Top 10 open-source tools for e-activism

Dan Bashaw and Mike Gifford, whom I was very pleased to meet at the 2003 “Web of Change” conference, have pulled together a nice little article called Designing for Civil Society: Top 10 Open Source Tools for eActivism, that’s getting some attention in the NGOsphere. (That’s my just-minted neologism for the nonprofit blogosphere.)

A few comments and quibbles with this generally-excellent article:

As others have pointed out, Dan and Mike rather mischaracterize Drupal as a blogging tool rather than as the powerful generalized content management system that it is. And speaking of content management systems, I might have thrown in a mention of Plone, an enterprise-class CMS tool that seems to have a very professional development community behind it and boasts tremendous accessibility for disabled users.

I think they overstate the activism significance of geek-oriented tools such as Slash & PostNuke.

I think that I would have easily chosen Mailman or Sympa as the email list tool to feature instead of PHPList. There are thousands of activist lists running on Sympa servers at ONE/Northwest, NPOGroups and Riseup.net alone… and Mailman is probably even more common. More importantly, choosing PHPList suggests that email broadcast lists are the most important kind of email list, when email discussion lists are, in my opinion, a far more important organizing tool because they allow dialogue and relationship building among activists.

I was a little surprised that there was no open-source membership management database in their list. While some might quibble that tools like ODB and ebase aren’t “real” open-source, because they are are built on proprietary database engines (Jet/VB & Filemaker, respectively), I think that these two products are of incredible significance for the thousands of activist organizations that usem every day to manage relationships with their members and supporters. And furthermore, I think this absence highlights the need for a truly open-source nonprofit database solution.

Thanks to the gang at WorldChanging for the link.

7 thoughts on “Top 10 open-source tools for e-activism”

  1. Good points. In the same vein:

    * Active is more interesting from a historical perspective in that it changed people’s rulebook for the web, rather then being a useful that new groups should be installing. (though this is alluded to briefly in the expanded description of the tool.) SF-Active, Mir, and DadaIMC are all excellent replacements.

    * Twiki is a very top heavy, very geeky, difficult to maintain wiki that expirence is showing maps poorly to organizations without a person dedicated to cultivating it. A description which does not describe most non-profits. Interestingly the example wiki they choose (Wikipedia) does not run Twiki, but instead a modified version of UseMod. Personally I find phpWiki, and Kwiki to be the strongest, and easiest to use of the current crop of wiki tools.

  2. I actually use Twiki quite a bit at ONE/Northwest, and while I agree that it’s a clunky beast, I do enjoy the power to create multiple webs, control access, etc… but my jury is very much still out on it, and I rather expect that another wiki-tool is in the future for us.

  3. Thanks for publishing this Jon..

    We were trying to pull together the best examples that we could find of the use of this type of technology and put them together with a good example of the Open Source code. We could couldn’t always find a match.

    All of these tools are changing pretty quickly.. I suspect that this is a list which should be revised yearly..

    Like the term NGOsphere. Searching google, looks like your right.. Just need to insert the definition into wikipedia 🙂

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  5. I’ve been looking into different ways to handle our email lists as our group of people interested in Single-Payer Universal Health Care expands. We have a custom built application and I’m testing phplist, but it seems that we need a broader membership management / contact management application that is broader than just sending out emails.

    Any suggestions? What are others using?

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