Microsoft TownHall: Building Public Online Communities

Posted by Pamela Passman
Corporate Vice President, Global Corporate Affairs

and Curt Kolcun
Vice President, U.S. Public Sector

We’ve all seen how the Internet has fundamentally altered governments, political campaigns and issue advocacy in the United States. Many of the most impactful innovations have leveraged technology to build communities around ideas. The 2008 Obama campaign set a new standard for citizen engagement on the Web, and government agencies are following suit with Web portals like that are changing the way citizens can access information on public programs and services.

As social media tools have matured, the Web has enabled more and more two-way conversations between leaders and the people they serve, as well as between candidates and voters. The result is a more participatory process that gives citizens new ways to be heard.

To facilitate an even greater level of engagement, Microsoft has built a tool called TownHall, which is designed to maximize the benefit of online discussions. TownHall is part of Campaign Ready, a broader set of technologies for campaigns announced today at the Politics Online Conference in Washington, D.C. These resources will enable candidates and their staffs to use a rich set of familiar and emerging Microsoft technologies to identify and engage citizens on the Web as part of their campaign efforts.

TownHall offers an engagement platform that helps governments, candidates, advocates and consumers build online communities to drive richer communication around ideas, campaigns, projects or events. Individuals can pose questions, raise concerns and share ideas with other community members, and vote on positions with which they agree or disagree. Community members can publish their own participation to their social networks, and in the process draw more people into the discussion.

The most salient topics bubble to the top, allowing community leaders to easily identify and address key trends and the community’s most pressing concerns. Organizations can also conduct searches within discussions and pull targeted reports on important issues affecting their community.

An early application of TownHall can be seen in NASA’s Be a Martian project, where Microsoft partnered with NASA to build an online destination for “citizen scientists” to share information. Be a Martian’s success encouraged us to bring these same community-building principles to other organizations.

TownHall is a cloud-based solution hosted on Microsoft’s Windows Azure platform, and can be accessed in real-time through any mobile device. It’s easy to get started, and the code can be downloaded here for free –

To see the initial wave of Campaign Ready resources, a set of existing Microsoft products and services suited to the many business, political, technical and infrastructure needs for running a political or advocacy campaign, visit We’ll be expanding Campaign Ready to incorporate even more tools, so we welcome your feedback and suggestions.