May 2010

Little Things Can Mean A Lot: Privacy Policies

Privacy is a pretty hot topic right now. Facebook's ever-evolving changes to their user information privacy policy have made this a hot button topic that might just be at the forefront of your site user's mind.

Its pretty unlikely that any nonprofit would intentionally share its supporters information without their permission, but if you don't have a clear readable privacy policy you are missing an opportunity to let your site visitors and donors know just how you do treat their information. On the web you always want to instill as much trust and confidence in users as you can to build their relationship with your organization. So right now may be a good time to build your credibility and trust by updating or creating the privacy policy for your organizations site.

Even if you already have a policy in place you can extend your brand value by making yours more accessible  - as in both easy to find and easy to understand.

This might not be the easiest "little thing", but the opportunity to show your respect for those that support your mission can be invaluable.  So the first step is to have a page devoted to your policy and link to it on all pages (usually in the footer) with additional prominent links on any forms you might have on your site.

You might have to do a bit of footwork to find out exactly what your policy is and state it clearly, but its that sort of consideration that your potential supporters and donors will really appreciate and associate with the integrity of your organization.

Of course in order to clearly state what your data collection and security policy is you will need to know what your site's software (and email or donation provider's) actually does. If you don't have the in-house technical knowledge about this, you'll want to contact support at your vendor or ask your contractor what information is collected and how it's stored. Donation providers, at least, should have information about how they secure the transactions and personal information somewhere on their own website.

I think it would be really helpful if the open source communities offered a standard version of what the default system is set up to collect and how its used since lots of people don't really know. So far I haven't seen this but would love to know if anyone has a baseline version of privacy policy text for Joomla, Drupal and Plone.

Also - although I have listed a couple of free online policy generators to get you started they are very obviously geared toward e-commerce sites and full of technobabble that visitors won't understand. Obviously this is pretty out of sync with the tone with most nonprofits need. It would fantastic if someone created an online generator for nonprofit website privacy policies that didn't include so much customer and order language and explain policies in plain English.

Do you even need one?

Yes, if you:
*    Collect information - email lists, donations and registrations
*    Use Google Adsense (its required)
*    Share user information with other sites or organizations

Even if you don't have user sign-ups for email or other forms you might want to include a policy to disclose that your site places cookies on the user computer (but doesn't collect or store any identifiable information from them) just to show that you understand and respect their privacy. Especially if transparency is part of your brand, you'll want to let those anxious about privacy know that you have taken the time to make them comfortable.

What should be in it?

There is a great article on Wild Apricot's Blog that goes into far more depth about this topic that is well worth a quick read.

A couple samples to get started.
One good resource to get started is the Creative Commons Sharealike licensed policy from Wordpress/Advocmatic. How nice is that?

And another sample policy from the Better Business Bureau

There are a couple of free online generators but honestly they are so convoluted, legal sounding and full of non-applicable issues that I hesitated even listing them here. If you take the time to reword the generated text and keep the input simple, they might be helpful though, so here they are.
Direct Marketing Association's privacy policy generator.
(you will need to sign up for a free web visitor account though)

Possibly more useful is their set of "do the right thing" guidelines on privacy

And there is another at

How to make it useful

Translate whatever you can into plain English with common words. One example (from a webmaster forum user ) that I like is:

Instead of "This information is collected in a database and used--in an aggregated, anonymous manner--in our internal analysis of traffic patterns within our web site.
Why not write:
"We collect this information and use it to compile general statistics such as how many people visit which parts of the site. We do not use this information to track you personally."

Here's an article that makes the case a bit more strongly and includes some other tips for writing policies.

Keep it as short as possible. One of the problems with the online generators above is that they cover a zillion possible technologies and uses that you probably don't even know abut let alone use on your site.  And including a bunch of unrelated tech speak will freak out your users unnecessarily. Be thorough and truthful about how you obtain and use information but don't bring up anything that doesn't directly apply to your site.

Break up the sections with informative subheadings and include a table of contents with jump-links to the sections at the top if its more than 3 or 4 sections long. Consider formatting the page as an FAQ, which is a familiar format for visitors with questions.

Include whether forms will be submitted securely (https) and how that data will be used and protected. This is a primary concern among donors and others providing you with their personal information. So make it obvious that you take their concerns seriously.

Invite comments and questions with contact information.  Here is your chance to engage your supporters in a friendly way if they still have concerns or issues with your policy - make it easy for them.


Have it written by a lawyer or leave it in legal speak
While its important to follow the law, especially in regards to minors using your site, this doesn't mean that your privacy policy has to act or sound like a contract with the devil. In fact it defeats the purpose of informing your users transparently if they can't understand or won't bother to read your policy or terms of service. As a nonprofit, you obviously don't want a reputation for misleading your supporters.

If your legal team demands that you must include the legalese consider putting it behind a "summary or simple version" with a link to see complete details.

Skip it altogether if you have forms that ask for personal information.
Unbelievably I came across a fairly large Arts Council site that not only didn't have a policy for newsletter sign ups, but also didn't have one available for site registrations or even donations! I'm sure I am not the only person that would think twice before giving them my information or money.

A few examples

Perhaps because this isn't the most straightforward task for a webmaster, I really had a hard time finding examples that take advantage of brand extending possibilities, but here are a few.

Genocide Intervention policy is well thought out based on their mission (note the geographic security concerns):

Pew Internet keeps it short and sweet

And's policy is very thorough as you might expect:

I'd love to see some more examples of how nonprofits approach their privacy policies, so please leave them in the comments or email mail me links if you can.

The bottom line

If you treat your privacy policy as part of your supporter outreach and a service to help users rather than just a tedious requirement to cover your butt, you'll reap the benefits of increased trust, a perception of professionalism and positive associations with your organization's brand.



New articles: Online Donations, and Online Data Backup

 It's a new article bonanza!  Two great new articles up.  With the first, A Few Good Online Donation Tools, we've adapted and updated our very first detailed report, all the way back from 2005 into an article.   As you can imagine, that 2005 report was a tad out of date, but with the help of donors (like you!  thank you!) we've pulled the useful information and updated the information about the tools to provide a useful overview of the area.

And then, on a bit of a different topic, we have A Few Good Tools for Online Data Backup -- an overview of considerations and options for organizations who want to backup their data remotely.  This is a great option for small organizations without tech savvy, as it's often an almost set-it-and-forget it type of thing.  



Tribe Leaders and Social Network Fundraising Thoughts

If you list it, will they come? 

Crowdfunding refers to using the collective funds of a group of people to raise money for a venture, organizaiton, or cause. In the last several years, a number of crowdfunding platforms have arisen that enable individuals to collectively pool money for a cause. Using these fuundraising platforms, a nonprofit organization can list its causes, programs, organization...and wait for donors to fund them. Some of these platforms include  Root Funding, Betterplace, Firstgiving,  and niche audience platforms such as Donorschoose (US classrooms), Jgooders (Jewish causes), Israel Gives (Israeli causes) or Kickstarter (arts, ventures). There are also a number of personal fundraising platforms that rely primarily on your urging individuals to raise funds for a specific campaign, but also have a crowdfunding approach with goals and group fundriasing: givezooks, Causes, JustGiving, and Give2gether. A rising popular favorite for personal fundriasing is Crowdrise because of the "best promos ever" and celebrity energy (read: Edward Norton) behind it.

I received this email last week from a client:

"Hey - check this out - what do you think?" She included a link to Root Funding. She wants to list the organization on Root Funding as a recipient.

I think it's a great service, but it is not the Field of Dreams. If you list your project on any of these platforms, the donations (most likely) will not come.

The problem with expecting that listing your organization will bring funds is that you are basically sending out a message through the "fundraising classifieds." It is an open fundraising call for people who have very little desire to part with their hard-earned cash on behalf of your organization. They aren't connected in any real way to your group prior to the ask. Listing your project on Causes, where it is one of hundreds of thousands of Causes, will not attract the qualified attention or donations that you want. Crowdfunding has to be an intentional part of your fundraising strategy, lead by Tribe leaders, and aimed at people who care about your project and organization.

Seth Godin famously talks about Tribes. Godin defines a Tribe as a group of people connected to one another, connected to a leader, and connected to an idea that inspires their passion. When you are raising funds for through crowdfunding, think about some Tribe basics:

  • Do we have organizational leaders that are passionate about our cause?
  • Can they lead a tribe of impassioned followers?
  • Does our cause inspire passion in others?
  • Do we already have a broad-based social media following that is comprised of people who are a loose "tribe" of passionate followers?

Crowdfunding includes a social pressure -  everyone viewing the project and see the total money raised against the financial goal. The peer pressure aspect is easily communicated through social networks via Tribe leaders: people will have a tendency to donate because a leader is asking them to, or there are only a few hundred dollars away from the stated goal, or their best friend has asked them to donate. Crowdfunding leverages the idea that if we are all in this together, we can create a terrific benefit. It also leverages the idea of peer pressure: I know who's asked me and I'm less likely to say no to someone I respect.

If you have a broad social media base that includes tribes of followers with leaders....your crowdfunding efforts are going to be much stronger than if you're doing it without Tribe leaders. Don't underestimate the power of social network influence.

Take the time to prepare for crowdfunding. You want to develop leaders, include them in the choices, thoughtfully insert crowdfunding into your enitre fundraising strategy, and then choose the best crowdfunding platform and crowdfunding strategy. Then, if you build the Tribe, and the funding project, you're on your way to smart crowdfunding.

 If you've got a Tribe, and committed Tribe leaders, you can crowdfund. I'd love to hear more about it from you.



How Google Can Kick Facebook's Butt

(XKCD Cartoon by Randall Munroe)

Facebook really annoyed a lot of people with their recent, heavy-handed moves.  You can read about this all over the place, here are some good links about what they've done, what you should do and why it bothers some of us:

Facebook's Announcement (from their Blog)

Understanding the Open Graph from Chris Messina

Mark Zuckerberg's claim that internet privacy is "over" from Marshall Kirkpatrick at ReadWriteWeb

Three Ways Facebook Will Dramatically Change Your Nonprofit (from John Hayden)

Why I Don't "Like" Facebook and Void Rage: Unable To Muster Facebook Anger from Techcafeteria

Why You Shouldn't Delete Your Facebook Account by Janet Fouts

Facebook and "Radical Transparency" (A Rant) by Danah Boyd

Long story short, though, Facebook wants us all to open up, and they want the web to be a place where you do things and report back to Facebook about them.  My take on this is that Im in favor of an open web that offers a rich, social experience with lots of referred information.  I don't consider Facebook an acceptable platform or steward of that function.

Why Google?

As my colleague Johanna pointed out, there's already an effort underway to develop a purely open alternative to Facebook. The Diaspora project has received significant funding and seems to be run by some very thoughtful, intelligent people.  But I look at this as a kind of David and Goliath proposition, with the rider that this Goliath won't even blink if David hurls a rock at him.  If someone is going to displace Facebook, it's not likely going to be a tiny startup with a couple of $100k.  It's going to be Google.

You might ask me, isn;t this just trading one corporate overseer for another? And the answer is yes.  But Google's guiding principle is "Don't be Evil". Facebook's, apparently, is "milk your users for every penny their personal data can net you".  If someone's going to capitalize on my interactions with friends, family and the world, I'd rather it be the corporation that has demonstrated some ethics in their business decisions to the one that has almost blatantly said that they don't care about their users.

Supplementing Buzz

So, how can Google play Indiana Jones to the rolling boulder that is Facebook? Not by just pushing Buzz.  I'll get to Buzz in a minute, because I'm a fanboy of the platform.  But Buzz alone isn't a Facebook killer, and Google won't have a foothold unless they take a couple of their afterthought properties and push them front and center.

Big Google Product: GMail. Afterthought that supports it: Contacts.

Google needs to do some heavy re-imagining of their contact management app if they want to gain a foothold against Facebook. Facebook's contact management is simple and elegant; Google's looks like a web app that I might have developed.  They need to get some of the good UI people lurking among the geeks to do an overhaul, stat, adding features like social media site integration (ala Rapportive or Gist) and more ajaxy, seamless ways to create and manage people and groups.

Big Google Product: Buzz. Afterthought that supports it: Google Profiles.

Social networking is all about the profile; why doesn't Google get that?  Buzz isn't the home page; the profile is, and what Google has provided for us is cute, simplistic, and far too limited to meet our needs.  But the customization options for the current profile are limited, and the whole thing just feels lazy on Google's part, as if they spent a half hour designing it and then dumped it on us.

Why Buzz Rocks

I've written about Buzz before; more to this point on my other blog.  Google Buzz supports about 90% of the basic features of a full-fledged blogging platform like Wordpress or Blogger:

  • I can write a post with images.
  • Commenting, with some commenting moderation, is in place.
  • You can subscribe to my Buzz feed as an individual RSS feed, or just visit it on my profile.
  • But, unlike this blog, my Buzz posts are also subscribable in the Buzz news feed interface, like Twitter or Facebook, making it all the richer in terms of how people can reply and interact.  That's pretty powerful.
  • Buzz supports groups (via Contacts) and private posts.
  • Google just announced (like, yesterday) an API that will allow people to develop apps that interact with and run on the Buzz platform.
  • And, of course, Buzz integrates right into my email, keeping it front and center, and convenient.


Tying It All Together

Google could make this a powerful alternative to Facebook by doing a few simple things:

  • Almost everyone I know who gave Buzz a try instantly ported in their Twitter feed and then forgot about it, leaving those of us who like Buzz left to sift through all of that stuff that, hey, we've already read, because we haven't left Twitter. So, Google should lose the universal feed feature. Keep it about the value of the conversation, not the volume level.
  • But keep the Google Reader integration, along with link, picture and video posts.  A good blog comments on other web content, not other web feeds, and the integration of Google Reader as a content source works.  One reason it works is because you can post the Google Reader items with comments.
  • Make the profile page more configurable and dynamic, allowing users to add tabs and link them to RSS sources, much the way we add content to the sidebars of our blogs.  This is how my twitter feed should be integrated, not interspersed with my Buzz posts.
  • Make Contacts a tab on the profile page.
  • Add theming to the profile page.  Emulate the Blogger theming options.
  • I own a domain with my name on it, and I would point that domain to my profile page and make Buzz my blog if I had the ability to make that profile a page that I could call my own.



As much as I'd appreciate an open web, not a corporate owned one, I'm just not idealistic enough to believe that it's still a possibility. If i have a choice of corporate overlords, I want the one that open sources most of their software; maintains high ethical standards for how their ads are displayed; has a track record of corporate philanthropy; and is relatively respectful of the fact that my friends and information belongs to me. That's not Facebook. Please do weigh in on whether I'm too cynical or too trusting of the alternative, because this is an important topic. The future of the web depends on who we trust to steward our interactions.

Tech Tips From The Nonprofit Technology Conference

Last month, I reported on the first annual Tech Track, a series of sessions presented at the April, 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference. In that post I listed the topics covered in the five session track. Today I want to discuss some of the answers that the group came up with.

Session 1: Working Without a Wire

This session covered wireless technologies, from cell phones to laptops. Some conclusions:

The state of wireless is still not 100%, but it's better than it was last year and it's still improving Major metropolitan areas are well covered; remote areas (like Wyoming) are not. There are alternatives, such as Satellite, but that still requires that your location be in unobstructed satellite range. All in all, we can't assume that wireless access is a given, and the challenge is more about managing staff expectations than installing all of the wireless by ourselves. It will get there.
Wireless security options are improving. Virtual Private Networks (VPNs), remote access solutions (such as Citrix, VNC and Terminal Services) are being provided for more devices and platforms, and the major smartphone companies are supporting enterprise features like remote device wipes.
Policy-wise, more orgs are moving to a module where staff buy their own smartphones and the companies reimburse a portion of the bill to cover business use. Some companies set strict password policies for accessing office content; others don't.

Session 2: Proper Plumbing

This session was pitched as covering virtualization and other server room technologies, but when we quizzed the participants, virtualization was at the top of their list, so that's what we focused on.

We established that virtualizing servers is a recommended practice. If you have a consultant recommending it and you don't trust their recommendation, find another consultant and have them virtualize your systems, because the recommendation is a good one, but it's a problem that you don't trust your consultant!
The benefits of virtualization are numerous -- reduced budgets, reduced carbon footprints, instant testing environments, 24/7 availability (if you can upgrade a copy of a server and then switch it back live, an advanced virtualization function).
There's no need to rush it -- it's easier on the budget and the staff, as well as the environment, to replace standalone servers with virtualized ones as the hardware fails.
On the planning side, bigger networks do better by moving all of their data to a Storage Area Network (SAN) before virtualizing. This allows for even more flexibility and reduced costs, as servers are strictly operating systems with software and data is stored on fast, redundant disk arrays that can be accessed by any server, virtual or otherwise.

Session 3: Earth to Cloud

The cloud computing session focused a lot on comparisons. While the general concern is that hosting data with a third party is risky, is it any more risky than hosting it on our own systems? Which approach is more expensive? Which affords the most freedom to work with our data and integrate systems? How do we manage disaster recovery and business continuity in each scenario?

Security - Everyone is hackable, and Google and Salesforce have a lot more expertise in securing data systems than we do. So, from a "is your data safe?" perspective, it's at least a wash. But if you have sensitive client data that needs to be protected from subpoenas, as well as or more than hackers, than you might be safer hosting your own systems.
Cost - We had no final answers; it will vary from vendor to vendor. But the cost calculation needs to figure in more than dollars spent -- staff time managing systems is another big expense of technology.
Integration and Data Management - Systems don't have to be in the same room to be integrated; they have to have robust APIs. And internal systems can be just as locked as external if your contract with the vendor doesn't give you full access and control over your data. This, again, was a wash.
Risk Management - There's a definite risk involved if your outsourced host goes out of business. But there are advantages to being hosted, as many providers offer multiply-redundant systems. Google, in particular, writes every save on a Google Doc or GMail to two separate server farms on two different continents.
It all boils down to assessing the maturity of the vendors and negotiating contracts carefully, to cover all of the risks. Don't sign up with the guy who hosts his servers from his basement; and have a detailed continuity plan in place should the vendor close up shop.

If you're a small org (15 staff or less), it's almost a no-brainer that it will be more cost-effective and safer to host your email and data in the cloud, as opposed to running our own complex CRMs and Exchange servers. If you're a large org, it might be much more complex, as larger enterprise apps sometimes depend on that Exchange server being in place. But, all in all, Cloud computing is a viable option that might be a good fit for you -- check it out, thoroughly.

I'll finish this thread up with one more post on budgeting and change management in the next few weeks.

Checklist Manifesto and Technology


Have you read the Checklist Manifesto or run across Atul Gawande in the New Yorker or on the Daily Show ( I’ve been wondering how his surgical reflections apply to technology projects. 
His thing is how simple check lists can save lives in the operating room. And including in world class hospitals such as his own base in Boston. Most technology initiatives don’t have the life and death urgency of emergency room surgery—certainly not mine. Yet there is a lot that applies. 
Have you ever been on the receiving end of a Friday afternoon “catastrophe”? One of my favorites is that frisky contact list a client needs urgently for a end of day mailing or weekend event. I had one just a week ago. I’m sure Dr G would say, before calling in emergency room care, how about a simple check-list: .

A checklist: "I can't print my contact list" 

  • Can you see the lists on screen or in the browser? If so, the data system probably has not failed.
  • Can you print an unrelated document from some other software? If not, then the problem is even less likely to be in the list software.
  • Is the printer plugged in and turned on? (Please, you’d be surprised.)
  • Does the printer have paper, not jammed? Walk over and check.
  • Is the printer reporting toner out or other message?
  • Is the printer visible on line in your “my printers” or the Mac equivalent? (How to check this may require more details.)
  • Can you print the list to another printer, even if that’s not the one needed for the job?
  • If not to any, does the problem go away if you restart your computer?
  • Can you see your network shared folders?
  • Can someone at another desk print that list to the required printer? (If so, you can probably get by and go home for the weekend.) 
Do you find this simple list list insulting? Gawande discusses how maybe half of the 150,000 or so annual deaths from surgery complications could be prevented by routine operating room system checks on par with this list. The world of technology, like the world of medicine, is a complex one requiring specialized knowledge. Gawande says in complex environments, under pressure to produce results, two problems can occur: 
  • We forget to check some basic things.  We’re under pressure and we jus forget. 
  • Or, we think those basic things don’t apply.  Or not to me. “’This has never been a problem before,’ people say. Until one day it is.”
Formalizing the database-won’t-print-my-list checklist or others like it may reduce support calls or lost time. They also should increase self-reliance and distribute knowledge. 
Having the list also relieves the potential of offending someone by asking to check the obvious, like are you plugged in. “The checklist gets the dumb stuff out of the way.” It reduces internalized tensions, and lets you focus on the hard items. Completed lists create documentation that can be checked if trouble arises later. 
Anyone who has taken part in training workshops I do know I’ve been partial to check-lists. I have used more complicated ones as thought experiments or discussion organizers. The book inspired me to review them and start creating simpler, more focused ones.

Checklists Support Collaborative Projects

I started the book expecting an alternative reality of software project management. Checklists are not an alternative way of doing technology project management. On the other hand, checklists could improve project management.  
For example, we have a highly technical checklist for initial steps in configuring a Drupal site. Follow the steps and it you get a fresh Drupal site operational in 15 minutes or so. (Then the fun begins…) On the less technical side, we also have worked on general project management checklists for implementation project launches.  To be useful in the way Gawande describes however, I now see two things that we need to bring into focus. 
First,  to be effective, the checklist methodology needs to be collaborative. A personal to-do list is not the same as a team checklist. One of Gawande’s operating room checklist essentials is that everyone on the team introduce themselves and say what their role will be in the surgery, whether emergency or not. The collaborative approach to reviewing the list increases the chance that the team as a whole will catch possible slip-ups.  
Second, someone has to “own” the list. According to Gawande, going back to the 1930s, airlines were probably the first large scale adopters of checklists. Generally, it’s the co-pilot who checks the list against what the pilot is doing. Similarly, in his experiments with medical checklists  around the world, he describes in meticulous detail discussion about who owns the list. 
Going further, Gawande  discusses effective checklists that sometimes mainly focus on ensuring team communication. The chapter on construction architecture, engineering and contracting had the most applicability to our kind of projects. Like a construction project and unlike a surgery, technology projects often go on for a while, these days depend on teams not working physically in close proximity, and have elements of complexity that can’t be predicted or modeled in advance. 
The construction contractor firm he profiles does use basic checklists to cross-check some processes. For me, these might correspond to a website relaunch checklist, switching the domain, migrating from development to production, setting security, and so on. A lot of things have to happen in the right sequence to have a smooth cutover. 
Interestingly, in the construction example, other checklists focus instead on ensuring that at each critical point in a project, the various sub-contracting teams talk to each other. “In the face of the unknown…the builders trusted in the power of communication.” “They believed in the wisdom of…making sure that multiple pairs of eyes were on a problem…” 
I liked that. Especially in the modern era of software development, influenced to one degree or another by “Agile” philosophies, we may tend to emphasize adaptability and flexibility over discipline and formality. Yes, user stories and design mockups may change in the course of completing a software component, and if not continuously updated, testing may suffer. I’m not going to justify that. What I learned from the construction example is the power of this other kind of list, ones that bring back together the dispersed teams to communicate. Did the designer and the developer verbally confirm together that their respective key specifications were met? These types of list check that everyone has remained in sync on their key processes and can vouch that requirements have been met. I’m going to explore these as well.

A Word On Resources

If you are intrigued, read the book.  Or at least spend some time on his website: Tools that fit with using checklists for tech projects would need to have these features: collaboration, ability to set dates, ability to create reusable templates. 
  • Google spreadsheets would be an easy one. 
  • Though I use it personally, I don’t recommend Remember the Milk mainly because I don’t see how to create a checklist template. 
  • Basecamp makes a closer fit because it allows you to create to-do list templates that can be maintained and reused in new projects. A limitation is that someone with overall account administrator status has to post the edits. 
  • While reading the book, I came across While I haven’t used it, it seems like a great standalone fit for “checklist manifesto” experiments, even in its free version.
  • And here is a great checklist for making checklists:


Pining for an alternative to Facebook. Will it be Diaspora?

At the 2009 NTEN NTC, there was a plenary delivered by Eben Moglen that stuck with me enough that I had to watch it a couple more times after I got home. He spoke about reclaiming our personal data from corporations, and about distributed data shared peer-to-peer by choice, by we the people who could and should own our personal data. And when and if we choose to share, corporations will not be allowed to spy on us.

Moglen’s NTC speech was enough to make me giddy with youthful, idealistic enthusiasm (an uncommon occurrence these days). Apparently, a similar talk inspired four youthful, idealistic nerds from NYU to spend their summer building a private, distributed social networking platform called Diaspora, and they raised a bunch (over $100K at last check!!) of money to do it via Kickstarter. (In an instance of non-Alanis-Morrisette actual irony, the banner ad displayed to me above that NYT article was an Adobe ad that said “We [heart] Apple.” But I digress.)

Raphael Sofaer, one of the Diaspora developers, starts out the video on their site explaining, “In real life, we talk to each other; we don’t need to hand our messages to a hub [Facebook, Twitter, etc.] and have them handed to our friends. Our virtual lives should work the same way.” So Diaspora would be a platform that you could install on your own server, and you’d own it, and use it to share as much or as little as you want. As I understand it, your encrypted data would be shared, at your discretion, in a peer-to-peer fashion with other Diaspora “nodes,” owned by others. The developers' website also claims they want Diaspora to be able to “scrape” current social networks so that you can get your personal data back from places like Twitter.

One of the main purposes of the Internet has always been about humans using computers to connect with other humans (via other computers), and social networking has clearly established itself as the current evolutionary iteration of this human instinct to connect via technology. The use of Facebook, Twitter and Google has become ubiquitous, yet many of us strongly dislike being watched by corporations and having our personal data continually scanned and mined.

Social networking platforms for private groups (online communities behind “velvet ropes”) are still lacking; Ning, which isn’t even private in terms of data ownership, failed to keep their service free, and has certainly failed nonprofits. Something like Diaspora—if it is truly easy to use, hard to crash, extremely well-designed, and truly private—could be revolutionary in this space. In my experience, nonprofits do some of their best work in small groups who are working on sensitive issues and/or with sensitive data for which they require privacy, but whose effect is dramatically increased if they are able to use technology to collaborate privately. A quick inventory of semi-private and private social networking platforms as they stand right now (feel free to add to this list in comments):

  • Ning and Groupsite: You can create "private," closed groups on these paid, hosted SaaS platforms, but they own your data and the software is proprietary and not open for community iteration. Oh so many issues.
  • Elgg and OneSocialWeb: I haven’t used these myself. This excellent critique of the Diaspora concept raises them both as free, open, viable alternatives that already exist, and asks why someone isn’t just working on a distributed version of Elgg. Good question.
  • phpBB: I use this to run a private group on my own (uh, virtual-cloud, so is it really private?) server. Lemme tell you, the development community around this bboard software exists enough to make it useable, but it’s (to use bboard lingo) a PITA to use.
  • Drupal: I build websites in Drupal, and I can say that using Drupal as a social networking platform is not yet for the faint-of-heart.
  • Ye olden listservs: Email discussion list software, which you can install on your own server, is still a first choice for many geeks who want private collaboration. Listserv platforms are not even close to being as user-friendly as (the plenty-problematic) Google or Yahoo groups, but they can be made as truly private as you can get.

Are these enthusiastic, eager college grad Diaspora developer-kids really going to be able to build something usable—something that can be iterated upon effectively—in three months of summer break? As they nurse their lattes in their video with that glazed, been-coding-too-long look in their eyes, they claim they will be working more than twelve hours a day to get this done. I am not sure that’s enough, but I can’t help but feel a little hopeful that Diaspora, or something like it, may be on the horizon.

May 26, 2010: Allyson Kapin has a great post on this on FrogLoop.

Can you spread a Facebook survey to your personal friends and family?

 Hey, as you probably know, we are in the midst of a substantial research project as to what social media methods are good for what.  As part of that, we've created a very short survey to try to gauge whether heavy users of Facebook are more likely to think well of a nonprofit that's on Facebookl.

With this survey, we're trying to reach folks OUTSIDE the nonprofit and technology spheres. Can you help?  If you have a lot of personal friends on Facebook outside the nonprofit technology realm, could you post a link to the survey to your Facebook profile?  And might you be able to ask a few personal friends or family members to post it?  Here's a possible Facebook post:

Can you do me a favor, and fill out an extremely short survey (it'll only take about a minute) about your thoughts on Facebooks and nonprofits?  It will help nonprofits decide if they should use Facebook.  The survey's here:

And here's a possible quick email to friends/ family members to ask them to post it to their profile:

Hi X,
A nonprofit organization I know, Idealware, is doing some substantial research to help nonprofits figure out what social media tools are likely to be useful for what.  As part of that, they've put together a very short survey to try to gauge whether heavy users of Facebook are more likely to think well of a nonprofit that's on Facebook. 
They're trying to reach a broad general audience with the survey -- could you help by posting a quick link to the survey on your own Facebook profile?  It would be great to get input from your Facebook community. Here's a possible Facebook post:
Can you do me a favor, and fill out an extremely short survey (it'll only take about a minute) about your thoughts on Facebooks and nonprofits?  It will help nonprofits decide if they should use Facebook.  The survey's here: 

Thanks for your help!

As this isn't our usual audience, we could really use your help to distribute the survey.  Reaching out to older and younger generations would be particularly useful.  Have a son/ daughter/ mother/ father on Facebook?  Would love them to respond to the survey and/or post it to their profile.
Thanks -- would really appreciate anyone you can spread it to!

Our Own Social Media Response Rate

 We just closed our Social Media Stories survey (thanks for everyone who took it!  Got some really useful information.  And yes, we're going to analyze all those antecdotes by hand).  You can setup SurveyMonkey to provide different links to the same survey, so you can track (kind of) where each person found the link.  This isn't perfect, as potentially some people saw the link from an email and proceeded to post it out on Twitter or Facebook.  But it gives you a sense of magnitude. 

So we did, to add to our experience as to what channels work for what.  It's pretty interesting.  Here's where the responses came from:
From an email to our list:  191 responses
From posts to a number of email discussion lists:  68 responses
From Twitter:  7 responses (interestingly, there were far more retweets than responses)
From our blog: 5 responses
From Facebook: 2 responses
Just to put these in context with response rates, we have about 12,000 people on our email list, 1500 Twitter followers, and 400 Facebook Fans.  So actual response rates were about 1.5 responses/100 subscribers for our email list, and about 0.5 responses/ 100 followers for both Twitter and Facebook.
The moral:  don't write off email.  In any way.  Though of course your own milage may vary.

Creating a video? A few things to consider before you shoot

I just attended the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference (NTC). While there, I attended a the We Are Media session on video - or rather - what to think about before you make that video. In the session, Stacy Laiderman from See3 Communications walked us through the basics of creating a nonprofit video. However, what became apparent was that great video is great because of advance planning and preparation. Before you make your video, here are the key questions to keep in mind:

  • What are your goals: Why are you making this video? What do you want to accomplish with it?
  • Who is your audience? Get really specific about the target gropu of people who will move the piece forward for your organization. This will help you think about your distribution plan as well.
  • What is the time frame and budget? Budget = money = time. Hint: try to get everyone at same location at same time to shoot one day of production, as budget affects gear and time frame.
  • What do you want the viewers to do with the information given? 
  • How will you measure success?
  • How will you share and/or use the finished film? Is it for an event, do you have a broadcast partner and it will air online, etc? This affects the type of equipment you need to use.
  • What is your story? You are paring down a story to its bare minimum - what is that minimum that is also compelling to the audience?

One really helpful exercise was to think about shooting a video at the NTC. As a group, we tried to answer the questions above in this way:

Goal: Use the video it to promote the conference, share content, membership signup, speakers for next year.
Audience: nonprofit technology community, nonprofits, consultants, vendors
Time frame: final video ready at least 3 months before the conference the following year.
How will NTEN measure success? Increased membership by a certain percentage, increased attendence by a percentage, number speaker applications, etc. (by what the viewers do with the message)
Distribution: website, video sharing platforms, newsletter, etc.

When you've thought through these questions, and you've put your video team together, you're almost ready to shoot. Just a few more things to do and you'll be ready:

1. Create a production schedule: where/who/when, look at budget to make sure you can cover all the production costs
2. Determine format (best to use one format, the video camera)
3. Become familiar with your gear by practicing
4. Scout location and plan. Remember to pay attention to light, sound, extra noise, and how the camera will see each shot.
5. Prepare interview questions and/or a script. This is really important so that you remember key points and questions. Practice them. For a script, you'll need a vision ahead of time or you couldl end up with footage without knowing how to use it!
6. Review any pre-existing media (maybe could use old footage

Importantly, think about the B-roll. The B-roll is background or context footage. (The A-roll is content.)  Think about what the supplemental coverage would establish context, and add to the content. An example might be a shot of someone wearing the NTEN cap at the NTC conference.  Be sure to get a steady shot, holding it for at least 10 seconds.  If you are filming others on the b-roll, then be sure to get releases from them.

During this NTC workshop, we actually went out and shot some video with a flip camera. It was much harder in practice than in theory!

What I learned from the practice:

  • Steadying the camera is hard! Steady the camera with body if you can.
  • interviewer stands next to camera holder
  • It is really hard to find a quiet place with good light!
  • Remember to get the b-roll

I've always had a fantasy that I'd create a movie visual story with film for a nonprofit organization. Whether or not I do this, I learned that it's not as much about the story as it is about the preparation. Many thanks to Stacy Laiderman, Producer, at See3 Communications for a great session!

Technical resources: - Video tutorials, basics of any kind of software you need to understand. Have to pay for annual membership. – forum where people post questions.

Video FAQs from See3 Communications: