the Constructive Activism Portal

Drupal | Visual Design
Here’s a couple of ways to design community websites. On the left are some schematic layouts of front pages to websites; the colors are there for illustration and don’t have any semantic meaning.


. Links
. Previous Posts
. Archives
At left is a typical weblog layout. It’s what most people picture when they see a blog.

There are two open secrets about the weblog. One is that the reverse-chronological format is completely unreadable. Second is that the format is a giant step backwards. The format above is mostly unchanged from what it was five years ago– and was already outdated then. The only reason it’s so popular now is because it’s the lowest common denominator from Google’s Blogger, MovableType, and WordPress.

The tyranny of the reverse-chronological. Important information is kicked down the page. The only way around this is to backdate a post.

So let’s flex our structure.
. navigation menu
. Take Action
links &
brief items
news links
as to why
should care
. Petitions Map Q & A
. Original
. Background
. Join
. web chat
. Who’s

Your epiphany is to recognize that there are many channels of information; the “weblog” of any and all thoughts is merely just one of them. Once you think about it, you realize that links and posts can be organized with much more respect for structure. Some call this a portal; I’ve called it the webzine format.

There’s several reasons for splitting the channels. One is that it encourages your contributors to balance their posts among the various sections. If you post too many “take action” items, without actually putting any substance into the “original posts” section, your readers might start to notice. Second, many of the sections are specially created for user-input: Q & A, web chat, join, and the tipster tool.

And if the Frappr map is so cool, just put in on the front page of your website! Ditto for the chat widget which each Frappr map has. There is no reason not to put the cool gadgets directly on your front page.

Ultimately, what we do here is balance what’s important and what’s new. This serves new visitors looking for the former, and return visitors looking for the latter.


I understand that this design is possible with MovableType/TypePad and WordPress and other blogging tools. But when people ask for a “blog” they and their users expect the reverse-chronological design, which is simply inadequate.

Another bad design pattern has been to think that the “blog” is an alien being that belongs on a separate page. What’s the point, then? You end up separating what’s important from what’s new. Bad idea. Most of the blog/design experts sum it up simply: integrate live content from many contributors into your site. That’s constructive media.

What we do here is to design a special kind of portal. Activists shouldn’t have to scramble to set this stuff up and try to guess what goes in, or have to hire web design firms to do this. It should come out of the box. Democracy, in a box.

Lastly, we need an identity for this type of design. I’d like to call it the civ, a portal specially designed for civic activism. It could service any community of practice. Every section points to a deeper part of the system. The questions to a forum; the links point to documents which are handled by policy management.