Harnessing the Power of Social Media, Brigade Sets Sights on Civic Engagement

As startups continue to make waves from transportation to dating, a new venture is looking to reignite civic engagement in American society — and it’s using Rackspace to get there.

Brigade, which launched its beta version in June, aims to leverage social technologies to reenergize public participation in democracy, offering users, regardless of political persuasion, a platform from which to engage in meaningful conversations and take action together.

While Brigade’s founders hope this will empower individuals to find and align with causes they’re passionate about, they also want advocacy groups to use the app as a tool for attracting and fostering critical mass across a broad range of issues and policies.

“It’s a social network that will connect you with your friends and find commonalties around your political views,” said Tom Dooner, a software engineer for the up-and-coming app.

“And you’ll take that camaraderie and make a meaningful change within the country,” he says, “by grouping together — into brigades.”

Brigade received some high-profile support early on, when Napster co-founder and former Facebook president Sean Parker, as well as Silicon Valley heavyweights Ron Conway and Marc Benioff, invested a combined $9.5 million in the venture.

Using a model similar to those seen on existing social media platforms (the beta version of the app is currently available on iPhone, Android and desktop clients), users create a profile, follow others and receive updates.

In addition to those familiar features, users are also asked to weigh in on issues ranging from the environment and energy to elections and the economy. Based on their answers, users are able to see how their views align with others.

“Brigade aims to be a platform for the exchange of political ideas, ” said Shane da Silva, another Brigade software engineer. “But we also want to bring it into peoples’ everyday lives and make that easier.”

A big part of making it easier, he continued, is making sure the user experience is seamless. If the app or website takes too long to load, or if it’s knocked offline for even a brief amount of time, people will stop using it.

“So uptime and availability are critical,” da Silva said. “We want to create a product that people trust, and part of building that trust is offering a product with a high level of service, quality and performance.”

“It’s very frustrating for users when performance is degraded,” da Silva said, “and so performance is really important to maintaining the level of fluidity that we want users to have.”

To ensure that performance, Brigade turned to Rackspace OnMetal Cloud Servers to power its omnichannel app, meaning they can offer the highest levels of speed and reliability to their users.

By utilizing single-tenant, bare-metal servers, Brigade can achieve the performance of a dedicated machine while maintaining the ability to scale up when demand is needed, and scale back down when it’s not — much like a traditional virtual machine — all without missing a beat.

Using an OpenStack API, OnMetal Cloud Servers can be provisioned in minutes and can be combined with virtual cloud servers if the need arises.

Furthermore, combining these tools with Rackspace Fanatical Support leaves the troubleshooting to Rackers, so Brigade can focus on providing its users with access to meaningful civic discourse, as opposed to dealing with back end IT operations.

“It’s great to be able to call someone and know that they’re on your team,” Dooner said of Rackspace Fanatical Support. “Our account rep has been extraordinarily helpful and is in it for the long haul.”

Da Silva adds that having dedicated support has also allowed Brigade to focus on building a great app, instead of fixing problems that would have otherwise kept their focus elsewhere.

“We don’t need to maintain our own hardware infrastructure, which would be very time consuming,” he said. “Instead, we can focus on the actual services that build the product.”

Learn more about how Rackspace has helped Brigade scale with OnMetal.

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