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People

Hovercast helped Democrats raise millions of dollars. Now, it’s looking for its next act.

The startup will help make Wednesday's inauguration festivities more interactive.

Bernie Sanders campaign raising money with Hovercast

Hovercast helped Bernie Sanders raise money for his campaign, and is now streaming one of the inaugural events.

Image: Hovercast

During any other inauguration, Washington, D.C., would be abuzz with parties right about now, with officials mingling behind closed doors with big-check fundraisers and other high-profile supporters. While many of those events have been canceled this year, the Delaware and Pennsylvania Democrats decided to instead team up for a virtual event.

Their "Biden Home States Inauguration Celebration" is being powered by Hovercast, a startup that has become a bit of a magic bullet for Democrats during the 2020 campaign. By combining livestreams hosted by the stars of "Hamilton" and "Parks and Recreation" with audience participation, Hovercast helped Democrats raise millions of dollars for crucial swing state races. With Wednesday's event, the company is looking to pivot to its next act: helping Dems govern.

Hovercast was founded with the goal of making livestreams more interactive, CEO Eli Stonberg told Protocol. "Often our clients come to us asking for help, making something that goes beyond a Zoom. They don't want it just to feel like a conference call."

To break through the Zoom fatigue, Hovercast allows live event producers to incorporate a number of interactive elements, including polls, trivia and calls to action. The platform also lets livestreamers pipe in select comments from Facebook, YouTube, Twitch and Twitter, lifting up positive voices and doing away with abusive online trolling. "We're really more focused on curation than moderation, but the moderation is part of it," Hovercast CTO Jeff Greco said.

Greco and Stonberg first began working together on an event for ad agency Wieden+Kennedy, which was looking to produce a Twitch-like live event for its client Old Spice. When they co-founded Hovercast in 2018, Greco's past experience working for progressive tech consulting firm Blue State Digital as well as the Obama Foundation helped open doors to Democratic campaigns. "We kind of bounced from Tom Steyer to Andrew Yang to Bernie Sanders," Stonberg said.

The company also worked with Democrats from Wisconsin, Georgia, Ohio and Minnesota to raise money for their swing state races. "We were really able to help elevate and spread the message of these campaigns on a national level," Greco said. These livestreams often featured celebrities like Lin-Manuel Miranda, Will Ferrell and Aubrey Plaza, who joined them from the safety of their own homes. "The barrier for entry was so much lower for them that they were all so enthusiastic to participate," he said.

Wednesday's virtual event is scheduled to include participation from Sens. Bob Casey and Chris Coons as well as state party dignitaries and musical guests. Biden himself will join via a pre-recorded video. Just as important will be the audience itself, Greco said. "A lot of audience members are really motivated to help you put on a good show," he said. "Our platform really lets them sort of jump into the control room with us and be a part of it."

That includes people who usually wouldn't be able to participate in these kinds of festivities. "[These] events were typically restricted just to high donors in Washington, D.C.-proper on the weekend of the inauguration," Greco said. "We are excited to let voters of all stripes participate from home."

This kind of more inclusive approach could also help Hovercast pivot to a role beyond fundraising by allowing representatives to talk to their constituents. "We've definitely seen how successful interactive livestreaming can be for campaigning and fundraising," Greco said. "I can't help wondering what interactive livestreaming could do to help governing."

Of course, there's also always the next election cycle, which is just a year away. Hovercast wants to continue to work for nonprofits, and allow them to hold virtual and hybrid online events even after the pandemic subsides.

But this week, everyone is focused on the inauguration. "I so badly wish that I would be able to be in Washington, stand in the National Mall and see this inauguration," Greco said. "But given the fact that the National Mall is closed and there is a pandemic going on, I'm excited about doing the next best thing."

People

No editing, no hashtags: Dispo wants you to live in the moment

David Dobrik's new photography app harkens back to the days of the disposable camera.

Dispo turns the concept of a photography app into something altogether different.

Image: Katya Sapozhnina, Diana Morgan, Amanda Luke

Instagram was once a place to share Starbucks cups and high-contrast pet photos. After Facebook acquired it in 2012, it has turned into a competition of getting as many likes as possible (using the same formula over and over: post the best highly-curated, edited photos with the funniest captions). More recently, it's essentially become a shopping mall, with brands falling over themselves to be heard through the noise. Doing something "for the gram" — scaling buildings, posting the same cringe picture over and over — became the norm. Pop-up museums litter cities with photo ops for posts; "camera eats first"; everything can be a cute Instagram story; everything is content.

And to be clear, Dispo — a buzzy new photography app that just came out of beta — is still a place for content. It probably isn't going to fix our collective online brains and their inclination to share everything about our private lives with others online. It's still an app, and it's still social media, and it encourages documenting your life. But it runs pretty differently than any other image-sharing app out there. And that might be what helps it stand out in an oversaturated market of social networking apps.

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Jane Seidel

Jane Seidel is Protocol's social media manager. She was previously a platform producer at The Wall Street Journal, creating mobile content and crafting alert strategy. Prior to that, she worked in audience development at WSJ and on digital editorial at NBC Universal. She lives in Brooklyn.

Sponsored Content

Building better relationships in the age of all-remote work

How Stripe, Xero and ModSquad work with external partners and customers in Slack channels to build stronger, lasting relationships.

Image: Original by Damian Zaleski

Every business leader knows you can learn the most about your customers and partners by meeting them face-to-face. But in the wake of Covid-19, the kinds of conversations that were taking place over coffee, meals and in company halls are now relegated to video conferences—which can be less effective for nurturing relationships—and email.

Email inboxes, with hard-to-search threads and siloed messages, not only slow down communication but are also an easy target for scammers. Earlier this year, Google reported more than 18 million daily malware and phishing emails related to Covid-19 scams in just one week and more than 240 million daily spam messages.

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Politics

Democrats say Facebook cost them days of critical, last-minute advertising

On Tuesday, Facebook said it fixed a "bug" blocking political ads. On Thursday, groups like Priorities USA were still waiting.

Democrats say they've waited days for Facebook to fix a "bug" in its political ad system.

Image: Eynav Raphael and Protocol

On Tuesday night, Facebook emailed some advertisers to say that it had fixed a "bug" that was inadvertently blocking a broad swath of political ads from running in the final days leading up to the presidential election. But advertisers including the Biden campaign and Priorities USA, a major Democratic PAC, say the issue has taken days to resolve, costing candidates crucial time they'll never get back.

The bug stemmed from Facebook's decision to prohibit all new political and social issue ads before the election, a policy the company announced in early October. But when Facebook flipped the switch on Tuesday just after midnight, political groups and campaigns, including Biden's, reported having loads of previously approved ads unexpectedly shut off. On Tuesday night, according to a copy of the message reviewed by Protocol, Facebook informed advertisers that the "majority of incorrectly paused ads are now restored to the ad status they were in prior to being paused." But by Thursday morning, Priorities USA told Protocol that 500 ads were still being blocked. That included ads directing people to hotlines if they're having trouble voting in key swing states like North Carolina and Arizona.

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Issie Lapowsky
Issie Lapowsky (@issielapowsky) is a senior reporter at Protocol, covering the intersection of technology, politics, and national affairs. Previously, she was a senior writer at Wired, where she covered the 2016 election and the Facebook beat in its aftermath. Prior to that, Issie worked as a staff writer for Inc. magazine, writing about small business and entrepreneurship. She has also worked as an on-air contributor for CBS News and taught a graduate-level course at New York University’s Center for Publishing on how tech giants have affected publishing. Email Issie.
Transforming 2021

Blockchain, QR codes and your phone: the race to build vaccine passports

Digital verification systems could give people the freedom to work and travel. Here's how they could actually happen.

One day, you might not need to carry that physical passport around, either.

Photo: CommonPass

There will come a time, hopefully in the near future, when you'll feel comfortable getting on a plane again. You might even stop at the lounge at the airport, head to the regional office when you land and maybe even see a concert that evening. This seemingly distant reality will depend upon vaccine rollouts continuing on schedule, an open-sourced digital verification system and, amazingly, the blockchain.

Several countries around the world have begun to prepare for what comes after vaccinations. Swaths of the population will be vaccinated before others, but that hasn't stopped industries decimated by the pandemic from pioneering ways to get some people back to work and play. One of the most promising efforts is the idea of a "vaccine passport," which would allow individuals to show proof that they've been vaccinated against COVID-19 in a way that could be verified by businesses to allow them to travel, work or relax in public without a great fear of spreading the virus.

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Mike Murphy

Mike Murphy ( @mcwm) is the director of special projects at Protocol, focusing on the industries being rapidly upended by technology and the companies disrupting incumbents. Previously, Mike was the technology editor at Quartz, where he frequently wrote on robotics, artificial intelligence, and consumer electronics.

People

For get-out-the-vote organizers, life is just one long Zoom call

With door-to-door canvassing largely out of the question, volunteers are organizing and canvassing on Zoom. It's exhausting, and it's working.

In previous years, canvassing was more of a physical activity.

Photo: Chris Montgomery/Unsplash

Every weekday just before 6 p.m. in Iowa, 20-year-old Democratic party organizer Pilar McDonald logs onto a Zoom call and awaits the arrival of her phone-banking volunteers. For the next three hours, she helps anywhere from seven to 15 callers — many of them grandparents — troubleshoot their microphones and calling software. She answers questions in the chat, leads technical trainings and keeps a watchful eye as each little block on her screen gets to work.

When it's time to make calls, McDonald's volunteers mute themselves, turn down their computer mics and dial their phones while sitting in front of their screens, often for hours at a time. McDonald stays on as moral and technical support; the volunteers use the Zoom chat or breakout rooms to ask for help and catch up between calls. "It always poses a bit of difficulty, because sometimes I need to tell someone something and their volume is down," McDonald said, laughing. She also uses the time to make her own calls, when she can, because her bosses expect their organizers to make around 200 recruiting calls a day.

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Anna Kramer

Anna Kramer is a reporter at Protocol (@ anna_c_kramer), where she helps write and produce Source Code, Protocol's daily newsletter. Prior to joining the team, she covered tech and small business for the San Francisco Chronicle and privacy for Bloomberg Law. She is a recent graduate of Brown University, where she studied International Relations and Arabic and wrote her senior thesis about surveillance tools and technological development in the Middle East.

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