Crabgrass - secure online collaboration


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Crabgrass is a secure web-based organising tool specifically designed for activists. It can function as a social platform where you can discuss with other people, as well as organizing tasks in private groups. This guide will give an overview of the options available when using Crabgrass. This is a social networknig tool tailored specifically to meet the needs of bottum up grassroot organising as it has the ability to collaborate online, share files, tasks and projects.

Required reading

What you will get from this guide

  • A social networking tool tailored specifically to meet the needs of bottom up grassroots organising.
  • The ability to collaborate online as a group and share files, track tasks and projects, make decisions and build repositories of shared knowledge.
  • The ability of multiple groups to work together on projects in a democratic manner.
  • The option to publish or hide certain pages.

1. How to create a Crabgrass Account

Step 1. To create a Crabgrass account open your web browser, (we recommend Firefox web browser with security add-ons or Tor Browser), and type into the address bar, to arrive at Crabgrass's homepage.

Figure 1: The page

Note: The s in the https:// address indicates that you are now communicating through a Secure Socket Layer (SSL) connection.

For more information about this, please refer to the Keep your Online Communication Private guide and

1.1 Registering a Crabgrass account

Step 1. Click New Account to activate the Create Your Account page:

Figure 2: The Crabgrass Create Your Account page

Step 2. Create your Crabgrass account by choosing a user name, a password and accepting the terms of the usage agreement.

Enter your chosen user name into the field beneath Your login name. Then choose a secure password, enter it in the field Your Password and repeat it in the field Confirm Password.

To learn how to create a strong password, please refer to the How-to Booklet chapter How to Create and Maintain Good Passwords and to the manual on KeePass.

You will not be sent an email that asks you to confirm the account so make sure that you store your password safely.

After you have read the Usage Agreement, click in the check box to enable the I accept's social contract. option.

You have the option of entering your email address in the field Your Email. Your email address enables you to recover your Crabgrass account in case you lose your password. It is, however, also a risk. If any third party has access to your email account they can also access your Crabgrass account and with it all information you have added there. Not leaving your email address is the more secure option but remember that you will have no possibility of regaining access to your Crabgrass account should you lose your password.

To learn more about secure usage of email please read the How-to Booklet chapter Securing your email.

Step 3. Click to finish creating your account.

Figure 3: Your registration was successful

After you have successfully created an account you will be prompted to your Crabgrass Dashboard.

1.2 How to Log into Your Crabgrass Account

Step 1: Go to the Crabgrass log-in page. Crabgrass is configured to only allow https connections. Therefore you must type https into the address bar of your browser in the beginning of the URL. This ensures that your data are encrypted while they are sent from your browser to the Crabgrass server. On the server your data is stored in encrypted format.

Step 5: Enter your user name and password.

Figure 4: The log-in page with user name and password filled in

Step 6: Click and you're logged in.

After you have successfully logged into your account you will be prompted to your Crabgrass Dashboard.

Figure 5: The Crabgrass Dashboard

1.3 Lost password

Step 1: If you lose the password to your Crabgrass account you can only retrieve it if you have entered your email address when you registered the account.

Figure 6: The Crabgrass Log-in page

Step 2: Go to the Log-In page and click Forgot Password.

Figure 7: The Forgot Password page

Step 3: Enter your email address and click Reset Password.

Figure 8: Message telling your that your password has been reset

Step 4: You will then receive an email with the subject " You have requested a change of password". In the body of the email you will find a link that allows you to reset your password. The link will only be valid for 24 hours to prevent that someone can change your password who may gain access to your email account later on.

Click the link, enter a new password and confirm the password. Again, make sure that it's long, contains special characters and can't be found in a dictionary.

Click to reset your password.

Figure 9: Message telling you that your password has been reset

Step 5 Once you have registered and logged into your Crabgrass account you will be prompted to the Dashboard. The Welcome message tells you about some of the things you can do to customise your account. You can later hide the Welcome message by clicking in the bottow right corner of the screen.

Figure 10: Crabgrass dashboard

2. How to Change the User Preferences

From the dashboard, if you click you will be able to edit the settings for your account. There are three tabs, one each for the User Preferences, your Public Profile and your Private Profile. The Public Profile is visible to anyone who visits your Crabgrass account website. The Private Profile is visible only to those people who you accepted as friends on Crabgrass.

It is useful to leave as little information as possible to achieve more privacy. The more information you leave about yourself the more might be accessed by others. In some cases you might want to leave this kind of information, for example if you want to reach out to other users you may not know yet.

But any information about yourself could also be used to trace you. Therefore, if you want to use Crabgrass as a collaboration platform only with people you know and who know you it might be better to not leave any contact information such as phone numbers, email address, messaging services or your location.

In this case you only need to let your friends know your Crabgrass user name and they will be able to find and contact you.

Please be aware as well that leaving your email address may help adversaries to intercept the communication between Crabgrass and your mail account. For example, if you choose to receive email notifications about changes (in the user preferences) this might be used to learn what you are using Crabgrass for.

2.1 Edit user preferences

The User Preferences allow you to choose some basic settings for your account: your user name, the display name (the one everybody can see), email address, language and time zone. Here you can also change your password.

Step 1. Upload a profile picture.

You have the option to upload a picture to illustrate your profile. You can choose any image you like, it doesn't have to actually show you. However, you should be sure that you don't use a copyrighted image. If you prefer you also have the choice not to have a profile picture.

To upload a picture click , choose a picture from your computer or copy and paste the URL of an image you would like to use that is already online and click .

Your picture will be cropped and stretched to 96 pixels square. If you would like to use an image that has a different size and you want to make sure that a specific section of it becomes your profile picture you might want to crop and resize it manually before you upload it.

If you want to change the picture later you can either upload a different one following the steps described above or simply click to remove it.

Step 2. You can change your username by entering a different one into the field Username. However, be aware that this is going to change all URLs for your account. If you have not told anyone yet about your new Crabgrass account this is not a problem. But if you have already made friends or shared pages created within Crabgrass be sure to let everybody know about the change.

Step 3. You have the option to choose a Display Name that is different from your Username. The Username is what you use to log into your account. It is also part of the URL for your Crabgrass account.

The Display Name is shown next to the profile picture at the top of your account page.

Step 4. You can choose to receive email notifications about changes of Crabgrass pages you watch. If you do you have the option to either reveive an email everytime something is changed or to receive an email that notifies you about all changes that were made in one day.

Notifications by email can, however, be intercepted by others if they go via non-encrypted channels. Please read Securing your email to learn more about how you can improve your email security.

Step 5. Crabgrass lets you choose in which language the site is displayed for you. Be aware that your choice of language might give away information about you.

Step 6 In the User Preferences you can also select your Time Zone.

Please understand that settings such as language or time zone, or any kind information about yourself, allow others to get a better picture of who and possibly where you are.

Step 7 If you need to change your password enter a new password and confirm it.

Make sure you click before you leave the page! Only if you have successfully saved the changes you will see this message:

Figure 2: You have successfully updated your profile

2.2 Edit your public profile

The settings for you Public Profile can be found in the second tab of your profile settings. Here you have the option to select whether your profile will be visible to the public, which infomation about you can be accessed and whether you want to be able to be contacted by strangers. You can add information about yourself but you don't have to.

Step 1. The Permissions section of your public profile allows you to select:

  • Whether which groups you are member of and your Crabgrass contacts are visible to the general public.
  • Whether other Crabgrass users can request to be your friend.
  • Whether Crabgrass users who are not your friends can share content with you or send invitations.
  • Whether your profile is publicly visible or completely hidden.

Any information that you make publicly accessible here will be visible to anyone, not only Crabgrass users. If you don't want to be found by others than the people you already know don't make this information available.

Step 2. You have the option to add information about yourself into the section General Information of your public profile. You can fill in your name, organisation, your organisational role and location.

Step 3. The third section called Profile allows you to describe yourself, your work, personal and social change interests. You can fill in your phone number or several of them, email addresses, location, instant messaging addresses, websites and encryption keys if you have any.

You can add information by clicking , and so on. Once you do you will find the option to write into a form for each piece of information.

Step 4. You can choose to have one or more items for each type of information of your public profile. For example if you would like to enter your home, office and mobile phone number you can enter your home phone number first, then click add phone number and add another one below. If you click into the field that says home you will be able to choose from different categories for this section. In this case you will be able to choose Home, Fax, Pager, Mobile, Work and Other. Similarly you can choose different types of details for the Descriptions, Email Addresses, Location and Instant Messaging (IM) Addresses.

Step 5. You can remove information or fields you don't need simply by clicking to the right of each field.

Step 6. To add your public encryption key you need to first copy it from your keychain or export it as an .asc file, depending on the software you use to encrypt files. Make sure that you copy your public key and not the private one! You can then paste it into the field Public Encryption Keys:

Figure 3: A GPG Key pasted into the field 'Public Encryption Keys'

Once you have filled in the fields you click in the bottom right corner. You can see your public profile either by clicking 'Preview' in the first paragraph of the Settings page or by first clicking your profile's name at the top of the page and then selecting Public Profile beneath the profile picture.

Figure 4: Example of a public profile with some information filled in

This is a public profile with very little information filled in: only the website, organisation and one line of description are visible. If you like you can also choose to not have any of these.

2.3 Edit your private profile

Step 1. By clicking the tab Private Profile in the Settings page you open the page that allows you to edit your private profile. The private profile will only be accessible to people who you accept to be your friends.

The information you can provide through your private profile are exactly the same as in the public profile with one exception: instead of the option whether or not you want to allow strangers to share content with you ("may pester me") you can decide that your private profile should only be visible for people who share a group with you ("Visible to peers").

Figure 5: Example of the settings for a private profile that doesn't give away information

3. Creating a Crabgrass group

Crabgrass is a plattform designed for collaboration and sharing. There are two ways how you can share material and collaborate on a topic. Either you create a friendship with a person, create a group or join an existing one.

A group will allow you to do a number of things such as create and collaboratively work on pages that contain text, keep common task lists, make decisions together or share images, audio or video files and more. Within the group you will be able to create sub groups that are called committees and to build a network of several groups. You can join one or several chat rooms only accessible to your group or exchange messages.

3.1 Creating a group

Step 1: To create a group you can either click "Create a new group" or click the link "Create a new group" that appears once you click the 'Groups' menu at the top of the page.

Figure 1: Create a new group

Step 2. This will activate a page that allows you to create a new group. Choose a name for the group. This name can contain more than one word. Then choose a Link Name. This will be part of the URL, or address, of the group and can only contain letters or numbers and no spaces. Next, choose the language that suits your group best and upload an image from your computer. The image, like the one for your account, will be cropped and stretched to 96 pixels square. Click "Create" in the bottom right corner to create the group.

Figure 2: Example of a page to create a new group

Step 3. Once the group is created you can configure the group settings. You will be able to access all the settings later as well which gives you the choice to also change them later. Next to be basic settings you were asked to provide for the creation of the group there are options relating to Permissions, Public Profile and Featured Pages.

In the Visibility section of the Permissions, you are required to decide whether:

  • The group will be publicly visible.
  • Group committees will be publicly visible.
  • The group's members will be publicly visible.

In the Membership section you can choose whether you want to allow membership requests. If you leave this unchecked only you can add members to your group but noone can request to become a member. If you allow membership requests Crabgrass users will be able to see and click a link on your group page: "join group". Also in the Membership section you have the option to allow anyone to join without your approval. If you prefer this option check the box next to "Open Group". Make sure to save your changes by clicking in the bottom right corner of the page.

For the Administration of your group you can create a Council. Without a council any member of the group can administrate the group. A council reduces the number of people who have permission to change the settings to everyone who is a member of the Council. You can also create a council later on, see Step 5.

Figure 3: Crabgrass Group Settings - Permissions

Step 4. Next to the tab Permissions you will find a tab called Public Profile. Here you can let others know more about your group. You can add a Summary of the purpose of the group and a location.

You can upload a photo, add a caption and credit it. You can also add a video to describe your group.

3.2 Creating a council and committees for a Crabgrass group

Step 1. To create a council for the administration of your group, click in the Administration section of the Permissions tab of the Group Settings. Members of the council will share the administration of your group.

Figure 4: Page to create a new council

This will open a page that allows you to choose a name, a link name which will later be part of the URL of the council, a language and an image, or Icon, for the council of your group. Once you saved the changes you will be able to see the new council at the top of the page:

Figure 5: The council was created

Just like for any group in Crabgrass you will be able to change and adjust the Basic Settings, Permissions, the Public Profile and Featured Pages.

Once your council has been created you can go back to the settings of your group and edit Permissions, Public Profile and Featured Pages.

Step 2. Similar to creating a council you can create committees within your group. This allows members of the group to form subgroups within the group. Go to your group page and click create beneath Committees.

Figure 6: A group with a council and one committee

This will prompt you to a form very similar to the one for creating a council, see Figure 4. Once you have created the committee you can edit its settings in the same way as group and council settings can be edited.

3.3. How to use the Crabgrass tools for groups

Once your group is set up you can start using various tools suitable for your group. In the upper left corner of the dashboard you will find a green button that allows you to create a page. A page can be many things in Crabgrass: a wiki, a discussion page, task lists, polls and votes and files that you upload.

Step 1. Click 'Create page' in the upper left corner of the dashboard of your group. This will allow you to choose what tool you would like to use. A wiki can be used to write documents together and to share resources.

Figure 7: Creating a new Crabgrass page

Step 2. A group discussion page can be used as a forum to exchange view on a given topic.

Figure 8: A group discussion page

Step 3. A task list can list tasks everyone in the group shares. They can be assigned to specific members of the group who will then see all of their tasks in their own user dashboard.

Figure 9: A task list with pending and completed tasks

Step 4. Crabgrass also offers a chat function which you can find on the left hand side of the dashboard of your group. Click Join chat and enter the chat room only accessible for members of your group. Like all of Crabgrass it uses SSL encryption to secure the communication between your computer, the CCrabgrass server and those of other Crabgrass users. It does not, however, encrypt the content of your chat. If you would like to learn more about secure chat communication please read the How-to Booklet chapter Pidgin with OTR - Secure Instant Messaging.