Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Web 3.0, the Philanthropic Edge

Peter Deitz, founder of Social Actions, spoke last evening at the Ethos Roundtable about Web 3.0, the Philanthropic Web. Peter founded Social Actions, whose slogan is, "you make a difference, we make it easy," to help people take action on social issues.

Social Actions is an action aggregator. An aggregator is a website that pulls in feeds from other websites. Many people are familiar with news aggregators that pull in news articles from other websites. Aggregators can work by pulling information from pre-approved or pre-selected sites, which is how Social Actions works, or by searching the web for relevant text based on a search algorithm. Social Actions targets the hubs of civic engagement opportunities on the web and aggregates the action feeds. Action feeds are the social actions people can take, such as donate something, volunteer, give to a cause, attend a rally, etc.

Here's how this works. I want to volunteer or donate or work on a social issue, etc. I could go to a search website that I already about and see if they have any opportunities that fit my interest. If they do, then I can take action on that interest and connect with the organization that listed the opportunity. But what if that search website doesn't have the opportunity I'm looking for? What if the organization with the need didn't list opportunity on the search website I know about?

Social Actions subscribes to the feed from more than 50 such websites and is actively working to add more to the list of participating organizations. If I go to Social Actions to search for my opportunity, I will get relevant information from multiple partners who have opportunities that fit my criteria. Social Actions does not list opportunities; it lets other organizations manage that while it subscribes to their feeds to provide the opportunities to the widest possible audience.

Organizations with social actions available benefit from wider posting of their opportunities. Individuals benefit from having a wider range of opportunities from which to choose. Once you find the opportunity, you click on it and go directly to the website listing that opportunity. Social Actions tracks its click-throughs so it knows how well it serves partnering organizations.

The opportunities that Social Actions lists run the gamut from youth to health to petitions to climate and many, many more. If you have a cause you care about, you'll probably find it there. And if you have a favorite search website you use to find or post opportunities, you'll probably find them on Social Actions.

Peter believes that the non-profit community should define Web 3.0 and not wait for the for-profit community to do so. That means they should create the tools they need to spread their mission, organize, get volunteers and/or donors, and -- most important --they need to define the standards for these web-based tools or others will define them.

Defining standards for Linked Data is a huge project; one that Tim Berners-Lee, founder of the World Wide Web (the www in those Internet addresses) and Director of the World Wide Web Consortium (W3C), is actively pursuing. Linked Data, simply put, is data embedded on a website that becomes searchable and usable; it links the data to other data sets (locations, news, actions, etc.) and helps create the Symantic Web*.

Currently, search engines provide lots of raw data; do a topical search and you may have thousands of possible links. Using Linked Data, the same search could narrow the results to much more relevant data, eliminating sites that may mention the keywords but are not relevant in actual context.

Once again, the Ethos Roundtable provided a timely, informative topic to the non-profit community. Deborah Finn always seems to be on the cutting edge of technology for non-profits. She knows who is "in the know" and uses Ethos Roundtable to bring them to us. Ethos Roundtable is an informal group of people who are interested in 1) measuring and extending ethos, and 2) using technology for positive social change. They meet once a month in Harvard Square (Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA) for discussions and presentations.

*Symantic Web: According to wikipedia, the Symantic Web is "an evolving development of the World Wide Web in which the semantics of information and services on the web is defined, making it possible for the web to understand and satisfy the requests of people and machines to use the web content."

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