Microsoft launches campaign, engagement application TownHall

The citizen engagement application space has a new addition,  Microsoft’s latest release – TownHall. TownHall is a cloud based engagement application running on the Windows Azure platform. TownHall users accumulate points for participating and answering questions, which Microsoft says “combines the grassroots appeal of the town hall meeting with the reach of the web.”  CivSource spoke with Stan Freck, Director of Cloud Computing for Microsoft Public Sector about the application and how it can be used at the state and local level.

Microsoft announced TownHall as part of a broader array of applications called Campaign Ready at the Politics Online Conference yesterday. According to the company, Campaign Ready will allow users to use Microsoft technology to engage with citizens. TownHall is free for public use – users can download the code from the Campaign Ready site and includes some basic templates to get started. There will also be additional clients available for mobile including the Windows 7 phone. The only cost associated is Azure usage and any customization beyond uploading images to the templates.

Currently, NASA is using the application for its Be A Martian campaign, and Microsoft has primarily done outreach at the national government level. However, Freck did point out that TownHall is fully scalable for smaller projects at the state and local level.

Because it’s a cloud based application, users can put up or take down their TownHall as needed. Additionally, usage cost is very low and depends entirely on participation. “I think there are some interesting possible applications within the state and local space, however there is a threshold for activity. The alderman of a small town may not have the inclination to set it up, but at the state level or at the state agency level it can be a valuable tool.”

Freck also noted that the data generated in TownHall belongs to the user who set it up. Granular participation data is compiled in an SQL database which administrators can download and use. Freck pointed to the potential for comparing the results with other data sets such as donor rolls, or identifying needs in particular geographic area. “I think it can be a great platform for having a conversation with constituents,” he said.

Users who are interested in trying it out can go to the TownHall demo site and log in with the username “demouser” and password “demopassword” (without the quotes) to check it out.