Facebook’s Eyebrow-Raising Image Descriptions

Today, Facebook is experiencing a widespread server issue that is preventing uncached images from fully loading across the platform. 

Look — server outages happen, even for global heavyweights like Facebook. That’s not particularly interesting or surprising and only presents a minor inconvenience.

What’s more interesting, to me, is what the outage revealed: Facebook has been labeling our images with surprisingly accurate AI-driven descriptions.

Screenshot: Facebook Image Alt Tags
Screenshot of Facebook’s broken images (2019-07-03)

It’s reasonable to assume that Facebook does everything for two reasons: a good reason and the real reason. The tagging of these images seems to be no different:

  • The Good Reason: Accurately descriptive alt tags for images are an essential tool for helping facilitate web accessibility for the blind. Indeed, Facebook's image descriptions are consistent with WCAG 2.0 Guideline 1.1.1: "All non-text content that is presented to the user has a text alternative that serves the equivalent purpose."
  • The Real Reason: The machine learning and artificial intelligence required to power this kind of accurate, automatic image description generation at scale are significant. Seemingly in the pursuit of this innocuous accessibility goal, Facebook has leveraged our images to train it’s machine learning models. 

I wonder how the insights from this undertaking have, for example, affected the AI that underlies Facebook Portal’s “smart camera.”

I’d be curious to learn how long Facebook has been tagging images this way, and how they trained the algorithms that generate the descriptions. I only noticed them today, but I suspect they’ve been in place for some time.

5 Ways to Make Your Email Fundraising Appeals Sound More Human

This advice from NextAfter, based on A/B testing and common sense, is consistent with my experience as a digital director for campaigns and causes:

Email marketing at its worst allows us to “blast” hundreds of thousands of people until they either decide to give in and donate or mercifully unsubscribe. But email marketing, at its best, allows us to scale 1:1 relationships more efficiently than ever, using the medium to create valuable connections with our donors.

We’ve been calling this “humanized” email fundraising. In this post, I’ll share 5 principles of “humanized” email fundraising that will help you increase donor conversion, average gift, and lifetime value with your donors. These are not “best practices”, but rather guidelines based on scientific research that have proven to affect response.

I recommend reading the whole thing. Executing these guidelines will significantly improve your email program’s performance.

Trump campaign raises $35 million online in 2019-Q2

Per Trump’s Digital Director, Gary Coby:


That’s a tremendous result that underscores how heavily they’ve invested in their digital fundraising and grassroots engagement work. The Democrats for president must be shaking in their boots.

Give.GOP: Fundraising Resources to Empower the Republican Grassroots

Today, Give.GOP — a project I’ve been working on for a long time alongside my friend Paul Dietzel and several other GOP strategists — finally launched to the public.

From the official website:

This is not ActBlue. It’s nothing personal, but we felt that copying a 15-year-old idea was a bad approach. We built something entirely new. Give.GOP is leaner, more flexible, and more scalable. Our technology is stronger, our customer service is better, and our donation platform’s down-ballot market share is larger. We believe that a rising tide lifts all boats. We value you more than profit. We value your privacy more than power.

Key Features:

  • The Directory: Allows grassroots donors to find and fund the Republicans they support through a single, unified user interface.
  • Near-Zero Fees: On Give.GOP, the donor covers the processing fees so that all but $0.30 of their gift goes straight to the campaigns they support.
  • Nominee Funds: Donors can choose to donate to the eventual Republican nominee in a contested race, even before the Primary Election ends so that donors can focus their gifts where they can make the most impact.
  • The Anedot Platform: The entire service leverages Anedot’s widely adopted platform, which is already effectively the “Republican ActBlue.” That means that from Day One, Republican candidates from up and down the ballot can benefit from Anedot’s DonorID network effects and ongoing user experience improvements.
  • Seamless Integration: Campaigns do not need to do anything to benefit from Give.GOP. They can continue using whichever donation processors they prefer for their in-house fundraising, all while still receiving ongoing contributions from grassroots donors via the Give.GOP Directory.

Anedot already solved the GOP’s fundraising technology problem, which is why more Republican campaigns and causes use it than any other platform. Now, Give.GOP is going a step further by empowering donors to find and fund Republicans on their terms. Donating on Give.GOP is now the most secure and cost-effective way to donate to the Republican candidates you support.

I’m proud to have played a part in helping bring this idea to fruition, and I’m looking forward to seeing how it progresses in the weeks, months, and years to come.

Branding & Website Design for Sajid Javid’s Bid to Lead The UK’s Conservative Party

Theresa May’s announcement on May 24, 2019, that she would be stepping down from her role as the Prime Minister of the United Kingdom set off a flurry of activity in British politics.

Within a matter of days, several Conservative politicians had put their names forward as potential successors to Ms. May, and the leadership election had begun in earnest.

Among them was Sajid Javid, the British Home Secretary and part of a new generation of Tory leaders that epitomizes modern Britain: with both traditional Conservative values and a modern outlook.

We helped “Team Saj” develop a new brand and visual identity for the leadership campaign, designing both his campaign’s logo and website.

The result was a brand identity & digital campaign toolkit that is at once modern, traditional, creative, and practical — much like the British people themselves.

Uniting Country and Party

In a British leadership election campaign, things happen fast — and it’s important to be prepared for long-term success from Day One. That’s why we designed Team Saj’s branding with an eye towards the future.

And while it ended up being Boris Johnson at No. 10 Downing Street, with Sajid Javid serving at Her Majesty’s Treasury as the Chancellor of the Exchequer, we think that our take on the Conservatives’ brand would’ve held up in a General Election campaign.

Screenshot: Sajid Javid Twitter Mockup
Sajid Javid Twitter Mockup

What I love about this branding was the juxtaposition of the typefaces, with Meno Banner (the serif) lending a sense of traditionalism while Sofia conveys a very contemporary vibe. Together, they say “I’m a conservative for the future.”

Screenshot: Sajid Javid Twitter Mockup
Sajid Javid Brand Identity Quick Reference

Importantly, it wasn’t just a digital brand.

We made sure to think ahead to the print collateral that would’ve necessarily come into play in a longer-term campaign: billboards, buttons, and other merchandise.

Unfortunately, these amazing buttons were never printed. They’d have become collectors’ items, for sure.

Print Collateral Examples
Sajid Javid Branded Print Collateral Examples

Functional NationBuilder Website Design

When it came to NationBuilder Custom Theme design, we applied the Team Saj’s new branding to a functional, mobile-friendly web layout.

As is our standard, throughout the entire site content was editable without any assistance from a coder — empowering Team Saj and putting them squarely in the driver’s seat for their online strategy. 

Importantly, we had the site online just days after then-Prime Minster Theresa May’s resignation announcement, which allowed Mr. Javid to immediately make an impact on the leadership race. 

Screenshot: Sajid Javid Homepage
Sajid Javid’s Homepage (June 4, 2019 — Wayback Archive Link)


Now with two Conservative Party leadership campaigns under our belt, we’ve learned a lot about what works — and what doesn’t — in designing and deploying those campaigns online on tight timelines. 

Even though his campaign to become the leader of the Conservative Party was ultimately unsuccessful, we’re tremendously proud of our work for Sajid Javid. We’re particularly thankful that Mr. Javid and his team gave us the freedom to explore a new typographical direction within the framework of the Conservatives’ brand. Hopefully, it’s one that future Conservatives will revisit in years to come.

Facebook pushes new rules for political advertising worldwide


According to the new policy, advertisers that buy ads related to elections or other political "issues" need to verify their identity with Facebook and disclose who paid for the ad. These ads, and the identity of their purchasers, are then preserved in Facebook's Ad Library for seven years, so that anyone can see who paid for a particular ad.

People make a big deal out of these regulations, but in my experience, they’re both easy to comply with and unlikely to affect the effectiveness of the ads themselves.

EveryAction Acquires BSD Tools

Big announcement today in the Democrat-aligned software space:

EveryAction, a leading provider of software serving over 15,000 nonprofits, announced today that it has closed its third acquisition in the last six weeks, acquiring the BSD Tools division from Blue State Digital. The acquisition follows EveryAction’s strategy of bringing together the best people and giving them the resources to create the best SaaS products, that provide the most value to nonprofits. EveryAction acquired ActionKit on May 8, and acquired Donor Trends on June 6.

Clients on the EveryAction and BSD Tools products will benefit in many ways, including by expanding the network effect of each company’s one-click contributions, with an active pool of stored credit card tokens closing in on 5 million. They will also benefit from the enhanced network effect of form pre-filling features driven by 120 million ActionProfiles, leading to higher conversion rates and more engagement for nonprofits. Additionally, BSD Tools clients will gain access to the EveryAction Fundraising and Organizing products, and EveryAction’s unique CRM – the only nonprofit-focused unified CRM on the market capable of serving large nonprofits.

The decision to highlight their combined 5 million stored credit card numbers as the primary benefit leads me to wonder if they’re planning on taking on the ActBlue behemoth.

Regardless, with the addition of BSD Tools, EveryAction/NGPVAN is clearly now the dominant software provider to the American Left.

DCCC Outraises NRCC in May 2019

Laura Barrón-López, writing for POLITICO:

The Democratic Congressional Campaign Committee raised $8.9 million in May, posting another strong fundraising haul in the year before the 2020 election.

It's nearly double the National Republican Congressional Committee's $4.8 million raised in May, according to its filing with the Federal Election Commission on Thursday.

Out of the $8.8 million raised by DCCC in May — which is slightly less than the $9.3 million the committee raised in May of 2017 — $4.5 million came from small dollar contributions with an average donation of $17, according to the DCCC.

Clearly, this is the problem that the NRCC hired Targeted Victory to solve.

Maryland Republican Patrick O’Keefe joins Anedot

Patrick O’Keefe, the executive director of the Maryland Republican Party and a friend of mine, announced yesterday in Maryland Matters that he’s joining the team at Anedot:

[O’Keefe], who has held the job since early 2018, is leaving to become director of Customer Success for political accounts at the national fundraising firm Anedot. He told Maryland Matters he will be managing a team to support the company’s political accounts and help political organizations raise more money.

During his tenure at the Maryland GOP, Patrick helped oversee a statewide NationBuilder Network implementation, professionalized the party’s email and digital ad buying programs, and cemented himself as one of the Republican Party’s leading experts on online campaign strategy.

While the immediate focus within Maryland is on who will replace him as executive director, I think the larger story is on how his newly-created role at Anedot could serve as a rising tide to lift all digital fundraising boats in the 2020 Election Cycle.

The First Thing I Do When Creating a NationBuilder Website

I don’t want anyone finding and publishing my client’s in-development website on Twitter. I know my clients don’t want it to happen, either.

That’s why, when I create a new NationBuilder account or a new website on an existing NationBuilder account, the first thing I do is create a private workspace — with triple redundancies to make sure it’s secure.

How do I do it? By changing three standard settings in the Site settings > Basics section of my NationBuilder website.

First, Create a “Hard To Guess” Site Slug

Every NationBuilder website has a “site slug:” a prefix to its URL that makes it unique. NationBuilder prepends it to the URL like this: [site_slug]-[nation_slug].nationbuilder.com.

While your first instinct is to make this “site slug” a short, easily remembered word, I want you to fight that instinct. Instead, think of it as a password. The harder it is to guess, the less likely someone uninvited will find your development site.

My approach is to use random.org’s String Generator to create a long, random slug for my sites (ex: “cmi4mpbmwwm35ej6anyl”), but any hard-to-guess slug will work.

Note: Once you have connected a custom domain to your site, the “site slug” is hidden and no longer relevant. A password-like slug will have no impact on the long-term public URL for your website.

Next, Lock Down The Website

By default, NationBuilder websites are visible to “everyone” (i.e., they’re publicly accessible right out of the box).

I want my development sites to be visible to “control panel users” only — and, if there are an unusually large number of control panel users, possibly to “admins” only. That way, only my client’s senior team can see and interact with the site during its development phase.

Fortunately, this is an easy change to make.

While still within the Site settings > Basics section of your control panel, scroll down until you see the “Who can view this site?” dropdown menu on the lefthand side. Change this setting from “Anyone” to “Control panel users.”

Then, Disallow Search Engines

While the above two steps will lock our site down from curious visitors, this last step will prevent search engines like Google or Yahoo from adding your development website to search results.

Just below the “Who can view this site?” dropdown is a checkbox labeled “Allow search engines.” Uncheck it.

Now, when Bing, Google, Yahoo, and other search engines find your site, they’ll recognize that you want privacy and respect it by not including you in search results.

Finally, Save Your Settings

Once you’ve made these changes, scroll down to the bottom of the page and hit the blue “Save site” button.

Then, try opening your new development website URL in an incognito browser window. You won’t be able to reach it (instead, you should see a login screen). That means it worked!

Now, you’re ready to begin the work of building your new website in private. Your opponents won’t be able to find your site, and even if they do, they won’t be able to see it.