Schuyler Duveen

Schuyler Duveen, Lead Developer at MoveOn.org

“Citizens should be able to hold their elected officials accountable and there should be that path all the way to law. I think that we can make it happen.”

Pronouns: They/Them

Meet Schuyler Duveen. As the Lead Developer at MoveOn.org, Sky uses technology to advance and organize progressive political action.

“I’ve generally tried to build software that revolves around how different groups and communities communicate. First in EdTech, then in public radio, and now in organizing.”

You can follow Sky on Twitter

What Do They Do?

In the past Sky has built up and managed teams — most recently the DataNews group at WNYC Radio — but at MoveOn.org they have chosen to narrow their aperture. “My primary hat right now is as a developer, making systems scale. We’re making sure that our web servers can scale to a million people.”

How Did They Get Into This Work?

“I’ve always been interested in non-profit tech: How we can improve both community consensus and collaboration with tech effectively?”

Initially, Sky worked in EdTech through the Columbia Center for New Media Teaching and Learning, conducting research and introducing technology into the classroom at the university level. Overall, their work explored how education happens, how it can happen online, and how classroom experience can be supplemented. A far-reaching project that survives to this day is MediaThread, an annotated platform that lets students write multimedia essays that can embed ‘citations’ of specific video timecode clips.

Sky then moved over to journalism intrigued by the moment: “Old school journalism was at risk as people were moving online. I saw that I wanted to be rowing an oar, enabling some of the institutions doing investigative reporting to make it to the other side.”

As the Director of Technology for NY Public Radio (which owns WNYC and WQXR) they built up WNYC’s DataNews group and pushed out innovative apps like “Discover“, which gave listeners the ability to generate an offline playlist for their subway commute.

“I had been at WNYC for the 2012 election cycle and was OK about not being able to express fully myself as a citizen. But coming up on the 2016 election I was more nervous. I again wanted to row my oar – this time more on the political side – and learn how activism was made. In November 2015 I switched course and joined MoveOn.”

Working across these three spaces Sky has some wisdom to share with developers and founders: Don’t build in-house unless it’s where you’re trying to be a differentiator. For example, if you’re not trying to differentiate in HR software, then you shouldn’t build HR software – buy that off the shelf. if your primary business is publishing audio — as WNYC’s was — you do need to build a platform. If you want to trying to be at the cutting edge, then you can’t use an off-the-shelf solution. We should focus our resources with this in mind, no matter what kind of organization.”

How Did They Come to Civic Hall?

Since MoveOn has had virtual offices since 2000 Sky was looking for a workspace, and more importantly, a community to join.

They met Ellen Mendlow at Progressive HackNight – Rapi Castillo’s face-to-face version of Progressive Coders – and she invited Sky to visit Civic Hall.

“I’m still learning about Civic Hall. How networks and people are connecting here. The most fascinating thing to me is how many angles people are attacking our civic problems. Seeing this huge spectrum is inspiring.”

What Project Are They Working On?

“If developers want to channel their progressive efforts – MoveOn’s work impacts at the national level and reaches more than a million people.”

While Sky has overseen many projects at MoveOn they wanted to elaborate on two, in particular, Spoke and eventroller.

Open-source Spoke, like Hustle or Relay, is a peer-to-peer text messaging (SMS) platform that MoveOn has found incredibly effective for campaigning and organizing. Nationally, it’s been used for canvassing and GOTV, not only on the coasts but in swing states. Australia’s “GetUp!” is currently using it for their marriage equality campaign. More than a million texts have been sent with the tool.

Eventroller enablers partners (for example, MoveOn working with the ACLU and Indivisible National) to curate and coordinate events. Eventroller is especially designed for a rapid response while respecting people’s data privacy. “What activists shouldn’t have to do is spend time e-mailing data files to one another. They should be spending all of their time campaigning in that five-hour timeframe.”

Sky is also pursuing a passion project unconnected with MoveOn: to bring text message voting with sufficient security and integrity to be part of a city’s or state’s legislative process. “Citizens should be able to hold their elected officials accountable and there should be that path all the way to law. I think that we can make it happen.”

“I want a future where WE are the government.”

“If developers want to channel their progressive efforts – MoveOn’s work impacts at the national level and reaches more than a million people.”

What Is Their Ask of Civic Hall?

“I think we try and reinvent everything too much. Everybody in the tech space has an ‘If we ruled the world’ mindset. ‘If everybody just used our tool… then we could do x, y, and z.’ In a space like Civic Hall, there seems to be more humble communication here and that’s how things get done in fact. I think that being conscious of that, and bringing into the consciousness that no, not everyone will use our thing, how do we negotiate that barrier once we realize that we’re not taking over the world? And I think, being cognizant of where that barrier is, how to work with institutions or organizations or literally tech people who are on different platforms, often opens up a good set of questions about communicating with a lot of systems.”

Skye hopes to convene a brown bag lunch later this fall to share and get feedback for his text message voting tool. Look for the announcement.