberal Democrat HQ has decided to scrap its arrangement with Nationbuilder at the end of the year.

Nationbuilder is an American company which provides campaign websites for organisations like political parties which include features such as mass emails, event management, volunteer recruitment and online donations. The national Lib Dem website and the SNP national website, for instance, are both built with Nationbuilder.

In place of Nationbuilder, LDHQ apparently intends to build its own in-house replacement with the help of volunteers. How well this goes will remain to be seen - not least given the disastrous experience of previous in-house projects like the membership system.

While this will no doubt come as an annoying disappointment to the local parties and activists who have spent a lot of time and money setting up Nationbuilder websites and learning how to use them, one key an upside to an in-house website system is that it will actually be able to talk to the party’s Connect election software and its Salesforce membership database. This was one of the big drawbacks of Nationbuilder which is a major rival of the company behind Connect.

Of course, the real reason for this decision might just be cost. The off-the-shelf price of Nationbuilder for an organisation wanting to store and use up to 81,000 email addresses is almost $1,000 a month - with an additional charge of $20 a month for every extra 2,000 email addresses. While this is quite steep even for the cash strapped Liberal Democrats with a large national email database it’s even steeper considering that this same monthly charge was also applied to every single local party with a Nationbuilder website.

So is this a case of common sense cost-saving coupled with a new willingness to use tools that actually meet the party’s need rather than the latest slick, high-price American product?


It’s worth noting that the company Prater Raines, which was set up by Liberal Democrats for Liberal Democrats in 2002 to provide affordable websites, has long provided a service which, if not quite as slick as Nationbuilder, is significantly cheaper and can do most of the same things that Nationbuilder can and a few it can’t, such as checking whether someone is a paid up member of the party or not.

Indeed, it’s telling that the party leader, Tim Farron, uses Prater Raines for his constituency website rather than Nationbuilder. Some might wonder if, rather than creating something new from scratch, HQ might be better off working with Prater Raines to improve what’s already available.

Nonetheless, scrapping an expensive system far too sophisticated for most local party’s needs and replacing it with a system that actually talks to the party’s other systems is in itself a promising step. Whether this change of approach will actually last is something which can only remain to be seen.

UPDATE: While we have no reason to doubt the truthfulness of our sources, Jake Holland from Lib Dem HQ has made the following statement in response to this post on facebook:

"Contract is up for renewal later this year, but there is no plan to ditch it. It's still the best platform out there for local parties. 

We are looking at how we can build a platform for volunteers to develop new tools and apps on, that is true, but so far we are looking at building out a set of (for the technical out there) APIs. For example, we worked with a few volunteers (thank you Fred Fisher) to build a telling app, which we'll be looking to test out soon, based on an API we made available."

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