On Thursday, I attended the unconference/open space portion of SOCAP09. I found a few tech sessions that were relevant to the purposes of TechSoup, and as is always the case, I collected the business cards of some intelligent people doing good work. The spontaneous conversations in the halls, are really the reason why we go to conferences, right?
That is really the reason we even do F2F these days, as much of the content at conferences is pretty much the same conversation again and again, at least in the Nonprofit Tech world (Twitter or Facebook,? what’s the best platform to do online collaboration on?, etc. etc.) Here is what you missed, so now you don’t have to regret not having gone.
Meet these smart people whom I met, and you may not know about but should:
- Jill Finlayson, Social Edge Social Media guru
- Greg Berry, Systems Designer of Nuance Intelligence
- Boyd Cohen, of 3rd Whale
- Dawn Bowles, of Dreambank.org
These people were talking about very different topics, but there were some emerging and complementary high-level themes that I observed across conversations.
One such theme I observed that that emerged is that there is a justifiable fear of the duplication of efforts. The answer to that, at least the stop-gap measure, was to have an open API with shared data about social entrepreneurship. Another theme is that people who are not in the NPTech sector want to find a place to tell them where to start, in terms of online social networking and social media tools. It isn’t enough to just say, “Go to TechSoup.” Not everyone wants to wade through an enormous website with a less-than-perfect search engine.
Here are some tactical themes that spanned across conversations in the sessions and people to whom I could map the themes:
An interesting theme that I saw recurring was the cross-disciplinary concept of micro-donations. Whether is be micro-donation of money (Bennett Grassano, former TechSoup Development Director and current Kiva Development Director was present, representing the very successful micro-lending platform), micro-donation of time (the Extrordinaries helps people volunteer their time, via their mobile phones, in very small actionable tasks)or micro-donation of of gifts (Dreambank.org allows an individual to receive a portion of their Dream-gift from many people, instead receiving lots of crap they don’t want, they just tell their friends and family and Facebook network to go to their Dreambank page, and all gift-givers donate a portion to that larger “dreamgift.”) If this idea proliferates, it will lessen waste by unused crap. The platform can also benefit a charity. If people can’t afford to give to charity, they can just give their dreamgift to a friend, and instead they let the dreamgift pay the Nonprofits that are participating in their program. Others in the field who could fall into a bucket of Charity gift giving would be: Changingthepresent.org and a number of Charity Mall sites (Like Givestream, iGive.com or Firstgiving.com) that donate a portion of the proceeds to charities.
Another couple of notable orgs that were relevant in this category were:
- World Nomads, through their Footprints program, they fund large scale International development projects through micro-donations. They are currently working in language translation, their site is all about mitigating risk (i.e. insurance) when you are on the road and enables one to give a micro-donation while traveling in a location.
- GlobalGiving Circle: a network of individuals who come together to support creative and innovative solutions to alleviate poverty, through micro-donations and well-organized donations and fund-raising efforts.
All of these programs played to the concept of accommodating people’s desire to give and the need to be fast and abbreviated.
- Radical Collaboration using online tools, another theme that emerged, took many divergent directions, mainly because most attendees did not know enough about APIs to follow the initial lead of the session designer, Greg Berry.
One source of APIs that Greg was hoping that we would all be able to draw from is the newly launched Social Entrepreneur open API which is a search engine for finding social entrepreneurs, designed in order to provide an exchange and transfer of information. Having shared data would help us move more in the desired direction of not duplicating the efforts of an organization with a similar mission. It would act as a data-feed for this community. The organization SocialActions.com was mentioned in several conversations, as a site to watch, in this arena. If we encourage a common usage of the API to share the data, the data will be harmonized, it will work with a single search box, to use on all Social Entrepreneurial websites.
Other sites that shared a common theme (and should probably partner, and use the new open API, so as to not re-invent the wheel) that were mentioned were:
- Compathos: Connecting volunteers and financial resources with nonprofits through digital storytelling
- Media Saves the Day: (still in beta) Connecting volunteers and nonprofits for media and tech needs
- Catch a Fire connecting tech volunteers with nonprofits
All of the above projects leveraged the micro-donation of time/effort to help an organization fulfil its mission. They also examined doing social benefit work by harnessing smaller effort by many people using technology, or community-based design, also known as crowd-sourcing. Projects like the ones mentioned above and Openaustin.org (which is one man’s effort to crowd-source the redesign and revuild of the website for the city of Austin) exemplify a new wave in technology that is all about volunteerism, in a quick and easily digestible way, one that takes less of a commitment, but if organized appropriately, can demonstrate great impact.
Although not directly related to the above two themes of crowd-sourcing and micro-donations, I still thought it may be of interest to share some notes from the Mobile Apps for Social Change conversation. I have just included some key thoughts from that discussion below.
A theme that emerged in the Mobile Apps for Social Change session was that in order to have more cause-based mobile apps, we have to developers to brave the cost and competition, because the odds are stacked against them. Here are some brief facts that I learned on this topic:
- Blackberry outsells the iPhone (Who knew?)
- Android– Google’s open source phone that is the main competitor to the iPhone
- iPhone has 1.5 billion downloads of apps, and there are 75,000 apps on the market
- 5-10,000 new apps are being developed each week
- The Palm Pre has only a few hundred thousand users, and therefor very few apps developed, because an average app costs somewhere btw $10,000- $50,000 to build
- Asia is ahead of US in terms of data-phone and mobile market penetration
- however, most in the developing world, use cell phones as their primary means of accessing the web, not just laptops
- youth is migrating to smart phones
- most phones are becoming web-capable, not only data phones, but the problem is that the data plans are not that affordable
- the average farmer in rural Africa does not have a smart phone– w/intro of appstore, developers were able to bypass the carrier.
- It’s difficult to be approved as an app, for cause related developers, because previously the developers had to be approved by a carrier in order to get accepted into the marker
- One would assume that cause-related apps would get approved easier by carriers, but it’s not so, because they are not profitable.
- Would it be a politically charged reason that the apps are not easily approved?
- w/smart phones and appstores, a developer no longer needs to get approved by the carrier, as soon as Apple approves an app, it’s live and available on appstore
- Another option for building apps outside of the iPhone framework is the text-based apps. For example, an app that is not web-based is to text 2555 to find out where nearest HIV treatment or testing center
- price of texting is going down in developing world. There is an innovation in developing world that goes twds reverse billing, so bill could go to NGO initiating activity
- FRONTLINE sms– ALLOWS you to build up a database on yr computer and use that to send out text messages enmasse
- Some causes that are being tackled: mobile trends in human rights violations, information about agriculture, the health of workers in the field, providing information to health-care professionals in remote areas and allowing for them to upload data, and mobile banking
In all, a very interesting day, and I was impressed by the move towards microdonations of time, volunteerism, and resources by the use of online social networks and mobile technology.