Needed: an open data standard for volunteer opportunities

I was chatting today with my friend Sameer about the challenges and opportunities in volunteer management software and had a bit of a realization: it’s crazy that we don’t have an open data standard for volunteer opportunities, so that organizations can publish a machine-readable list of volunteer opportunities on their websites, and let them get picked up and syndicated by services like VolunteerMatch and Idealist that specialize in aggregating and curating volunteer opportunities.

I’m thinking of something like RSS (or even better, ATOM), which provides a simple, open standard for publishing information about articles on websites so that they could easily be picked up, remixed and syndicated to reach a far larger audience.

Let’s call it “VSS” (Volunteer Syndication Standard). I haven’t thought about this deeply, and I’m no expert on designing protocols like this, but I would start by seriously examining ATOM, the most modern RSS-like standard for publishing articles. I’d also look at hATOM for inspiration about how to embed machine-readable data directly into a standard webpage. EDIT: Probably also .ics (the standard for event syndication, because volunteer opportunities often–but not always–resemble events.)

It would be hard to inspect one’s navel to design this right, so I’m not even going to try. But I’d definitely definitely want to include folks like:

  • Organizations that publish lots of volunteer opportunities
  • Organizations that aggregate and curate volunteer opportunities or recruit volunteers for many organizations
  • Makers of volunteer management software (or other tools that let groups publish volunteer opportunities online–this could include major CMS platforms, for example)

I think that a standard like this, if sufficiently widely adopted, could unlock a huge amount of innovation in how organizations (and intermediaries) recruit volunteers, especially if it was coupled with another set of standards for intermediaries to use to push data about volunteers directly into groups’ volunteer management databases.





Even more sprint wisdom

Joel Burton, Chris Calloway, Chris Ewing and Chris Rossi (with some remote assistance from Alex Clark and Matthew Wilkes) just wrapped up an insanely productive sprint focused on improving ZopeSkel, the code generator for Plone integrators and developers.   At the end of their in-depth write-up, they share some golden “lessons learned” about effective small-group sprinting.

The No-Fun ZopeSkel BBQ Sprint accomplished 23 major tasks in four days primarily by four sprinters.

We are very excited by the productivity and usefulness of the sprint and feel there are some lessons to impart:

  • Smaller sprints are by far more productive.
  • Ruthlessly focused sprints are more productive. Having super-clear goals and not wavering from them is key.
  • Excluding topics which don’t exactly fit goals is not a bad idea.
  • Design discussion and documentation ahead of the sprint make for a more productive sprint.
  • Inviting capable sprinters with strong motivations and undivided attention is abolutely necessary.
  • Bounties are not all they are cracked up to be. They take a lot of work. There may be easier ways to raise travel expenses.
  • A work environment geared towards serious concentration with no interruptions or distractions is extremenly helpful.
  • Starting as early as feasible each day and working for about ten hours is most productive.
  • A lunch break which involves walking to a location away from the work environment refreshes the afternoon’s work.
  • IRC, Twitter, UStream and other open communication channels are distractions while sprinting. Help yourselves before helping others outside the sprint while it is sprint-time. There will be time to help others after the sprint and a sprint which doesn’t produce helps nobody.
  • Sprint now, report out later. Blogging is another distraction while sprinting. Help the sprint first.
  • Photographing whiteboards is a nice security blanket which doesn’t take much time.
  • Have the network set up the day before. Don’t go wireless. Have a high speed switch on a fat pipe.
  • Have a couple of nice dinners in the middle of the sprint. Make lunch fun. Eat BBQ every day. Have BBQ on your pizza. People who have fun together work together better.
  • Get plenty of sleep. Don’t stay out all night.
  • Get the nicest possible accommodations. Private accommodations entirely taken over by the sprinters are best.
  • Do not fit three people in the front seat of a pick-up truck.

There’s a lot of clean-up work left over from this sprint. We could have used an extra day. It would have been wrong to cut short the work being completed on the final day in order to make a second ZopeSkel release in four days. Plus, some clean-up work depends on the outcome of discussions regarding the previously mentioned splitting proposal. Suffice to say, there will be at least a couple of people merging branches into trunk at the Plone Conference 2009 Sprint.

Previous posts about sprinting:

Sprint Wisdom

More Sprint Wisdom

Recommended Read: Dreaming in Code

I stayed up rather late last night early this morning finishing Scott Rosenberg’s book “Dreaming in Code.” If you’re involved with open-source software (or software at all), you really owe it to yourself to go get a copy.

It’s a great look into the real-world challenges of writing software, told through the still-ongoing story of Mitch Kapor’s Chandler project, an ambitious attempt to create a new breed of personal information manager. (Chandler, interestingly, shipped a 1.0 version earlier this month after 6 years of gestation!)

Windows Live Writer: Really Nice Offline Blogging Software

Call me crazy, but I just checked out Microsoft’s just-out-of-beta Windows Live Writer offline blogging client, and I gotta tellya, it’s pretty nice.  Score one for the kids in Redmond.

It’s free and Windows-only (of course).  It offers an easy-to-configure, very polished UI for writing and editing blog posts. It handles cut-and-paste from the web and Word with aplomb.  It has a nice little image handling system.  It feels quite polished, at least in the first 30 minutes I spent with it.  It supports all the major blogging products and APIs.

Plone-related question: it would be cool if we could support uploading of images via FTP or via a blogging API from an offline client.  Maybe we can already?