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."

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

Engaging My Community Using Social Media

This morning's post is in response to the question, "How has engaging your community changed with your use of social media?" The question was posed by Amy Sample Ward as the July Net2 Think Tank. The Think Tank is sponsored by Net2d (Net Squared) which is an initiative from techsoup. The answer has multiple parts because I am part of several communities, as are most of us.

My organization is not yet using social networking tools other than to post job openings. My personal use of social networking tools is beginning to creep into the picture though. And, they are in the early stages of website redesign that will bring more community/client interaction to them through the website. They will do more with social networking, I'm sure, once they understand it better and can clarify how to use it to enhance their mission.

Client Community
For my client community, social media hasn't had as much effect on how I engage because so many of my clients are not using social media. I hope this will change and I am actually a partner in an effort, the Cyber Cafe @ Malden Square, to provide the technology, tools, and training so they can engage electronically. But many of them are a long way off from doing so. Despite this, I use blogging tools to provide resources and other information to them and thus am exposing them to bits and pieces of it. It's very limited engagement, as it's primarily one way communication.

One example is a jobs posting list. We used to print out copious pages of job listings and place them in a binder and hope people would find something that fit them. It was a huge drain on resources and often out-of-date. Now, we use a blogging tool to email job postings to the blog as they arrive on our desk and link that site off our main site. Clients sit down at the public computers and can search through current listings and email their resume without ever having to print anything out. It saves time, money, and trees. It puts them in charge of the process as they can use hyperlinks to explore other job opportunities with that company too.

Even with limited use, client feedback is strongly positive. They come looking for assistance with one issue, but end up with tools that will help them work on several issues. These tools empower them, even if they're not the one using the tool. If they don't know how to use a computer or a particular tool, the Cyber Cafe often has volunteers who can work one-on-one with them to learn and yet be productive during that learning curve. They walk out the door with more options that they had when they came in the door.

Peer Community
Social networking has expanded my ability to keep up with my peers within my organization as well as in the larger community. I'm a networker. I have a question or problem -- I ask someone whom I think will know the answer. I don't care much about organizational boundaries. Someone out there probably knows the answer and I use lists, contacts, and shared contacts* to get answers. LinkedIn has good tools for that. I tend to use Facebook more, though. It just is a more relaxed, casual interface; I use it a lot for professional pursuits and I also use it for personal pursuits.

A colleague from another organization and I just set up a social networking tool for a network of organizations who meet regularly around health care access. We physically meet monthly; in the virtual world, we can meet more often and accomplish so much more; share resources, ideas, and documents; collaborate more quickly on deadline oriented issues, etc. For my tastes, having a group that combines social networking with face-to-face gatherings is ideal.

All work and no play makes Claire grumpy. So I also use social networking with my peers to be me -- playful, joking, serious, hard working... The social time we spend with people is often what drives them to come to us with a work question. In fact, I think it's very important to be able to socialize with your colleagues, away from work, occasionally. Timewise, it doesn't happen often in the real world because our days are long and the work is intense. In the virtual world, however, I can take a few minutes in the early morning or late evening and engage using social networking and do something frivolous with them. Facebook has some fun tools for that.

Volunteer Community
Volunteers are unpaid staff; that's a long-held philosophy of mine. So they need the same nurturing (if not more) as paid staff, yet I don't have a lot of time to spend with them. And many of them are not physically on site; they're on committees or work on projects remotely. Various social networking tools aide me in communicating, informing, scheduling, and generally interacting with them. Wiggio has become my recent group collaboration tool. It's fairly new and is developing new tools, but I need basic calendaring and communication for now and it does the job.

What's Coming
As I develop better CMS (content management sytem) web developer skills, I'll be converting a bunch of my websites to ones where all 3 of these communities can interact more easily, which basically means sharing my networks more broadly. What I see happening as a result is that some of these will overlap.

I don't want to lose sight of the fact that sometimes we need to keep our client community somewhat distanced from our personal communities. So I don't want too much overlap. There are times when we need to close our door and have some time for ourselves. Client needs can be overwhelming and that's where I do need boundaries. Many of our clients don't have any boundaries. So expanding social networking to meet their needs will take some balance between meeting their needs and meeting my own needs for a separate space and some "me time."

For me, spending less time on the phone trying to chase down a lead, answer, or person is one of the blessings of Web 2.0 tools. Phone tag is so wasteful. Sending an email is more productive. But using a tool that gets the message out to many, with responses from a broader community, including our clients, brings more options into play.

Options -- I like having options, especially since there are no "one size fits all" solutions to people's problems. At the end of the day, I have to remember that I am not dealing with problems, I am dealing with people. Social Networking tools put me in touch with so many more people, who arrive at solutions differently and arrive at different solutions. I end up with more information, more options, and better solutions that let me do a better job of helping the client who doesn't use social networking -- yet!

*shared contacts: for the uninitiated, my definition of a shared contact is someone who is not in my network but is in one of my network contact's network; I ask you and you ask that person and put us in touch with each other.

Friday, July 10, 2009

More on "Ask Your LawMaker"

Recently (June 7th), I posted about"Ask Your LawMaker" and this morning ran across this better description by Andy Orami that includes some analysis of the potential for this site/service.

If you want to influence lawmakers, this is an incredibly powerful tool. Simply put, if people don't use it, it won't work. If you don't have a burning question, check it out anyway and see what others are asking. You may find that what you think is something only you care about is really something that others also care about. Then you add your vote and others add their votes and you discover that your "unimportant" question is really something that a lot of people care about.

Ask Your LawMaker can only work if we use it and if we also check the questions periodically to vote on those questions that are important to us. So, check it out, see what questions people are asking, and vote for those questions that you want asked.

Sunday, July 5, 2009

Sarah Palin, Warrior - OR - Sarah Palin, Whiner

Alaska Governor Sarah Palin's surprise announcement the other day that she is stepping down at the end of the month -- almost 18 months before the end of her first term in office -- caught a lot of people by surprise. But she's full of surprises. Many of her surprises, however, seem to stem from an acute lack of judgement rather than some innate sense of good politics or timing.

Some of the "winners" she's come up with include:

  • during the Presidential campaign, asking Steve Schmidt, chief strategist for the McCain campaing, to lie about her husband's 1995-2002 membership in the Alaska Independence Party, a secessionist Alaska organization. to related story

  • in her emails to Schmidt on the above topic, she failed to mention that she delivered the AIP's opening convention remarks in 2008 ...oops, she just forgot???

  • failure to credit author Craig Shirley & Newt Gringich for significant portions of her introduction of Michael Reagan at the Alaska Center for the Performing Arts last month to recording

  • not only did she borrow liberally from their 2005 article--she mentioned Gringich but failed to mention Shirley at all--not once did she reveal that she was actually quoting heavily from their article with some slight paraphrasing to related article

    Palin has a habit of exaggerating what is, and spinning it to an out-of-control level that seems to justify her rage & retaliation; when people say unflattering things about Palin, she gets mad and when she's mad she doesn't seem to think.
    Latest case in point? Palin's attorney, Thomas Van Flein, issued a letter stating that Palin is considering legal action against Alaskan and Huffington Post blogger Shannon Moore, as well as the Washington Post, New York Times, MSNBC, and Huffington Post. Moore was apparently individually singled out because she talked about, on national television, the rumors that Palin resigned because she is under criminal investigation. Van Flein's letter is innacurate (oh, those pesky details) and charges that Moore said it is "fact" that Palin is resigning because she is under federal investigation; in reality Moore stated that rumors have been floating for "6 weeks or two months" that Palin was under "criminal investigation." Put that together with her sudden resignation and the rumors are increasing; Moore reported on this.

    Rumors about politicos circulate all the time, but Palin felt that Moore's exposure on national television merited at attack. Moore has been put "on notice by Sarah Palin's lawyers not to speak crtically of Palin in the media." Moore did not even receive the actual letter before dozens of others received it, but when she did, on July 4th, her response was incredulity that on our national day commemorating our freedom, she received an order attempting to limit her freedom as a reporter and citizen or be subject to legal action. Of course, since nothing she said is libelous, Moore will ignore the letter and continue to report.

    In reading through many blogs and other articles to create this post, I came away with one major impression of Sarah Palin. She's a whiner. Rather than gather facts, admit faults, and deal with reality, Palin goes after the person who points out her deficits and declares war. She is upset that the media picks on her, points out her flaws, demands accountability, and reports on her mistakes. Uh, that's part of their job, isn't it?

    This woman thought she was qualified to be our Vice President. She'd be the person to take charge if the President were unable to complete a term of office. And she cannot deal with the scrutiny of her actions while in office? We are talking about scrutiny of her actions related to office, not her personal life, so she had better learn to take the heat and perhaps starting thinking before she makes some of those questionable decisions that brought the heat on in the first place.

    Sarah Palin, Warrior? NOT! Sarah Palin, Whiner? YES!

    For a more indepth, but unflattering, look at Palin, check out Vanity Fair's lengthy article by Todd Purdum .
  • H.R. 875: Food Safety Modernization Act of 2009

    What sounds good on the surface -- the protection of our food supply system -- seems to have a number of people and groups up in arms against what they say is a badly written piece of legislation that will end organic farming as we know it today.

    "To establish the Food Safety Administration within the Department of Health and Human Services to protect the public health by preventing food-borne illness, ensuring the safety of food, improving research on contaminants leading to food-borne illness, and improving security of food from intentional contamination, and for other purposes."

    The bill, H.R. 875, is now in committee. It would put food safety monitoring and control under the a new agency within the Department of Health and Human Services. The Senate is considering a similar bill, S. 425, and the House also has a substitute bill, H.R. 759.

    At a time when food-borne incidents are widespread and growing, it's time for some type of action. However, good intent does not always mean good results. A petition organized by the Natural Solutions Foundation is solidly against the bill, although it supports removing food supply oversight from the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Organic farmers are afraid the bill will force them to feed chemicals to their food animals, spray chemicals on crops, and generally eliminate "organic farming" as a chemical-free alternative. I haven't found this stated in the bill, but can imagine that the proposed Food Safety Administration could do this because of what is left out of the bill.

    Congress must listen to its constituents, including the small farmers and individual voters. Small farmers and micro- and mini-agricultural businesses, which describes many organic food suppliers, need not be legislated to the same degree as large agricultural suppliers.

    What I do not know, and therefore am cautious about, is who is really behind both sides of the issue. Some claim that large chemical manufacturers that produce chemicals for the agriculture industry are behind these bills. Opponents of the bill claim that small, organic farms will be too tightly regulated--but who is and what are behind these claims? I cannot imagine that the growing business of organic farms is composed only of very small businesses. In the tug-of-war over legislation, it's important to do some fact-finding before jumping on the bandwagon of either side.

    Some questions the legislation, as currently written, bring to my mind include:
  • how will it affect the farmers markets across the nation?
  • will it severely burden small farmers who provide produce locally?
  • who will staff this new department (credentials, influence, etc.) to protect consumers not just from "bad food" but also from large chemical manufacturers that want to chemically enhance all our food supply?

  • I'm sure you can think of a few questions too. The sites I've linked to in this article will bring you to a number of others. You can do your own research and make your own decision as to whether this is good or bad legislation.