Saturday, April 30, 2005

I think it's going to be Drupal

extension337 | Nonprofits, technology, seredipity and social change. I'm doing some more playing around. Let me know what you think.

One of the things that I really like about drupal is the integration of other RSS feeds into the site.

(in: housekeeping)

Friday, April 29, 2005

With her floppy hat

With her floppy hat
With her floppy hat,
originally uploaded by gorickjones.
Consider this the monthly parental pride posting.

Go read it right now.

Tuesday, April 26, 2005

So you wanna start a blog?

Okay. You're a nonprofit decision-maker.You've read the what's-a-blog articles (1,2, 3, 4). You saw the cover of this week's Business Week. And now you've decided to take the plunge. What are your next steps?

  1. Choose your tool.
    Are you wavering in your commitment and love of the form? Not sure if it'll work for your organization? You want this to be in "beta"? Beta like it might not work. Like you might decide not to go forward with it. Then blogger is the tool for you. Even the hosting can be free. And it's stable. Google owns it and they're not going away.

    You feel more sure? You know that you want to do this and you've assigned someone to keep the blog up-to-date but you don't want to invest heavily in a technology infrastructure? Go Typepad. Typepad provides a few more options -- notably trackbacks and categories -- that adds to the managability and conversationality of your blog.

    Feel strongly that you want this on your own servers? You want to be able to build and customize as you see fit? Two good options for you, both open source: WordPress or drupal, specifically the CivicSpace fork. WordPress can give be a good light-weight Content Management System. Drupal/CivicSpace is a big box of legos but gives you a powerful tool for organizing your website. I don't recommend either of these options if you don't have good, confident technology assistance (though, volunteers can be had).


  2. Name your weblog.
    Don't spend too much time on this but do spend some. Give it a name that you like, that fits somehow with your organization. You also have the opportunity to provide a description. Think of this like a title and a subtitle. Don't call it "My Blog" or something else similarly vague. I've named my own blog after my phone extension -- it's mine but still linked to my job. The name you choose for your weblog can help your position in Google (I haven't done a very good job of this). Including a word or phrase that you'd like to own -- something that, when plugged into Google, returns your site -- can be a good idea but don't get too artificial or too long.



  3. Turn on RSS.
    Don't worry about what it stands for. Don't even worry about what it is. Okay, worry a little bit. It stands for Really Simple Syndication. And you will need to use it. But don't worry about what it is technically. When you are setting up your weblog, one of the options will be to set up a web feed. This may also be referred to as a subscription option. Make it available. All you need to do is check the box and -- automagically! -- the weblog software will generate an additional page of code based on your weblog which will allow people to use third party aggregators to subscribe to your site.

    When you do this, you will be presented with some options for your subscription. The wording will vary but typically these options are: headlines, headlines plus a few words, or the full posting. This refers to the content that people will receive in their aggregator. Only want them to know what you titled your post? Choose headline. Want them to get the first little bit of text or a few descriptive sentences that you provide? Choose the second option. Or do you want them to get all of your posted goodness straight into their aggregator? Choose the third.

    I say: pick the third. Yes, I know. The first two force people to click-thru to your site. There, not only will they get your posted words of wisdom, they will also have the chance to prowl around. Heck, they may even decide to give you some money. Except you better be really good at writing those headlines because they may not decide to click. They may not link to you because they don't have enough information. They may even be using RSS to read weblogs while offline. In which case, they need to like what you gave them enough to fire up their computer later, when connected, and go back to your headline, click and see what's on your site.


  4. Permalinks, permalinks, permalinks.
    Permalinks are built into the weblog software that I recommend above. In fact, you'd have to make a bigger effort to turn then off then to use them. Essentially, these provide an individual URL for each post. They keep people from having to say, when forwarding your weblog URL, Okay, go to this page and then scroll down. Under the picture of the yak. It's the third headline. Permalinks give an individual URL to a chunk of your content. Folks can forward this and link to it as they desire.


  5. Make it easy for people to share your content.
    Okay. This is really just reinforcing the last two points. Full-feed RSS and permalinks make it very easy to share your content. People can email it, they can link to it. They can save it. They can even reprint parts of it. None of this is bad. It's allowing the power of the web to work in your favor.


  6. Link.
    Don't be afraid of links. Include them -- link to other organizations, weblogs, news articles -- in your weblog posts. Sure, some people will click on the first one and never come back. For other readers, though, you are providing a valuable service by pointing them to important information in your area of expertise. They may leave, but they'll come back. And they will come back because you will become a source of information for them.

    But linking isn't just about providing a clipping service for your readers. It's also about sharing your wealth -- readers and web real estate -- with others. This sharing can increase their readership and some of those folks will share right back.


  7. Read your referrer logs.
    Website metrics are a tricky business (even more so for weblogs where, I'd argue, some of the traditional notions of stickiness don't apply and where RSS can obscure the number of viewers). I'm not talking about knowing how many people hit your site today, though that can be seductive. I'm talking about knowing who is linking to you. If you can't get at a referrer log easily, add a counter to the bottom of your site.

    I recommend Site Meter and Stat Counter. Both are free. Both can be displayed in various ways and are very easy to insert into a page. And both will provide information on where your web traffic is coming from. Click through. Look at the pages.


  8. Comment on other weblogs.
    You can comment on other weblogs in two ways: on their site and yours. Both have value.

    Comment on their site when you are really just adding a little bit to their post. When you want to say, Hey, I found this interesting and here's a little tidbit that I can add to that. You bring value to their site but you also show them that you are paying attention. And that you are willing to contribute to the web wide conversation -- not just the conversation happening on your own weblog.

    Comment on your site if you have something really substantial to say and you think that it would be of benefit to your audience. If someone else's posts or thoughts are really just a jumping off place for you, make a post to your own site being certain to link to the site provided the catalyst. Not only does this give your readers a fuller sense of where you are coming from, it creates the links necessary for a wider conversation.


  9. Use trackback if your software supports it.
    Trackback provides a mechanism for others to -- automagically! -- alert and update your site when they make a post based on one of yours. This will show up in your referrer logs.


  10. Turn on your own comments..
    Let it be anonymous or not. Moderated or don't. But give people a chance to chime in. Just like your comments add value to their website, their comments add value to yours. And be prepared for people to disagree with you, to ask you for things, to express their opinions. That means you've hit something in them and it's not bad.

    Delete the profane and spam as you will but leave everything else. If someone is harsh or rude, others will recognize it and they will recognize you for allowing conversations to take place rather than just accepting me-too comments.


  11. Archives.
    This implies that you are posting. Obvious? Maybe. But you've got to do it. Don't wait until you've perfected and polished that 1,000 word treatise. Post early and often. A little link will do you. Show up, on your weblog, every day. Ask for thoughts and then respond. Pay attention, both to your corner and the weblog world in general.

    Archives, by month, provide a history. As such, they develop your credibility and show your investment.



[I just put this post up in ConsultantCommons.org. I made it available in book form which means you can edit it. As always, your comments and suggestions are welcome]
(in: blog, npech)

Monday, April 25, 2005

Do you have anything to add?

What's wrong with RSS for mailing lists?

Depends on the kind of list and the purpose.

Using it to republish publicly available lists on a website? Good. Using it to keep up with a list that is announcement only? Good. Using to keep on a list that requires members to communicate with one another? Bad.

Mailing lists that depend on their members sharing information and responding to one another are done a disservice by RSS. RSS tools don't make it easy to reply by email and that is what these mailing lists are all about.

Just in case you thought I was all RSS, all the time.

(in: mailinglists, currency, consumption)

Friday, April 22, 2005

And we're up.

ConsultantCommons.org (beta) | Sharing Tools for Nonprofit Technology Support. It's working again. There may be some other changes over the weekend so the site might have some down-time.

We're working on it.

ConsultantCommons.org is down. We're working on moving the current site over to it's own account (it was previously in a development account) and setting it up so that we can have a production instance and a development instance. Looks likes it's taking a little longer than we thought.

You see? We meant it when we said "beta."

(in: consultantcommons, housekeeping, themeaningofbeta)

Thursday, April 21, 2005

Running your [nonprofit] on web apps

Last week I shot evhead: Running your company on web apps to an internal mailing list and asked what folks saw as the implications from nonprofits.

Michael Shcrecker responded with a thoughtful email which I'm reprinting (with permission):

I've been thinking about this. First, it's important to realize that the risks a tech startup is willing to take with it's IT systems are different than an NPOs. A startup is likely to put up with more downtime than a NPO with clients to serve. There is also the inherent assumption that many startups have about their employees tech skills. A startup is likely to assume it's employees can maintain adequate broadband links to these web applications systems, where an NPO would be more likely to be crippled by a balky DSL connection. Also, a startup is more likely to have the resources available to evaluate the different web application offerings effectively.

Aside from that, I think the author is pointing us towards a future that, once some of the infrastructure and staff training issues are dealt with, NPOs will start moving towards as well. I think it is likely that a set of successful web applications will become available to non-profit organizations in different sectors in the medium term. I can imagine a set of arts organization management applications that a new theatre company can easily plug into, and quickly have the back office and development functionality they need. As it is now, an organization can use a commercial service like Get Active for large portions of their work.

My personal bias sees this arising out of the free and open source movement, as the economic and cultural advantages of a free tool such as CivicSpace are very strong. There is most likely a niche for a web services provider (WSP) that focuses on using open source tools for NPOs in specific sectors. This also ties into the "NPO in a box" ideas that [we've] kicked around, as well as the fifth "support" layer that some of us have envisioned as a resource to the four layer technology model.*

What do other folks think? What promise is there for nonprofits? How does this mesh with Sonny Cloward's vision for a web-based resource for the Craft Art Community? And how does it fit in with the responses to that?

*The four layers of technology may have to be another post. It's one of the ways we've been presenting technology in organizations.

(in: future, schrecker, hosts, webbased, webapps)

Monday, April 18, 2005

TechSoup Event: Welcome to Online Learning Communities and Collaboration!

Today begins a weeklong TechSoup.org event: Online Learning Communities and Collaboration. Here's the agenda:

Tuesday: What are some free or inexpensive tools for teaching, training and building learning community?

In addition to our discussion on TechSoup on Tuesday, we will have a live synchronous meeting to demonstrate a real-time communication tool. The meeting will be at 11 am PDT (see the World Clock to calculate your time at http://www.timeanddate.com.) Register on the ICT Literacy Community (free) and log in at http://www.ictliteracy.info/ICT-Community.htm. In the Member Offices area, you will see my office (Janet Salmons.) When you hit the button “Enter Now” you will download the bit of Java you need to participate on the Elluminate platform. If you have a mic you will be able to talk using voice over Internet, otherwise you can chat.

Wednesday: How can we build learning community through meetings and conferences? We'll look at some best practice examples from the Tutor/Mentor Connection and KnowPlace.

Thursday: Going from f2f to online learning...what does it take? We'll explore some factors to consider when teaching or training online.

Friday: Any more questions? Summary and resources.

I'm looking forward to participating in this conversation. Through one of our grants, we've been doing some on-line training and I know that we can improve in that area. I'm also interested in the intersection between online communities and learning. I wouldn't necessarily bundle these together in the same way. I'm looking forward to understanding more about how they relate.

(in: techsoup online_event, community)

Friday, April 15, 2005

More on the value of tagging



(in: tagging, tags, value)

We need better stories

I had lunch with Amy Luckey of Blueprint R&D yesterday. We talked about a lot of things: babies, technology, Omidyar, ConsultantCommons.org, our upcoming joint session (with NPower) at the Alliance for Nonprofit Management conference, the Nonprofit Emerging Technology Exchange, and what's possible with technology.

Of all of the things we discussed one has really set up shop in my brain: We need better stories.

We need to find a way, as Amy said, to engage the busy, visionary nonprofit exective director. This ED has a stable organization, good funding, a solid technology infrastructure and a clear idea of what he wants to do with his organization. He's never going to go to NTC. He's not even going to send someone on his staff. And he doesn't keep up with technology. He keeps up with what's going on in his mission area. This is the person, Amy said, we need to reach because he's the person that provide the subject-matter expertise, the drive, and the deep networking that can make some of what's possible with technology happen.

But it's not just finding those people and trying to get an hour of their busy time -- whether at a conference or in their own offices -- to listen to someone talk about the possibilities of things like tagging or RSS or the value of a bullet-proof open API. It's also about providing examples of innovation. Providing a way for these organizations to see themselves taking this leap.

I recently ended a concept-paper to a funder like this:

The potential [...] seems tremendous but, as yet, unknown. We do know, however, that it will take work: a committed [subject]-matter expert to drive the effort, a funder prepared to both champion and seed the work, a group of knowledgeable experts who can be available to demonstrate the possibilities, help populate the toolsets, train and motivate users, and encourage and document the possibilities, successes, and lessons. A technology platform, upon which this can be built, and which is continually made more robust, is simply the enabling device of this effort.

It's the demonstrate the possibilities part. The document the successes and lessons part.

Our stories, right now, are disaster-based. They talk about the horrors of not doing back-ups, of the need for anti-virus, of the monster spreadsheet that could be eliminated by a database. On good days, we can trot out the one about the organization who started making data-driven decisions once they got a good case management system in place.

But there's something beyond that. A place, and I believe now is the time, where nonprofits can push into innovation. When they can set themselves up to take advantage of and harness the unknown. But we need to give them examples of how this can happen. We need to build -- cobble together, really -- prototypes that demonstrate what we are saying. We need to seed the waters with things like a nonprofit-branded feedreader.

How do we do this? How do we start this effort? Gather the stories and make them available? Is this even the right place to start?



(in: storytelling, innovation, possibilities, nptech)

Or maybe Cleveland in May?

I'll also be in Cleveland this May, tentatively 15-17. Not sure, yet, if I'll be there long enough to try and get together with anyone but if anyone is interested in getting together it could certainly influence my trip plans. If you do want to get together for dinner/breakfast/coffee, drop a message in the comments.

(in: meet?, cleveland, 2005may)

I hear Chicago is lovely in July

I'm going to be in Chicago July 13-17 for the Alliance for Nonprofit Management annual conference. Anyone interested in getting together for dinner on one of those dates? Drop a note in the comments or send me an email. I always love the opportunity for good, old-fashioned face-to-face time.

(in: meet?, chicago, 2005july)

Thursday, April 14, 2005

The value of tagging isn't in search

Tim Bray in Still Wondering About Tags writes:

Are tags useful? Are there any questions you want to ask, or jobs you want to do, where tags are part of the solution, and clearly work better than old-fashioned search? I really want to believe that tagging is big, a game-changer, but the longer I go on asking this question and not getting an answer, the more nervous I get.

Yes tags matter. But I don't think they have anything to do with search.

I'm coming to believe that tags matter in two ways:

  • discovery

  • aggregation



And in those two ways. Tags do help me in my work.

Discovery. I discover two things: knowledge and people. Finding a tag -- whether in flickr or del.icio.us or any of the other sites that are starting to implement tagging -- allows me to discover new information. That information can lead me to people. Certainly, this has been true of the nptech tag. I consistently add contributors to my aggregator and I consistently find links to share with my colleagues and that help inform my work.

It's serendipity. But tags help me harness that.

Aggregation. One of the problems, at least with nonprofit staff, in getting them to contribute content to the web widely is about time. If I'm posting to newsgroups, they say. I'm not posting to my own site. And my site is where my brand is. In the world of scarce resources, these folks make the decision to build what they own. Tags can be a way past this problem.

Look at the technorati tag page for Oakland. It's using the tag word "Oakland" to pull together content that's been sprinkled on the web -- on flickr, on del.icio.us and furl and on something like a gazillion weblogs.

That's pretty powerful.

It promises the ability to pull together distributed content and make that content available in a way that makes sense.

For the beleagured nonprofit staff member that can mean that time spent on a listserv, a message board, contributing to another space on the Internet can build their local content.

(in: tim_bray, tagging, tags, value)

Wednesday, April 13, 2005

Wrap-up notes from Penguin Day Bay Area

Penguin Day Bay Area was, as is my experience with Penguin Days a lot of fun. Aspiration (which means Gunner and Katrin) does a good job of keeping the energy high, making sure there's space for everyone and meeting their number one goal: getting people to talk to one another. Also, they are doing an increasingly good job of capturing the events on the Penguin Day Wiki. Community knowledge archives are always a good thing.

I took open-computer notes during one of the morning sessions. Throughout the day, though, I used my Hipster PDA to capture the happening. And here are those notes, straight from my oft-mocked index cards:

  • #1 goal of event: to get people to talk to one another, make connections
    This is not only a nice goal; it's nice to get the goal of the event out in the introductory session. Helps people to meet it and participate in it.

  • Why isn't F/LOSS ready? The large number of unknowns.
    -support
    -documentation
    -options
    -how to choose between the options
    -solutions to problems often begin with the phrase "You just need to write a piece of code..."

  • As an organizations, CompuMentor needs to be much better about capturing a visual record of our work.
    -Bring (and use!) a camera

  • IRC channel for outside conversations on the same topics
    -I know that they want folks to meet but would it help if people could have topics on IRC that match the topics at the Penguin Day? Maybe the IRC sessions have a leader too and are logged and added to knowledge repository. Doesn't compete or necessarily provide a back channel for the day but can be support? A way of virtualizing (is that even a word?) the conference?
    -Maybe IRC conversations before hand (rather than conference calls) as a way to set the agenda. More people can participant and get a sense of what is going to happen. Might be a way to bring in the local user community?

  • Check on Meyer Memorial Trust (from Oso Martin of FreeGeek).
    -A community foundation that explicitly encourages nonprofits to examine open source when making technology decisions.

  • Make our speed geek pitch for ConsultantCommons.org available for anyone else who may want to present it.

  • Speed Geek participants and quick hit:


  • Open content session:

    • I facilitated

    • for the future: start with how nonprofits can use open content; add how they can contribute

    • key concern for member orgs: if we give the content away, what's our value to our membership



  • Off the Record (OTR): IM encryption for AIM, gAIM



[General disclaimer: CompuMentor was a co-organizer of this event.]

(in: penguinday, bayarea, 2005april, aspiration, nptech)

Ready to take the plunge

Okay, I've decided to keep the weblog. I've been posting here for a few months and my interest isn't flagging. The blog's been helping me. When I went to NTC, my conversations, in many cases, started at a deeper level because of the weblog; I've made or deepened some relationships; and, it's certainly helped get me in the habit of articulating and sharing my thoughts.

I want to continue to work in the medium -- and maybe even try my hand at podcasting, work on longer pieces of writing, and in general play around with this communication means -- but I need to go past blogger. I've played with a beta account on bryght which is a hosted version of drupal. That feels like a little too much for me but it may be the way to go because of the options it gives. After all, I don't have to turn everything on. I've also been using WordPress on my personal blog. It certainly has growth capability because of the various plug-ins. And it's easy-peasy to use and install.

So here's my question: on either of those systems -- drupal or WordPress -- is anyone out there willing to help me to get the site to look good? I have zero graphic design skills but I don't like the out of the box template of either system. I'm looking for a volunteer. All I can offer is design credit on the site but there you go. If anyone's willing, leave me a note in the comments or drop me an email at marniewebb@gmail.com.

(in: housekeeping, volunteer?, drupal, wordpress)

Tuesday, April 12, 2005

Notes from this morning's Introduction Free Open Source Software

PenguinDay: Introduction Free Open Source Software: I took 'em. Which is a typo warning.

(in: penguinday)

Today is Penguin Day Bay Area

Penguin Day San Francisco Bay Area: Free and Open Source Software for Non-Profits and that's where I'm at.

Since I recently posted about the nonprofit technology support sector's need to step out of their inboxes and share knowledge, I'm going to try and practice what I preach.

Though Penguin Day events, in general, try and keep people in the room and out of the computers, I'll be posting notes or wrap up thoughts as I can.

The Penguin Day wiki is always a good source of event notes and other information.

(in: foss, open_source, penguinday, 2005april, event, nptech)

Sunday, April 10, 2005

You know what I really like about del.icio.us and flickr?

They put the navigation in the hands of geeky but non-technical users. It's more than just the tagging.

(in: del.icio.us, flickr, tags, navigation)

Saturday, April 09, 2005

Not a lot of postings

But I've been keeping up with the links. You can subscribe here: link blog.

(in: housekeeping, feeds)

Friday, April 08, 2005

San Francisco Bay Area celebrates "Penguin Day"

The upcoming Penguin Day is in the news: San Francisco Bay Area celebrates "Penguin Day". Still a few spots left. If you're interested in attending, we'd love to see you there.

Penguin Day San Francisco Bay Area.

I'm looking forward to it.

(in: penguin_day, penguinday, open_source, foss, 2005april)

Friday, April 01, 2005

NTC: A collection of post event thoughts

There was some talk on the nptech IRC channel and on a few blogs about the lack of outbound news at N-TEN's Nonprofit Technology Conference. This despite the conference wiki, del.icio.us and flickr tags.

And this is contrast to the wealth of outgoing information from many other conferences. So why?

I can give excuses (laptop battery drained, too much presenting, general exhaustion) but the truth is, I don't think I place enough of a priority on this kind of real-time knowledge sharing. And I believe that reflects the community as a whole. We tend to live in our inboxes.

We can't live by email (some the richest post NTC exchanges I've seen have been on the NOSI discussion list) alone throughout the year and then expect that people will step out of their inboxes and onto web communication platforms.

A group of earlier adopters (and I hear there's someone who's ready to rally those particular troops) has to take this on and begin communicating and knowledge sharing on a regular basis now. That way, when next year's NTC rolls around, it isn't something extra and unexpected. It's what we habitually do.

It seems to me that a community is beginning to develop around knowledge sharing outside of listservs (which can be a difficult way to archive and collect content even though it's a great way to get a connection to a broader community). These effort show up in the del.icio.us/tag/nptech, in the fledging effort to start keep an IRC channel going. Certainly, it's a part of what N-TEN seems to be thinking about in their rigorous and admirable efforts to collect and maintain a collection of materials from the various conferences. Aspiration is trying to keep this going in the Penguin Day wiki. NPOBlogs.net also helps to support this effort. It's absolutely some our own motivation in setting up ConsultantCommons.org.

But it's not going to happen over night. And it's not going to happen because of the efforts of a few people. It's only going to happen if people keep going to these channels and participate, if these channels bring information, comradeship and connection into the post conference realm. And then, then, if someone does the hard work of bringing them together during a conference.

nten, ntc, nten05, networks, online_communities, knowledge_sharing)

Register for Penguin Day Bay Area

More than any other event I attend, I feel that Penguin Day gives me an opportunity to listen to the reflections of the other attendees, trade concerns, talk about work and learn about new projects. I always come back with a host of contact and new, excellent, content to fill my feed aggregator. Even more, I feel that the I can carry a little bit of the perspective of the other attendees into the work I do and the problems I face. Enough of the pitch: sign up. Penguin Day San Francisco Bay Area: Free and Open Source Software for Non-Profits.

(disclaimer: CompuMentor, the organization for which I work, is co-organizing this event. I like it anyway. I went in Philadelphia last year and Chicago this.)

(in: foss, open_source, penguin_day, aspiration)

Subscribing to new ConsultantCommons.org content

I find the best page to subscribe to is this one: recent posts | ConsultantCommons.org (beta). Of course, since we're using civic space almost any possible page has an RSS subscription.

(in: consultantcommons, knowledge_base)