Read something, do something. We constantly encounter articles about social and political problems affecting communities all over the world – mass incarceration, the climate emergency, attacks on women's reproductive rights, and countless others. Many people are concerned or outraged by reading about these problems, but don't know how to directly take action to reduce harm and fight for systemic change. We want to connect users to events, organizations, and communities so they may take action on the issues they care about, based on the articles they are viewing
What it does
The Act Now Chrome extension analyzes articles the user is reading. If the article is relevant to a social or political issue or cause, it will display a banner linking the user to an opportunity to directly take action or connect with an organization working to address the issue. For example, someone reading an article about the climate crisis might be prompted with a link to information about the Sunrise Movement's efforts to fight for political action to address the emergency. Someone reading about laws restricting women's reproductive rights might be linked to opportunities to volunteer for Planned Parenthood.
How we built it
We built the Chrome extension by using a background.js and content.js file to dynamically render a ReactJS app onto any webpage the API identified to contain topics of interest. We built the REST API back end in Python using Django and Django REST Framework. Our API is hosted on Heroku, the chrome app is published in "developer mode" on the chrome app store and consumes this API. We used bitbucket to collaborate with one another and held meetings every 2 - 3 hours to reconvene and engage in discourse about progress or challenges we encountered to keep our team productive.
Challenges we ran into
Our initial attempts to use sophisticated NLP methods to measure the relevance of an article to a given organization or opportunity for action were not very successful. A simpler method based on keywords turned out to be much more accurate.
Accomplishments that we're proud of
In just one weekend, we've prototyped a versatile platform that could help motivate and connect thousands of people to take action toward positive social change. We hope that by connecting people to relevant communities and organizations, based off their viewing of various social topics, that the anxiety, outrage or even mere preoccupation cultivated by such readings may manifest into productive action and encourage people to be better allies and advocates for communities experiencing harm and oppression.
What we learned
Although some of us had basic experience with Django and building simple Chrome extensions, this project provided new challenges and technologies to learn for all of us. Integrating the Django backend with Heroku and the ReactJS frontend was challenging, along with writing a versatile web scraper to extract article content from any site.
What's next for Act Now
We plan to create a web interface where organizations and communities can post events, meetups, and actions to our database so that they may be suggested to Act Now users. This update will not only make our applicaiton more dynamic but will further stimulate connection by introducing a completely new group of people to the application: the event hosters. This update would also include spatial and temporal information thus making it easier for users to connect with local organizations and communities.