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There are a lot of digital tools out there that offer to make our lives better in some way. What if using corporate tools could make our organizing easier? Isn’t it worth using the master’s tools to bring down the master?

I thought about writing a tirade on Evites, but I realized my criticism of Evites was more of a general criticism of so-called tools that we use even though they don’t offer much. They may look flashy and shiny (although Evites don’t even have that going for them...) and there must be some reason that so many folks use them. Thanks to technology, I can write micro-blog entries from a cell phone and share the books that I’ve read, websites I like, my travel plans, and every other bit of minutia about me. I’ve never publicized all this information before and it’s not clear why it would be interesting to anybody but marketers, but maybe this is what technology is all about. Other people are doing it, so why shouldn’t I?

So what about Evites? What does an Evite offer to those invited to an event? It requires opening the Evite link to see the actual information about the event (where, when, etc.). It means anybody invited to the event can see who else is invited, if they are coming, whether they are bringing a hot date, etc. To some, this sort of voyeurism might be interesting, or even motivate them to attend an event they wouldn’t have attended otherwise.

But to others, an Evite might deter event attendance. Maybe the Evite invitation has been blocked as spam, maybe going to the Evite website is a pain, or impossible if one’s employer has blocked Evite. Maybe some get pissed that everybody else invited (or with the proper URL) can see that they have some tie with the organization and were invited to the event. Maybe somebody is uncomfortable attending an event if they were forwarded the Evite, and weren’t themselves invited. Even if Evite does make organizing the event a teensy-bit simpler for organizers (and I’m skeptical of this), shouldn’t the organizers add a bit of burden to themselves to make attendance as easy and welcoming as possible for potential attendees?

Why does Evite exist? Because some folks want to be “Your Own Personal Party Planner?” Like most so-called free web services, Evite does what it does to make money off you—they aren’t doing it out of their own love of Superbowl parties or anarchist picnics. According to the annual report of IAC/InterActiveCorp, the corporation that owns Evite, in 2007 they brought in $758.5 million dollars in revenue from Evite and Citysearch. Evite presumably makes their money off ads and partnerships with people selling you shit. I don’t think they currently offer paid-premium services, but maybe in the future they will. They probably aren’t selling their list of email addresses to other companies, or giving them to the NSA, but maybe they’ll choose to do that, too. And if the government were to subpoena them for a list of people invited to a radical event, do you think they would stand up to it? Not that the government would even need a subpoena to compile a map of social networks from Evites—it’s all public information.

To further complicate matters, it’s not just corporate tools that we need to be skeptical of. Many tools are developed for pure reasons, but still don’t make sense for every job. I’m thinking of complicated Content Management Systems, like Drupal. Drupal is an open-source tool for building and maintaining websites. For many organizations, a Drupal site is great. But for others, it’s complete overkill—it doesn’t make sense to put resources into using the features Drupal provides, and instead organizations use Drupal to do what could be done just as well with a static HTML website. I see this as an example of the non-profit industrial complex, and the perceived need to professionalize organizations, but it is also an example of feeling pressure, maybe from a so-called expert, to use a tool that isn’t really useful for the need in question.

I guess my point is to be skeptical. Tools can be great, and we should use them. But we need to evaluate what tools to use, and why. We all know that the norms of the system are fucked, and that “everybody is doing it” is not an argument for anything. But it can be hard to determine what new hyped toys are worth using, and which are bogus. In some cases, it might be worth looking at offensive advertising or accepting security violations in order to reach a broader community or to simplify our organizing. But sometimes a tool only offers the downsides, with minimal advantages. We should be careful about normalizing the movement’s use of the master’s tools, and affirming the idea that others know what we need better than we do.

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