Environmental non-governmental organization (NGO) Greenpeace is at the forefront when it comes to driving environmental change. With offices in more than 40 countries, Greenpeace is directly helping to move the needle on global environmental issues such as climate change and deforestation, and as such is one of largest and most visible NGOs in the world.
Its website, Greenpeace.org, plays a central role in its mission to save the planet by acting as a front door to educate users and as portal to encourage activism.
Greenpeace recently announced Planet 4 — the successor to Planet 3 and the codename for the redesign of Greenpeace.org — which aims to deliver a better content experience and provide a more streamlined navigation for its global supporters to take action.
The redesign was in part fueled by a desire to better amplify Greenpeace’s global message to its millions of supporters and is slated for release in 2017. It will be built on the open-source content management system WordPress, aligning with Greenpeace’s goals both from an ethical and application standpoint.
“[The goal of our site] is to state our values as they address climate change, biodiversity, preserving the forest, and all of the things that we do in a clear way that allows casual visitors to the website, or returning supporters, to easily find out what those values are and to take action,” Sr. Global Campaign Strategist at Greenpeace Davin Hutchins told Velocitize.
WordPress is an agile, secure, and scalable platform which is currently used to power more than 27 percent of all websites. Planet 4 will provide Greenpeace with the flexibility to have more control over user experience and empower them to go beyond the traditional non-profit content experience.
The new site aims to create different content experiences that are more reflective of its users. This means that site visitors will easily be able to write their own petition, host a local event, share their Greenpeace story, and more.
“When we dream of different content types or new ways to get different people involved, there’s a more direct path of them feeling empowered to do something about the planet,” Hutchins said.
Planet 4 will be used for more than just a place to distribute content and tell the Greenpeace story. It will be used as a portal for activism and movement. “We actually want them [site visitors] to have a user journey where they can decide on a personalized track that resonates with them in their own lives and feeds into the larger goal to save the planet,” Hutchins said.
This type of experience isn’t possible on Planet 3 because of the inflexibility and challenges presented by a closed, proprietary solution.
Open Source for the win
The platform selection process for Planet 4 took roughly six months and required the selection group, which Hutchins was a part of, to evaluate several content management systems. The group assessed only open-source solutions for a variety of reasons including cost and transparency.
“One advantage of open source is the code is free, the modifications are free, and really you’re only paying for people that understand the specific vision of the customizer […] If we went with some of the other solutions, it might be too reliant on the outside agencies,” said Hutchins.
Keeping costs low is important to Greenpeace because as an NGO they are beholden to their supporters, and as such aim to keep costs as low as possible.
Transparency is another big reason why an open-source solution was the obvious choice. Roughly two years ago, Greenpeace embraced what they call the seven shifts of campaigning — and one big part of that is transparency “to be less secretive and be more open with how we do things,” Hutchins said.
The group narrowed the options to WordPress and Drupal, both of which have been used for various campaigns and microsites throughout Greenpeace’s history.
“We wanted to make sure that we can provide something that was scalable, secure, but also something easy for people to understand and in offices where they don’t have a high technical bar, like Southeast Asia or Africa,” Hutchins said.
In the end, the group selected WordPress. “We polled a dozen or so people internally who were either web users or web developers,” he said. “WordPress just seemed to win out because people thought there was a lower barrier to entry in terms of understanding. You don’t have to be a coder to actually build something, which is attractive.”
Hutchins went on to highlight the ethical similarities between Greenpeace and WordPress as well, referencing how his personal experience at WordCamp US in 2015 felt similar to a Greenpeace conference.
“No one is motivated primarily by profit,” he said. They’re motivated by a democratization of, in this case, code and publishing, and sharing information. There’s definitely a common spirit between WordPress and Greenpeace.”
Data-driven content experience
With ambitions to deliver a more customized user experience, Planet 4 will need to leverage user data in new ways.
“To deliver a compelling content experience, I think people should know a little bit about you and what your issues your going through and the kind of things you’re willing to do,” Hutchins said. “Are you someone who’s likely to go to an event? Are you likely to protest? Do you want to start a group on something? Those are going to be custom journeys where we know a little bit about the people as they come through the site and what they want to do and hopefully when they return, it remembers what those interests are.”
There are of course concerns around user privacy and security. “It’s too early to tell to what degree user data would be used on Planet 4, but we do want to find some comfortable middle ground,” Hutchins said.
Moreover, as a volunteer-led organization, another objective of Planet 4 is to showcase the different work volunteers are doing. While this currently shines through on Planet 3, Hutchins said that an objective for Planet 4 is do an even better job in having people share their stories on what motivates them and what their values are.
“I think what we’re hoping to have Planet 4 be a mirror to site visitors — so if you come to the website and you make your own content, you may see people who look and think just like you and they’re trying to do a similar kind of thing. We definitely want it to be a reflection of the community and a reflection of the community values and that’s going to come down to custom content types,” Hutchins said.
Planet 4 also opens up an opportunity for Greenpeace to rethink the way they tell their stories. The NGO currently works with agencies and internal filmmakers on a variety of projects including visual trips, short films, and VR experiences. “I think we can also push the visual storytelling as well with the new platform,” Hutchins said.
“We have to really define the non-text content space and create more immersive experiences, photo experiences, social experiences from events, and 360 experiences,” he said.
Open source is creating a world of possibilities for different ways to engage with site visitors in new and dynamic ways. With WordPress, users control their own publishing experience without the arduous task of collaborating with a team of developers and an outside agency to make minor changes or to spin up a campaign site. This enables sites like Greenpeace.org to move with confidence and agility towards accomplishing their goals.
Hutchins said they will roll out Planet 4 to early adopting offices over the next year and “we’re hoping to have a prototype we can actually test and showcase within the next couple of quarters.”
From NGOs like Greenpeace and massive publications like The New York Times and Wired to enterprise companies like Sony and GM — mission-critical sites are choosing open source to power their digital experiences. These sites are at the cutting-edge when it comes to open-source innovation, showing the power of embracing the open web and creating more dynamic experiences online.