Unified social network user interface

Wel­come to the sixth install­ment of NPI at Net­roots Nation 2022, a spe­cial lim­it­ed pod­cast series record­ed live from the David L. Lawrence Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Pitts­burgh. NPI staff jour­neyed to Steel City this past week to par­tic­i­pate in the nation’s largest annu­al gath­er­ing of pro­gres­sive activists.

As part of our con­fer­ence cov­er­age, we’re bring­ing you a series of con­ver­sa­tions with key move­ment lead­ers and elect­ed officials.

In this install­ment of NPI@NN, we’re hon­ored to be joined by Bri­an T. Smith, Direc­tor of Strate­gic Part­ner­ships with Uni­fied. Press play below to lis­ten to the audio, or read the tran­script below.


Read the transcript

(Note: this tran­script has been edit­ed light­ly for clarity) 

CAYA: Wel­come to NPI at Net­roots Nation ‘22, a spe­cial lim­it­ed pod­cast series from the North­west Pro­gres­sive Insti­tute, record­ed live from the David Lawrence Con­ven­tion Cen­ter in Pitts­burgh, Penn­syl­va­nia! I’m your host, Caya Berndt. We are glad to have you with us. For this install­ment, we are excit­ed to be joined by Direc­tor of Strate­gic Part­ner­ships, Bri­an T. Smith. Welcome! 

BRIAN: Thanks Caya. It’s great to be here. 

CAYA: So, can you tell us about your orga­ni­za­tion? What do you do? What’s your orga­ni­za­tion all about? 

BRIAN: Yeah, absolute­ly. So, I’m very proud to be work­ing with Uni­fied, the new social net­work for com­mu­ni­ty orga­niz­ing and activism. At the time that we’re record­ing this, it’s in devel­op­ment right now, and we’ll be launch­ing it very soon.

The key thing about Uni­fied is, like many social net­works, it pro­vides com­mu­ni­ty build­ing around things like chat, shar­ing, and lik­ing com­ments or lik­ing posts. But Uni­fied will have an addi­tion­al fea­ture where you’ll be able to add spe­cif­ic actions that fol­low­ers will be able to engage with, and you include those in your posts.

CAYA: You sent me a Pow­er­Point pri­or to this inter­view, and from the looks of it… it kind of remind­ed me of a Face­book-style plat­form, but just expand­ed to activism in gen­er­al. Is that accurate? 

BRIAN: Yeah, that is. I think if you com­pare social net­works today, [there’s] a lot of chat and oth­er social fea­tures, but they’re lack­ing spe­cif­ic ways that peo­ple can take actions. At the same time, there are real­ly well-known tool sets on the left that cam­paigns and advo­ca­cy groups use, but many of them lack the social fea­tures. And so, for that rea­son, we’re build­ing this new platform. 

And there’s anoth­er the­sis that’s real­ly impor­tant as to why we’re doing this, is that dig­i­tal orga­niz­ing, in our opin­ion, is large­ly bro­ken. It’s become a spam­my, harass­ing process where you’re get­ting inun­dat­ed with text and emails from can­di­dates, and groups ask­ing for mon­ey. It does not pro­vide the abil­i­ty to build that com­mu­ni­ty. A lot of peo­ple are turned off by those process­es and those meth­ods. So we think there’s a strong appetite for some­thing new and different.

CAYA: Thank you. So, do you have a back­ground in dig­i­tal advo­ca­cy? How did you get start­ed in this field, and what moved you to want to devel­op Unified? 

BRIAN: I’m actu­al­ly a twen­ty year-plus vet­er­an of the pro­gres­sive move­ment. I got start­ed… was real­ly called to work in pol­i­tics after the 2000 elec­tion. So many of my peers obvi­ous­ly were very affect­ed by the 2016 elec­tion, but for me, it starts much ear­li­er than that. I grew up in Austin, Texas. I watched George W. Bush get elect­ed pres­i­dent in my back­yard. So I was very moti­vat­ed to get involved. And I worked in Wash­ing­ton [D.C.] for over fif­teen years as a cam­paign man­ag­er, con­sul­tant, and also as a lob­by­ist. I then got out of that, I tran­si­tioned into tech, worked with a cou­ple oth­er tech com­pa­nies, and then this oppor­tu­ni­ty became avail­able to work with this team around tech and pro­gres­sive activism. It was a per­fect mar­riage of my inter­ests and skills. So, that’s how I got involved.

CAYA: Thank you. So, you said that this plat­form is in devel­op­ment – when can we expect to see it launched? 

BRIAN: Hope­ful­ly ear­ly next year, in 2023. Right now, we are sign­ing up indi­vid­u­als and orga­ni­za­tions who want to par­tic­i­pate in a pilot pro­gram that we’re launch­ing this fall. It will be lim­it­ed. There’s some lim­it­ed oppor­tu­ni­ties to par­tic­i­pate, so any­body lis­ten­ing to this can go to our web­site, which is joinunified.us, to sign up and become an ear­ly adopter. But yeah, ear­ly next year we hope to be able to have it ful­ly avail­able and open to the public. 

CAYA: Thank you very much. And I will include that infor­ma­tion for those who are lis­ten­ing, who are inter­est­ed in becom­ing involved with this project, I will be link­ing that infor­ma­tion in the post on The Cas­ca­dia Advocate. 

So I just wan­na wrap up. This is my final ques­tion that I like ask­ing, is what are some of the three pieces of media… this could be a book, this could be a movie, this could be a pod­cast, that have made the biggest influ­ence on you lately?

BRIAN: So, grow­ing up, I was very influ­enced by the films that were, sort of clas­sic films around pol­i­tics and polit­i­cal sus­pense. All The President’s Men, obvi­ous­ly, is very well known, and films like that genre. That has always been of inter­est to me. I actu­al­ly went to film school in college. 

CAYA: Really!

BRIAN: Yeah, I have a media back­ground before I got into pol­i­tics. But I’m real­ly inter­est­ed in learn­ing more about your pod­cast, and I plan to sub­scribe to it after today. I’m embar­rassed to say, I first learned about it today!

CAYA: It’s okay! We’re all here to learn and meet each oth­er. We’re all here to learn new things and meet new peo­ple. That’s how we learn and grow. 

BRIAN: Absolute­ly. And I def­i­nite­ly encour­age your lis­ten­ers to check out what we’re doing at Uni­fied. I imag­ine that we are also work­ing with oth­er media groups to get them onto the plat­form. So for any­body lis­ten­ing to this who has a pod­cast of their own, and is inter­est­ed in ampli­fy­ing their audi­ence, they can def­i­nite­ly chat with us about how Uni­fied can help with that.

CAYA: All right. Thank you!

To learn more about Uni­fied, lis­ten­ers can learn more here. 

About the author

Caya is a Northwest Progressive Institute contributor based out of Spokane, Washington, writing about Lilac City politics, the Evergreen State's 5th Congressional District, and related politics. She previously hosted the inaugural episodes of NPI's PNWcurrents podcast. She works at the Unemployment Law Project and is a graduate of Central Washington University, with a bachelor's degree in liberal arts and sciences. Caya also has a minor from CWU in law and justice.

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