Online Social Networks: Can They Power Social Change?

Right this very minute, ONE/Northwest is hosting a “brain trust” event where 60+ people are gathered to talk about online social networks and their potential for powering social change.

Here’s a liveblog of my notes:

Gideon Rosenblatt, ONE/Northwest ( Executive Director

We are a capacity builder that helps environmental groups engage people in environmental protection.

Thanks to Aron Thompson, ONE/Northwest board member, for sponsoring.

Topic for tonight: online social networks, and how they can be used for promoting social change.

Continue reading Online Social Networks: Can They Power Social Change?

Plone Conference Liveblogging: Tom Moroz’s Keynote

Tom Moroz, Open Society Instiute

– Intro by Alan Runyan: the future of open source software looks
very much like the path that nonprofits and civil society
organizations have blazed.
– Heard a lot about Seattle 2006 conference and the strong
community. At first I wondered what the connection between open
society and open source was, but the more I’ve gotten involved
with Plone, the more I’ve come to see that we share the same path.
– A few months ago, we met Peter Hollands from Cisco Foundation who
helped Oxfam work on Plone. Helped him see the relevance of the
work we’re doing for the broader NGO/social change space.
– Eben Mogeln’s inspiration talk at Seattle 2006 helped further
draw that connection.
– Hope to show that the Plone community is an “open society”
– Open Society Institute: mission based on democracy, human rights,
rule of law. Local policy work, plus global alliance building.
– Plone’s power: helping build alliances online.
– OSI: works in over 60 countries and in 20+ program
– Founder: George Soros, became a billionaire investor, then in the
early 90s, became very interested in promoting open society in
the fomer Soviet Union, then has expanded organically from there
over the years. Now, 32 independent national foundations.
– Challenge: how to connect a very decentralized network?
– Many OSI programs have realized that policy advocacy is critical
to social change. This is filtering across their program areas.
– Example: education program supporting everything from preschool
to higher education.
– Key OSI inititaives:
– advocacy
– education/scholarships
– media/information
– local government
– human rights
– justice
– public health
– Tom’s definition of Open Source: a set of principles that promote
open access to the design and production of goods and knowledge.
– This definition applies to software development, but also to
government, media, education, business… and beyond!
– Open source is becoming integrated into the fabric of society
– “Wikinomics” – you only grow by making your knowledge open and
– Strong philosophical overlap between the Open Source philosophy
and Open Society Institute
– Knowledge is provisional and fallible
– Open Source: get the software out there, and then improve
it. User input into software design.
– Responsiveness
– Also, tolerance of differences. Rapid improvement. All
bugs are shallow in open source.
– Transparency
– example: Iraq Revenue Watch. Publish the numbers,
improve the policy.
– Obviously at the heart of Open Source!
– Pluralistic
– Open Society is very diverse and multicultural. Respect
for differences is at the core of both Open Society and
Open Source. Bringing everyone to the table really
– High degree of personal responsibility
– It’s up to the individual to interpret their own values.
You’re self-motivated to improve both society and
– Open Society values that don’t (obviously) map to Open Source
– Freedom and human rights are at the foundation
– Me: Software freedom is a form of intellectual
freedom — that’s what Eben Moglen argues
– Social mobility is a measure of openness
– Plone at OSI
– The problem: global intranet
– Timeline
– July 2006: chose Plone
– May 2007: KARL 1.0 beta release
– October 2007: KARL soft launch
– Process: extensive conversations with partners.
Conclusions: we don’t know all of the great work we’re
doing. We need to build more awareness of what we’re
doing. Started by looking for proprietary solutions, but
none could meet needs (e.g. Sharepoint), and also wasn’t
consistent with organizational philosophy.
– Had great experience with using Plone for the planning
– Presenting KARL to OSI board next week!
– Brief demo of KARL
– User-created Communities
– Tags
– Organization-wide news, events
– Local news, events, etc.
– Things we need to generalize
– Great tagging UI (!)
– Already very strong adoption, even in beta testing!
– Vision
– A microcosm for the global future of collaboration
– Vision of a hosted service for smaller organizations
– Host must be a trusted consortium!
– Importance of “soft” technology and methodologies
– Peter Senge, learning organizations.
– How can we replicate effective real-world
collaboration online?
– Closing thoughts
– Spiritual activism: social change comes from the
bottom, motivated by internal vision.
– Cells begin to find each other during metamorphosis.
– We’re starting to find local cells of change, and
they’re beginning to connect.
– Plone can be an amazing tool for connecting people.
– The journey is just beginning.

ONE/Northwest Is Hiring a Database Consultant

Our database consulting practice here at ONE/Northwest is continuing to boom.  We’re looking to add another database consultant to our team here in Seattle:

Come help us build next generation relationship management systems for kick-ass environmental groups!

Nonprofits, Open Source and Leadership: ONE/Northwest and the Plone Community

My colleagues and I at ONE/Northwest have been spending a lot of time engaging with an Open Source software development community (the folks who make Plone) over the past two years. It’s been an amazing learning experience.

The following essay summarizes our experiences and attempts to tease out someulearnings both for nonprofits and for Open Source communities

This is a really rough first draft. I invite your thoughts, feedback, questions and criticisms. Tell me what parts (if any) ring true with you. Tell me what to cut. Tell me what I missed, or what I just plain got wrong.

Continue reading Nonprofits, Open Source and Leadership: ONE/Northwest and the Plone Community

Why a perpetual state of anxiety?

Alison Fine just wrote a report on the use of social media tools among Overbrook Foundation human rights grantees, for, um, the Overbrook Foundation.  Her top-line finding: “a perpetual state of anxiety” among nonprofits about “Web 2.0” tools:

  • Overall, the grantees are firmly entrenched in the Web 1.0 world,
    meaning that grantees use the web largely as a source of information
    rather than interactivity. 
  • A small handful of grantees, for instance Witness, the ACLU,
    Breakthrough, WYNC Public Radio, are using social media in spectacular
    ways to engage their constituents in conversations.
  • Most grantees are not taking advantage of easy-to-use social media
    tools effectively. The first is the fact that only half have blogs, and
    that only half of these groups allow comments on their blogs.
  • Survey respondents and group discussion participants often felt a
    “common struggle” in understanding which tools are critically important
    to their work and were at a loss as to where and how to get help for
    selecting and using new social media tools.

Alison asks for comments.  Here’s mine, which is admittedly not based on having read the report yet:

I wonder how much of this anxiety is the product of nonprofit sector consultants and pundits hyping Web 2.0 tool after Web 2.0 tool.  

How short was the hype cycle of MySpace?  Of Flickr?  Of YouTube?  Of Facebook?  Of Second Life?  Are all of these important?  Equally?  Should all nonprofits be doing all of these things, plus blogging, social bookmarking, IM, screencasting, user-generated content, etc. etc. etc.?

I think the message that nonprofits are getting from us “yes, and wait until you see what we’re excited about next!”  I’ve seen a lot more enthusiasm for these tools than reflective analysis of their real-world value in organizations with scarce resources.  And I think that’s what’s creating a lot of anxiety.

Or maybe I’m just having a curmudgeonly day. 😉

I’m looking forward to digging into Alison’s report in depth.

(Hat tip to Beth.)

“The Chandler Knowledge Worker”

Remember Chandler?  Mitch Kapor’s open-source “Outlook killer” that was supposed to change how we manage information forever? 

Well, that was a few years back, and while they still haven’t gotten to a 1.0 release, they’ve finally put out an interesting “0.7 Preview” version.  And along the way, they’ve really done some amazing thinking about how knowledge workers need to manage information.

I’ve not checked out the software yet, but I was struck by their vision document, titled “The Chandler Knowledge Worker.”

Often called a project manager or product manager or program manager,
our Preview Target User however is a special breed of PM. They work
closely with every member of their team, acting as a communication hub.
They know how to ask the right questions to gather input and feedback.
They identify problem areas, figure out when meetings need to happen,
who needs to be there, what needs to be discussed, and then they
facilitate the discussion to define concrete next actions and
ultimately drive their team towards informed decisions.

They go on to offer an intriguing diagnosis of what’s wrong with the current state of the art in personal information management, which underpins Chandler’s different approach.

As the prototypical “Chandler Knowledge Worker” it will be interesting to see how Chandler works.

Kudos to Mitch and the OSAF team for having the wherewithal to stick with a project that has become far more interesting and complex than they ever imagined, I’m sure.

Facebook starts measuring “engagement” instead of raw users for ranking popular apps

Very interesting.  Facebook has announced that it will no longer rank popular applications by raw number of users, instead choosing to measure “engagement” those users have with the apps they’ve installed.  This is a great, smart shift, and I think it presages lots of changes to how online activism is measured.

We define engagement as the number of users who touch your application every day (measured from midnight to midnight each day).

These touch points are:

  • Canvas Page Views
  • Link Clicks in FBML
  • Mock-Ajax Form Submission
  • Click-to-Play Flash

The number of engaged users is calculated by putting all of these
touch points together. We display this as the number of “Daily Active
Users.” Next to it we also show what percentage that is of the
application’s total number of users.

Hat tip to Jeff.

8 Really Cool Things About Plone 3

Plone 3 Release Candidate 1 is out. This is a big milestone in the evolution of Plone, and a big leap forward for both developers and for everyday Plone users. The Plone 3 team is still putting the final polish on it, but Release Candidate 1 is more than ready for prodding, poking and testing. Here are eight of the things about Plone 3 that I’m most excited to start using in ONE/Northwest’s projects, with screenshots. Continue reading 8 Really Cool Things About Plone 3

Interesting paper on platforms

Managing Proprietary and Shared Platforms: A Life-Cycle View by Thomas R. Eisenmann looks like a really interesting examination of the challenges of both shared and proprietary platforms as they grow and evolve.

The research shows that challenges confronting platform managers vary systematically, depending on whether the platform is proprietary or shared and on the stage of platform development. As in most industries, platform-mediated networks exhibit predictable patterns as they pass through life-cycle stages of birth, maturity, and decline. Exceptions do occur, but the patterns hold often enough that life-cycle patterns provide a useful guide for planning.

If Architects Were Web Designers

Shae Allen offers a sharp, funny riff on the thrill of difficult web design clients.

Dear Mr. Architect:

Please design and build me a house. I am not quite sure of what I need,
so you should use your discretion. My house should have somewhere
between two and forty-five bedrooms. Just make sure the plans are such
that the bedrooms can be easily added or deleted. When you bring the
blueprints to me, I will make the final decision of what I want. Also,
bring me the cost breakdown for each configuration so that I can
arbitrarily pick one.


Plone Blows Away Commercial and Open-Source Competition in CMS Watch Review

CMS Watch’s Tony Byrne recently published his annual “kudos and shortcomings” report on 40 major web content management systems.  It’s a summary of a much more in-depth pay-to-read report.

Byrne evaluted CMS in 30 different categories — user-generated content, usability, overall value, etc.  In each category, he identified one leader, several “honorable mentions” and several laggards.

Scott Paley of Abstract Edge took the time to add up Bryne’s evaluations into a simple scorecard, and found that Plone handily topped the list, beating out both commercial and open-source competitors as CMS Watch’s most lauded CMS. 

Platform Kudos HM Lagging Score
Plone 2 6 4 2
Clickability 1 3 3 -1
CrownPeak 1 6 5 -2
Day 2 4 5 -2
FatWire 2 1 4 -3
Hot Banana 0 4 4 -4
Mediasurface 1 2 4 -4
EPiServer 0 1 3 -5
Hannon Hill 1 1 4 -5
Oracle/Stellent 1 3 5 -5
RedDot 1 3 5 -5
Tridion 3 1 6 -5
e-Spirit 1 0 4 -6
Ektron 1 1 5 -7
Escenic 0 1 4 -7
Midgard 0 1 4 -7
Serena 1 1 5 -7
CoreMedia 0 2 5 -8
Ingeniux 0 2 5 -8
Interwoven 1 4 7 -8
PaperThin 0 2 5 -8
Percussion 1 2 6 -8
Refresh Software 0 2 5 -8
eZ Publish 0 1 5 -9
GOSS 0 1 5 -9
Immediacy 0 1 5 -9
TYPO3 0 3 6 -9
eZ Systems 0 0 5 -10
TerminalFour 0 0 5 -10
WebSideStory 1 0 6 -10
Drupal 2 2 9 -12
Enonic 0 0 6 -12
IBM 2 2 9 -12
Documentum 0 3 8 -13
Joomla! 1 1 8 -13
Sitecore 2 3 10 -13
Vignette 0 1 7 -13
OpenCMS 0 0 7 -14
Microsoft 0 5 10 -15
Alfresco 1 2 10 -16

What do I make of all this numerosity?  A couple of things come to mind:

  • First, it’s obvious that there’s no such thing as “the best CMS”, only tools that are well-suited to particular situations.  That said, it’s nice to have folks like Tony providing high-level summaries that cover the broad landscape.
  • The Plone community can be justly proud of Plone’s strong scores across the board.  I think it signifies the overall high quality of Plone, and its relevance to a wide range of uses.  I can’t wait to see how Plone 3 stacks up next year!
  • Plone is the only open-source solution near the top of the scorecard.   The next 14 top-scoring systems are commercial products.  Other open-source products didn’t do so well. Midgard, and TYPO3 were in the middle of the pack.  Drupal, Joomla! and Alfresco were down near the bottom (alongside heavyweight commercial offerings from Microsoft, IBM and Vignette!).
  • I’d like to know more about the criteria Byrne used for evaluating, but
    I suppose I’d need to buy the full report to find out. 😉

Prizes and Innovation

So, three-quarters of a year into Netflix’s million-dollar movie-prediction challenge, it seems that the leading team is three-quarters of the way towards the goal of improving Netflix’s recommendation system by 10%.

Which makes me think about the role of prizes in innovation.  Clearly, they are starting to regain some currency amongst the technorati.  The recent Netsquared conference-cum-contest seems to me a like a prime example of the trend.  Re-reading the initial article about the Netflix challenge was interesting — challenges clearly have a lot of untapped power, but several conditions have to be in place for them to be effective:

1) The challenge has to have a specific, measurable, unambiguous, non-subjective goal.  In Netflix’s case, the challenge is to develop an algorithm that is 10% more accurate than Netflix’s current system.  The X Prize awarded $10 million to “a spacecraft capable of carrying three people to 100 kilometers above the earth’s surface, twice within two weeks.” 

2) Prizes don’t operate in a vacuum; they leverage existing resources.  Capturing a prize costs lots of money — in the X Prize’s case, the teams spent nearly $100 million on their projects.   The leading Netflix challenge team is a group of four people working full time.  That means there needs to be other sources of philanthropic money available to subsidize the actual work.

Food for thought for nonprofit technology folks thinking about contests and prizes.

Are you over-concerned with “shiny”?

Ethan Zuckerman (and I) think you probably are.

Some of my geek friends seem concerned that I’ve lost my sense of
shiny. Talking with friends at South by Southwest, they were concerned
that Global Voices wasn’t very appealing to the social software geek.
You can’t vote, you can’t edit our articles, you can only read or leave
a comment. Not very shiny. “Maybe you should add a digg-like mechanism
to let people rank articles? Or add a spinning globe that shows where
posts appear around the world in real time and deliver those updates
via Twitter?” It felt like an intervention: “Ethan, your lack of
shininess has become a problem for you and your friends. We care about
you, and we want to make sure that you understand that you seem to be
missing the shiny.”

The journalists – the primary audience for Global Voices – doesn’t
seem to be complaining about the lack of shiny. And I’ll happily admit
that the pretty maps are, at least in part, shiny and designed to meet
your shiny needs. But I think there’s something very deep to JC’s
diagnosis – there’s a good chance that underneath the shiny is
something that isn’t very interesting. (Not always, but often.) And
that some of what’s deeply, truly, long-term transformative isn’t shiny
at all.

Free as in “Free Kittens”

What a fantastic meme.  Michelle quotes Deborah quoting some unknown-but-sage librarian, talking about the “free”-ness of open source software:

“…all of these technologies are ‘free’ as in ‘free kittens,’ not free as in ‘free beer.'”

The point being that open-source software takes care and feeding, and the occasional trip to the vet.