THE BLOG

Revolutionary Apps: the Real Social Media Driving Today's Political Protests

02/17/2011 05:02 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

Social media has received much credit for its role in galvanizing throngs of citizen protesters in Egypt, Tunisia, Bahrain and Yemen. But while the press likes to call out the big platforms -- Facebook, YouTube and Twitter -- it has actually been a set of lesser-known tools that have been at the heart of these grassroots uprisings. That makes sense: the most popular services are very well known to governments, which in turn block them or use them as fodder for fear, uncertainty and doubt. And importantly, some social media tools are simply better than others at fomenting revolution on the fly.

You say you want a revolution, here's a quick look at the social media secrets of street-level organizers.

Lines of communication with the true believers are vital at every stage of a protest movement. Pip.io is a conversation network being used by activists to gain fast access to the latest and most relevant intel happening in real-time, both within your country and around the world. Pip.io also allows movement leaders to consolidate message flow from multiple sources without the usual fragmentation of conversations. Pip.io posts can be as long as needed, can have multiple rich media attachments, and can quickly be pushed out to multiple social networks at once.

In mobilizing people, timing plays an important role. Social cascades need to build on layers of social proof: people need to know that they are not alone, that others will stand with them before they stick their necks out. The tool of choice for well-timed crowd-building these days is the mobile app, Foursquare. Foursquare is a location-based mobile platform that makes it easy for supporters to "check in" and know when and where to assemble. Foursquare allows flash mobs to form quickly.

Mobile communications are easily tapped. To prevent tracking, Android phones loaded with an application called Tor are the mobile tools of choice by folks on the front lines. Tor allows mobile phone users to access the web, instant messaging and email without being monitored or blocked by their mobile internet service provider.

Bearing witness to real-time events in the throes of an uprising is important on several fronts -- it lets the world know what is really happening and it energizes new supporters. One of the new tools of citizen media is Bambuser, an application that lets a user quickly and easily broadcast live videos from a mobile phone. Bambuser was very instrumental in the Egyptian events as numerous live feeds by activists on the ground brought the world right into Tahrir Square. Similarly, a new service called Cinch lets you record a podcast from your computer or mobile phone, upload it to the web and share it on communities like Facebook and Twitter. Very useful for recording history in the making.

And to make sure history does not blink, a new tool called Storify lets movement archivists select items from real-time streams of information coming in from Twitter, Facebook, Flickr and YouTube (among other channels) and curate them into a cohesive and chronological narrative of the revolutionary events.

Finally, it takes money to wage a revolution and a good, stealthy way to get donations from a growing network of sympathetic supporters comes from Obopay, which lets donors instantly send money by texting over the phone.