Alternative Gift Registry

Center for a New American Dream has a nicely done “Alternative Gift Registry” tool (currently the #4 Google result for “gift registry”!) that allows you to create gift registries that de-emphasize consumerism (used goods, donations to charity, experiences rather than stuff, etc.).   This is a great example of a nonprofit advocacy group coming up with a valuable public-facing service that is grounded in its mission and expertise to bring people into the circle of engagement.

Unplugging from the social networks

After some soul-searching, and a prod from my dear friend and inspiration role model Sam Dorman, I’ve decided to unplug myself from “web 2.0,” “the social nets” or whatever we call the rapidly-expanding tarpit of social networking sites these days.

Long story short: I’m increasingly convinced that the constant stream of tweets, status updates, Facebook wall posts and the like are causing me more cognitive harm than professional or personal benefit.   And I deeply suspect that they’re harming us as a society, too.  (See “Skinner Box?  There’s an App for that!” for more on this.)

I’m not going cold turkey from the internet.  That’s not what this is about.  I’m going to continue reading email, surfing the web, and maybe taking in a few RSS feeds, since that’s a very convenient way to follow the news.  I will continue to blog (and hope to write more in the future since I won’t be as distracted by constant consumption!)  I might even keep my Facebook account after paring it down to people who are actually real-world personal friends.  But I’m ditching Twitter, unsubscribing from most of my “professional” RSS feeds, and am going to basically pull out of the “real-time web.”  Our brains just aren’t meant to work this way, and I can feel it harming my work, my personal life, and my happiness.

“Surely you just need to manage this stuff better, Jon,” you might be thinking.  Well, maybe, but if you know me, you know that I am an extremely disciplined person and am about as far from an “addictive personality” as it gets.  Heck, I didn’t even have an internet connection at home until 2001, and then only because my wife made me!  If I am suddenly finding myself experiencing addictive behaviors with web 2.0 tools, I’m pretty sure it’s because these qualities are deeply wired into the technology, not into my personality.  Also, if you think that “technology is completely neutral, it’s just about how we use it,” then please go stop and go read “In the Absence of the Sacred” before deciding whether you really want to pursue that line of argument.

So, in short, I won’t be seeing you on Twitter or Facebook so much anymore.   But please do drop me a line, give me a call, let’s go get some coffee or a hoist a pint.  Let’s go for a walk, a hike, a bike ride.  Let’s play some music together, or cook some food.

And if you’re feeling a little stressed out by the constant chatter of your online “friends,” then I invite you to join me in easing back out and into the sunlight.  See you in the real world, person-to-person!

Transformation, not technology

It occurred to me yesterday that the real challenge we[1] face is not the question of “how do we apply technology tools to organizations?” but more “how do we help organizations & people transform themselves so that they are more able to harness the power of technology?”

[1] “we” = those of us standing astride the worlds of technology and social change.

Coolness is not innovation

Michael Gilbert writes:

Coolness is not innovation. That which is innovative is not always cool. More importantly, that which is cool is not always innovative. Indeed, cool can be seen as inherently conservative. If an invention is not already well on its way to adoption in certain (possibly small, probably themselves cool) circles, then it is too obscure to be cool. Even if we’d never use the actual word “cool” to define our choices, the desire for coolness is powerful. It provides us with the appearance of innovation without the inherent risks of the real thing. Mistaking coolness for innovation is far from trivial. It leads to large scale investments in promises of change that do not materialize. It causes genuine innovations, which don’t tap into established tropes or status in the same way, to languish in obscurity.

Overheated markets are like high school

Seth Godin overgeneralizes again, but usefully (emphasis mine):

Any sufficiently overheated industry will eventually resemble high school. High school is filled with insecurity, social climbing, backbiting, false friends, faux achievements, high drama and not much content. Much of this insecurity comes from a market that doesn’t make good judgments, that doesn’t understand how to reliably choose between alternatives. So it turns into a popularity contest.

And of course, mass popularity isn’t all that useful anymore.

Marketers have been lousy at harvesting attention because there was just so much of it. So it was more like strip mining than careful, efficient use of a natural resource. Now that attention is harder to get, people are overpaying for it and the Olympics is just one example. The alternative is to create focused, intense networks that ignore the masses. For most marketers, that’s exactly what we need.

Dear typical nonprofit: nobody is talking about you online

… or at least that’s my theory.

I think it would be very interesting to take a truly random sample of nonprofits (any ideas on a good methodology?), and do some online research to find out how many of these nonprofits are actually being talked about “organically” online.

My bet: under 10%.

This thought occurred to me because so many social media consultants seem to be saying something to the effect of, “Hey people are talking about you online whether you want them to or not.”  With the implied followup, “So you’d best hire me to help you figure out how to listen and engage.”  I’m not so sure.

Apple: (still) hostile to nonprofits

Lots of nonprofit technologists are unapologetic Apple fanboys (and girls).  I’ve owned and used Apple products over the years, and while some have been fine, they rarely make me swoon.  I think of Apple as just another mega-corporation that sometimes makes nice computer hardware, not some extension of my personal brand identity.

Apple is hardly a friend to the nonprofit sector.  In addition to being notoriously tight-fisted with hardware and software donations, I just read on ReadWriteWeb that they have no plans to allow charitable donations via the iPhone’s new in-app payments system.  That is incredibly lame.

Though Apple introduced in-application payments last month, the feature is only available to paid apps (Public Radio Player is free) and charitable contributions through the iPhone are strictly prohibited. They can’t even be talked about, Shapiro says, because Apple doesn’t want to deal with the possibility of charity scams, there’s tax complications, the platform’s standard 30% fee for payments isn’t tenable in a non-profit context and Apple has no financial incentive to solve this sticky complex of problems.