Jim Gilliam is the founder and CEO of NationBuilder, the world's first Community Organizing System. Previously he co-founded Robert Greenwald's Brave New Films, producing four documentaries and building a non-profit grassroots media powerhouse of a million members. His speech, The Internet is My Religion, has been viewed over 500,000 times and called "the best video on the internet."
What most people heard in Gilliam’s speech was the story of a man who had beaten death three times and who had lost his faith in God, only to find it in the Internet. Most didn’t realize that when Gilliam spoke of repaying a “debt” and creating a “new world,” it wasn’t a rhetorical flourish. A few months earlier, he had unveiled a piece of software called NationBuilder. He fervently believed that NationBuilder, which he had written from scratch in his apartment, would, in his words, “democratize democracy.” If the Internet’s power came from connecting humanity, then NationBuilder would give ordinary people the means to harness that power to make change. Run for Congress. Build a bridge. Topple a dictator. Get new lungs.
Gilliam believes the concept of community organizing is what the Internet wants. What works best in this era of many-to-many communications is all about relationship-building, and the power, size, and engagement level of your networks. NationBuilder is the manifestation of an Internet-based worldview of how to be effective in the digital age.
Today, Gilliam is the founder of an internet start-up called NationBuilder, which builds and sells tools to help political organisers. And he’s become a kind of evangelist for his new internet religion, retelling his story – in person and online – and collecting similar stories from other entrepreneurs. He refers to this as testimony, borrowing the Christian term, and believes it will help build faith in the internet. Worship, to him, comes in the form of engineers building more web tools and software that connect people. “The internet is the saviour, so to speak,” he says, “and yet it’s not really that. It’s people connected that is. God is all of us connected together.”
The Internet may be worshipped for all of the following things: crowd wisdom, missed connections, videos of baby elephants in a baby pool...none of them are what this stop-everything-and-watch-now talk, given by Web pioneer Jim Gilliam, is about. Gilliam went to college as a born-again Christian who had an affinity for computer programming. But, by his first spring break, he couldn't breathe. Not in a metaphorical way; he wasn't anxious. Gilliam had cancer, non-Hodgkin's lymphoma. He told his story—how he fought the cancer, twice, and found a network of activists through his work—this week at Personal Democracy Forum. There was a standing ovation, and (warning) tears. So, just press play for a reminder of what having faith really means. After watching, we've only got one more thing to say: amen.
There are days, even weeks, when you will hate the internet. Your inbox will be overflowing. Twitter will be a garbage dump. Google will fail you. You’ll reach your nytimes.com article limit. Let’s not even talk about Facebook. And for those of us who have jobs on the internet, and can’t throw our laptops into the East River or hole up in a mountain cabin, I recommend that, on those days and weeks, you watch this video. Restore your faith, not so much in the internet—this strange platform that we’re all on that didn’t exist four decades ago—but people connected through the internet.
Religion at a conference about technology in politics? A personal life story on the same stage that saw heady talk about statecraft and Internet infrastructure? A guy staring out at rows of faces tilted downwards at laptops, not up at him — at least at first — and explaining that he can feel Christ in the wi-fi? Unexpected. Transgressive. Radical, because it was painfully sincere.
Kirk Torrance was working in film in California when he encountered IT professionals such as Jim Gilliam and Jesse Haff, who had links to the US Democrats’ 2008 campaign. From these connections, a year ago, came the opportunity to help to develop NationBuilder, a revolutionary computer package that enabled the SNP web team to integrate Facebook and Twitter within a new snp.org party platform. ... The statistics are astonishing. When it launched two months ago the site had 13,031 users (almost equivalent to its party membership). It has grown to 35,879 users, signing in through social media accounts.
Citizens can tap Twitter and Facebook to spread awareness and prompt others to act. The Twitter version of the petition is organized through act.ly, a clever tool launched in June 2009 by Jim Gilliam and Jesse Haff who believe people can harness the power of Twitter to "tweet change." Like the web version, Minister Tony Clement is the target of OpenMedia.ca's act.ly petition, meaning every tweet sent appears in his @Mentions stream. Close to 5,000 Twitter users have sent him the tweet, making it the top petition on the site at the moment and second over all time.
"I encourage politicians to tweet themselves, in their own voices, but what I really want is for their staffers to tweet themselves, under their real name. As a citizen, I'm much more likely to start a conversation with a staffer that I know is working on the issue I care about, because it might actually be read and responded to."
But according to new-media specialists, most of the liberal action on Twitter isn't coming from the Democratic Party. Instead, it's coming from grassroots organizers who are building a base of like-minded activists. Jim Gilliam, a Los Angeles-based Web developer, says that unlike conservatives, progressives see Twitter "more as a way to connect people with each other." He helped found TweetProgress.us, a directory of progressive Twitter users, and is currently working on GovLuv.org, a nonpartisan governmental directory scheduled to debut in September. He and his progressive colleagues use Twitter to collate support from the bottom up, rather than send messages from the top down.
Jim Gilliam, a veteran of left-leaning Brave New Films, told me he set up White House 2 as a model of what he'd like the real White House Web site to look like. "I hope that people will use it to organize, and that's what will give it critical mass and get people engaged ... People who are coming here are definitely saying, 'We're going to change the world.'"
Jim Gilliam is only 28 years old. In a previous incarnation, he was a venture capitalist and a chief technology officer. Now his voice is a old man's rasp and he does not have the strength to cook his own food. He is waiting for a double lung transplant. But sick in his bedroom, Gilliam had a revolutionary idea: Why not get the audience to pay for a movie before it gets made? He calls it "People Powered Film." It could be the start of something.
Jim Gilliam sits with his back board-stiff against the headrest of his bed, his legs dangling off the end. That's life when you're 6-foot-9. He has no hair, and he's about as white as they make white guys. He's not making a fashion statement, not trying to replace the lead singer of Midnight Oil. The breathing tube under his nose might have been your first clue.
Hollywood producers Robert Greenwald and Jim Gilliam are among those challenging such assumptions. [...] Just weeks after [Outfoxed] was released in theaters, the producers posted 48 minutes of original interviews from the work online. Gilliam credits the Internet with boosting interest in the movie because it reached a wider audience than it could in theaters alone. "This isn't necessarily just some altruistic thing," Gilliam said. "You can make money off of this, too."
"When the sexual harassment allegations came out I was like, 'People have to see this.' This fits into the pattern that he has been showing if you just watch his show," explained Gilliam. In watching hours of O'Reilly's show, Gilliam said a disturbing pattern emerges. In taking numerous clips of his shows that deal with sexual topics, he said that O'Reilly's choice of subject matter is not always topical. "It's not like all of a sudden in the news everyone's talking about the wet T-shirt contest in Florida. It's not interesting to a lot of people but yet he deliberately seeks them out," Gilliam told Access.
"Uncovered" associate producer Jim Gilliam said he wants to help future filmmakers avoid having to navigate the legal terrain. [...] Gilliam welcomes any reuse - even for moneymaking projects that don't pay him a dime. "Every time someone takes a clip from `Outfoxed,' they have to attribute it," he said. "That serves as a marketing vehicle."
Jim Gilliam, a 26-year-old former dot-com executive and a producer of "Outfoxed," is enthusiastic about the way Greenwald's projects meld grass-roots politics with the culture of the Internet. He predicts a future - augured by events like MoveOn's competition for the best 30-second anti-Bush advertisement - in which young political filmmakers will be as likely to wield a camera phone as a digital camera. "It won't be long before people will be shooting and editing short documentaries that they'll stream from their blogs," he says.
The Eparty's Over
Business.com had trouble even before its launch in June, beginning with the search engine at the heart of the site. The job was entrusted to US Interactive, the teetering Internet consulting outfit. But US Interactive botched the job, and a desperate Winebaum turned at the last minute to 23-year-old Jim Gilliam, a techie who joined eCompanies from Lycos. Gilliam put in several round-the-clock days to patch together the search engine.
Late last year, the founders of Business.com handed James Gilliam, now their chief technology officer, a hairball of a problem: build from scratch an operating system to neatly browse more than 300,000 companies, divided into 25,000 industry categories and over 1 million pages. And keep in mind that the number of categories, like rabbits, will constantly expand. It took him less than two months. Lucky for them, Mr. Gilliam, though only 23, had already given the matter of information retrieval a good deal of thought.