Peter Campbell's blog

Adventures in Web Site Migration

I recently took on the project of migrating the Idealware articles and blog from their old homes on Idealware's prior web site and Google's Blogger service to our shiny, new, Drupal-based home. This was an interesting data-migration challenge. The Idealware articles were static HTML web pages that needed to be put in Drupal's content database. And there is no utility that imports Blogger blogs to Drupal. Both projects required research and creativity.

The first step in any data migration project is to determine if automating the task will be more work than just doing it by hand. Idealware has about 220 articles published; cutting and pasting the text into Drupal, and then cleaning up the formatting, would be a grueling project for someone. On the other hand, automating the process was not a slam dunk. Database data is easier to write conversion processes for than free form text. HTML is somewhere in the middle, with HTML codes that identify sections, but lots of free form data as well.

Converting HTML Articles with Regular Expressions

My toolkit (of choice) for this project was Sed, the Unix Stream Editor, and a generic installation of Drupal. Sed does regular expression searching and replacing. So I wrote a script that:

  1. Deleted lines with HTML tags that we didn't need;
  2. stored data between title and body tags;
  3. and converted those items to SQL code that would insert the title and article text into my Drupal database.

This was the best I could do: other standardized information, such as author and publishing date, was not standardized in the text, so I left calling those out for a clean-up phase that the Idealware staff took on. The project was a success, in it that it took less than two days to complete the conversion. It was never going to be an easy one.

Without going too far, the sed command to delete, say, a "META" tag is:

/\<meta/d

That says to search for a literal "less than" bracket (the forward slash implies literal) and the text meta and delete any line that contains it. A tricky part of the cleanup was to make sure that my search phrases weren't ones that might also match article text.

Once I'd stripped the file down to just the data between the "title" and "body" tags, I issued this command:

s/\<title\>(.*)\<\/title\>.*\<body\>(.*)\<\/body\>/insert into articles (title, body) values ('\1', '\2');/

This searches for the text between HTML "title" tags, storing it in variable 1, then the text between "body" tags, storing it in variable 2, then substitutes the variable data into a simple SQL insert statement in the replacement string. Iterating a script with all of the clean-up commands, culminating in that last command, gave me a text file that could be imported into the Drupal database. The remaining cleanup was done in Drupal's WYSIWYG interface.

Blog Conversion

As I said, there is no such thing as a program or module that converts a Blogger Blog into Drupal format. And our circumstance was further complicated by the fact that the Idealware Blog was in Blogger's legacy "FTP" format, so the conversion options available were further limited.

There is an excellent module for converting Wordpress blogs to Drupal, and there were options for converting a legacy Blogger blog to Wordpress. So, then the question was, how well will the blog survive a double conversion? The answer was: very well! I challenge any of you to identify the one post that didn't come through with every word and picture intact.

I had a good start for this, Matthew Saunders at the Nonprofits and Web 2.0 Blog posted this excellent guide. If you have a current Blogger blog to migrate, every step here will work. My problem was that the Idealware blog was in the old "FTP" format. Google has announced that blogs in their original publishing format must be converted by May 1st. While this fact had little or no relationship to the web site move to Drupal, it's convenient that we made the move well in advance of that.

To prep, I installed current, vanilla copies of Wordpress and Drupal at techcafeteria.com. I tracked down Google's free blog converters. While there is no WP to Drupal converter, most other formats are covered, and I just used their web-based Blogger to Wordpress tool to convert the exported Idealware blog to WP format. The conversion process prompted me to create accounts for each author.

To get from Wordpress to Drupal, I installed above-mentioned Wordpress-import module. As with the first import, this one also prompted me to create the authors' Drupal accounts. It also had an option to store all images locally (which required rights to create a public-writeable folder on the Drupal server). Again, this worked very well.

With my test completed, I set about doing it all over again on the new Idealware blog. Here I had a little less flexibility. I had administrative rights in Drupal, but I didn't have access to the server. Two challenges: The server's file upload limit (set in both Drupal and PHP's initialization file) was set to a smaller size than my Wordpress import file. I got around this by importing it in by individual blogger, making sure to include all current and former Idealware bloggers. The second issue was in creating a folder for the images, which I asked our host and designer at Digital Loom.com to do for me.

Cleanup!

The final challenge was even stickier -- the posts came across, but the URLs were in a different format than the old Blogger URLs This was a problem for the articles as well. How many sites do you think link to Idealware content out there? For this, I begged for enough server access to write and run a PHP script that renamed the current URLs to their former names -- a half-successful effort, as Drupal had dramatically renamed a bunch of them. The remainder we manually altered.

All told, about two hours research time, three or four hours conversion (over a number of days) and more for the clean-up, as I wasted a lot of time trying to come up with a pure SQL command to do the URL renaming, only to eventually determine that it couldn't be done without some scripting. A fun project, though, but I'd call it a success.

I hope this helps you out if you ever find yourself faced with a similar challenge.

Hearts and Mobiles

Are Microsoft and Apple using the mobile web to dictate how we use technology? And, if so, what does that mean for us?

Last week, John Herlihy, Google's Chief of Sales, made a bold prediction:

“In three years time, desktops will be irrelevant."

Herlihy's argument was based on research indicating that, in Japan, more people now use smartphones for internet entertainment and research than desktops. It's hard to dispute that the long predicted "year of the smartphone" has arrived in the U.S., with iPhones, Blackberries and Android devices hitting record sales figures, and Apple's "magical" iPad leading a slue of mini-computing devices out of the gate.

We've noted Apple's belligerence in allowing applications on their mobile platform that don't pass a fairly restrictive and controversial screening process. It's disturbing that big corporations like Playboy get a pass from a broad "no nudity" policy on iPhone apps that a swimwear store doesn't. But it's more disturbing that competing technology providers, like Google and Opera, can't get their call routing and web browsing applications approved either. It's Apple's world, and iPhone owners have to live in it (or play dodgeball with each upgrade on their jailbroken devices). And now Microsoft has announced their intention to play the same game. Windows Mobile 7, their "from the ground up" rewrite of their mobile OS, will have an app store, and you will not be able to install applications from anywhere else.

iPhone adherents tell me that the consistency and stability of Apple's tightly-controlled platform is better than the potentially messy open platforms. You might get a virus. Or you might see nudity. And your experience will vary dramatically from phone to phone, as the telcos modify the user interface and sub in their own applications for the standard ones. There are plenty of industry experts defending Apple's policies.

What they don't crow about is the fact that, using the Apple and Microsoft devices, you are largely locked into DRM-only options for multimedia at their stores for buying digital content. They will make most of their smartphone profits on the media that they sell you (music, movies, ebooks), and they tightly control the the information and data flow, as well as the devices you play their content on. How comfortable are you with letting the major software manufacturers control not only what software you can install on your systems, but what kind of media is available to them, as well?

The latest reports on the iPad are that, in addition to not supporting Adobe's popular Flash format, Google's Picasa image management software won't work as well. If you keep your photos with Google, you'd better quickly get them to an Apple-friendly storage service like Apple's MobileMe or Flickr, and get ready to use iPhoto to manage them.

If your organization, has invested heavily in a vendor or product that Apple and/or Microsoft are crossing off their list, you face a dilemma. Can you just ignore the people using their popular products? Should you immediately redesign your Flash-heavy website with something that you hope Apple will continue to support? If your cause is controversial, are you going to be locked out of a strategic mobile market for advocacy and development because the nature of your work can't get past the company censors?

I'm nervous to see a major computing trend like mobile computing arise with such disregard for the open nature of the internet that the companies releasing these devices pioneered and grew up in. And I'm concerned that there will be repercussions to moving to a model where single vendors are competing to be one stop hardware, software and content providers. It's not likely that Apple, Microsoft, Amazon, Google or anyone else is really qualified to determine what each of us want and don't want to read, watch and listen to. And it's frightening to think that the future of our media consumption might be tied to their idiosyncratic and/or profit-driven choices.

New Faces, Blog Changes

newbloggers.pngLaura let everyone know last week that Idealware's web site is up for a major upgrade, coming soon. The Idealware blog won't be left behind -- we're happy to announce new bloggers and some other important changes that coincide with the Web Site update. Here's what you'll want (and need) to know:

New Bloggers!

We're growing the blog roster, with an eye towards landing at ten bloggers posting about twice a month, for a healthy and diverse amount of content focused on helping nonprofits use software and technology to serve their missions. Joining Heather Gardner-Madras, Steven Backman, Eric Leland, Laura Quinn and myself are:

Johanna Bates has a strong background in technology management, with special knowledge of the web and online communications.

Debra Askanase brings her background of 20 years of community organizing with a focus and expertise in how nonprofits use social media to the blog.

Andrea Berry, who currently serves as Idealware's Director of development, brings her expertise in fundraising and donor management systems to the blog.

Marc Baizman brings a broad range of tech skills to the blog, with a background as both a nonprofit technology director and consultant in the sector.

New RSS Address!

Take note that, if you're one of the hundreds of people who subscribe to this blog in an RSS Reader, we will be moving to a new RSS address. You can change your settings now, and that's recommended, as the old feed will stop updating once we're on the new site. The address is:

http://feeds.feedburner.com/idealwareblog

(Just click on that link to subscribe)

It's All About You

As we make changes and improvements to the blog, we're eager to hear from you. What do you look to get from the Idealware blog? What works? What doesn't? What would you like to see more of? What burning topics are we failing to address? With a bigger group of bloggers and a renewed focus, we want to write about the things that you'd like to know more about. Feel free to offer your suggestions any time, either in the comments, or to Idealware at our Twitter feed or Facebook page.

The Buzz Factor

buzz.png
buzz.png

Long time readers of my ramblings here are aware that I drink the Google kool-aid. And they also know that I've been caught tweeting, on occasion. And, despite my disappointment in Google's last big thing (Wave), I am so appreciative of other work of theirs -- GMail, Android, Picasa -- that I couldn't pass up a go with their answer to Facebook and Twitter, Buzz.

Google, perhaps because their revenue model is based on giving people ad-displaying products, as opposed to selling applications, takes more design risks than their software-developing competitors. Freed of legacy design concepts like "the computer is a file cabinet" or "A phone needs a "start" menu", they often come up with superior information management and communication tools.

What is Buzz?

Buzz, like Twitter and Facebook, and very much like the lesser used Friendfeed, lets you tell people what you're up to; share links, photos and other content; and respond to other people's posts and comments. Like Facebook, Friendfeed and Twitter (if you use a third party service like Twitterfeed), you can import streams from other services, like Google Reader, Flicker, and Twitter itself, into your Buzz timeline.

Unlike Twitter, there is no character limit on your posts. And the comment threading works more like Facebook, so it's easy to keep track of conversations.

How is Buzz Different?

The big distinguishing factor is that Buzz is not an independent service, but an adjunct of GMail. You don't need a GMail account to use it, but, if you have one, Buzz shows up right below your inbox in the folder list, and, when a comment is posted on a Buzz that you either started or contributed to, the entire Buzz shows up in your inbox with the reply text box included, so that continuing the conversation is almost exactly like replying to an email.

The Gmail integration also feeds into your network on Buzz. Instead of actively seeking out people to follow, Buzz loads you up from day one with people who you communicate regularly with via GMail.

Privacy Concerns

Buzz's release on Tuesday spawned a Facebook-like privacy invasion meme the day that it was released -- valid concerns were raised about the list of these contacts showing up on Buzz-enabled Google Profile pages. A good "get rid of Buzz" tutorial is linked here. To Google's credit, they responded quickly, with security updates being rolled out two days later. I'm giving Google more of a pass on this than some of my associates, because, while it was a little sloppy, I don't think it compares to the Facebook "Beacon" scandal. Google didn't think through the consequences, or the likely reaction to what looked like a worse privacy violation than it actually was (contact lists were only public on your profiles if you had marked your profile "public", and there was a link to turn the lists off, it just wasn't prominently placed or obvious that it was necessary). Beacon, in comparison, started telling the world about every purchase you made (whether it was a surprise gift for your significant other or a naughty magazine) and there was no option for the user to turn it off. And it took Facebook two years to start saying "mea culpa", not two days.

Social Media Interactions for Grownups

Twitter's "gimmick" -- the 140 character limit -- defines its personality, and those of us who enjoy Twitter also enjoy the challenge of making that meaningful comment, with links, hashtags, and @ replies, in small, 140 character bursts. It's understood now that continuing a tweet is cheating.

Facebook doesn't have such stringent limits, but you wouldn't necessarily know that to glance at it. It hasn't shaken it's dorm room roots; it's still burdened by all of the childish quizzes and applications; and, maybe more to the point, cursed by a superficiality imposed by everyone having an audience composed of high school buds that they haven't seen for a decade or two, and who might now be on the other side of the political fence.

But Buzz can sustain a real conversation -- I've seen this in my day and a half of use. Partially because it doesn't have Twitters self-imposed limit or Facebooks playful distractions; and largely because you reply in your email, a milieu where actual conversation is the norm. This is significant for NPOs that want to know what's being said about them in public on the web. I noted from a Twitter post this week that the Tactical Philosophy blog had a few entries discussing the pros and cons of Idealists' handling of a funding crisis. But Twitter wasn't a good vehicle for a nuanced conversation on that, and I can't see that type of dialogue setting in on Facebook. Buzz would be ideal for it.

The Best is Yet to Come

This week, Google rolled out Buzz to GMail. Down the road, they'll add it to Google Apps for Domains. The day that happens, we'll see something even more powerful. Enterprise microblogging isn't a new idea -- apps like Yammer and Socialcast have had a lot of success with it. I'm actually a big fan of Socialcast, which has a lot in common with Buzz, but I was stumped as to how I could introduce a new application at my workplace that I believe would be insanely useful, but most of the staff can't envision a need for at all. What would have sold it, I have no doubt, is the level of email integration that Buzz sports. By making social conversations so seamlessly entwined with the direct communication, Google sells the concept. How many of you are trying hard to explain to your co-workers that Twitter isn't a meaningless fad, and that there's business value in casual communication? Buzz will put it in their faces, and, daunting as it might be at first, I think it will win them over.

NPO Evaluation, IE6, Still Waters for Wave

Here are a few updates topics I've posted on in the last few months:

Nonprofit Assessment

The announcement that GuideStar, Charity Navigator and others would be moving away from the 990 form as their primary source for assessing nonprofit performance raised a lot of interesting questions, such as "How will assessments of outcomes be standardized in a way that is not too subjective?" and "What will be required of nonprofits in order to make those assessments?" We'll have a chance to get some preliminary answers to those questions on February 4th, when NTEN will sponsor a phone-in panel discussion with representatives of GuideStar and Charity Navigator, as well as members of the nonprofit community. The panel will be hosted by Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy, and will include:



I'll be participating as well. You can learn more and register for the free event with NTEN.

The Half-Life of Internet Explorer 6

It's been quite a few weeks as far as headlines go, with a humanitarian crisis in haiti; a dramatic election in Massachusetts; A trial to determine if California gay marriage-banning proposition is, in fact, discriminatory; high profile shakeups in late night television and word of the Snuggie, version 2 all competing for our attention. An additional, fascinating story is unfolding with Google's announcement that they might pull their business out of China in light of a massive cybercrime against critics of the Chinese regime that, from all appearances, was either performed or sanctioned by the Chinese government. There's been a lot of speculation about Google's motives for such a dramatic move, and I fall in the camp that says, whatever their motives, it's refreshing to see a gigantic U.S. corporation factor ethics into a business decision, even if it's unclear exactly what the complete motivations are.

As my colleague Steve Backman fully explains here, here's been some fallout from this story for Microsoft. First, like Google and Yahoo!, Microsoft operates a search engine in China and submits to the Chinese governments censoring filters. They've kept mum on their feelings about the cyber-attack. Google's analysis of that attack reveals that GMail accounts were hacked and other breaches occurred via security holes in Internet Explorer, versions six and up, that allow a hacker to upload programs and take control of a user's PC. As this information came to light, France and Germany both issued advisories to their citizens that switching to a browser other than Internet Explorer would be prudent. In response, Microsoft has issued a statement recommending that everyone upgrade from Internet Explorer version 6 to version 8, the current release. What Microsoft doesn't mention is that the security flaw exists in versions seven and eight as well as six, so upgrading won't protect you from the threat, although they just released a patch that hopefully will.

So, while their reasoning is suspect, it's nice to see that Microsoft has finally joined the campaign to remove this old, insecure and incompatible with web standards browser.

Google Wave: Still Waters

I have kept Google Wave open in a tab in my browser since the day my account was opened, subscribed to about 15 waves, some of them quite well populated. I haven't seen an update to any of these waves since January 12th, and it was really only one wave that's gotten any updates at all in the past month. I can't give away the invites I have to offer. The conclusion I'm drawing is that, if Google doesn't do something to make the Wave experience more compelling, it's going to go the way of a Simply Red B-Side and fade from memory. As I've said, there is real potential here for something that puts telecommunication, document creation and data mining on a converged platform, and that would be new. But, in it's current state, it's a difficult to use substitute for a sophisticated Wiki. And, while Google was hyping this, Confluence released a new version of their excellent (free for nonprofits) enterprise Wiki that can incorporate (like Wave) Google gadgets. That makes me want to pack up my surfboard.

Dealing With Domains Part 2

idealware domain reg.pngLast week, we talked about domain registrar services and what to look for. In today's followup, we'll focus on how to transfer a domain and the accompanying security concerns, then talk a bit about registrars vis a vis hosting services.
 

 


Domain Transfers

Transferring domains is a somewhat complex process that has been designed to minimize the risk of domain hijacking. In order to insure that transfers are performed by the actual owner of the domain, a few important measures are in place:

  • Every domain has an authorization (a.k.a. EPP) code associated with it. Transfers can not occur without this code being submitted. If you don’t have this information, your current registrar does. Some registrars have automated functions that will deliver that information to the domain contact; others require that you ask for them via email to the registrar or their support ticket application. Registrars are required to provide you with these codes within five calendar days of your request. If they don’t, your best recourse is to determine who they get their domain authority from (there are only a handful of companies that resell registration services) and appeal to them for assistance.


  • Communication is strictly through the registered “whois” email address of the domain owner. You can determine what that is by doing a whois lookup on your domain.

    Tip: While most domains can be looked up at http://whois.net. However, whois.net has some trouble with .org domains, so the alternative http://www.pir.org/whois is a more reliable source for most non-profit domains.


    If the address that your domain is registered with is either non-functional or owned by someone other than you, then you need to update it, via your current registrar’s web interface, before you can successfully transfer the domain.


  • Domains can (and should) be locked to prohibit transfers before and after you switch registrars. Locking and unlocking your domains is usually done by you, from your registrar’s web site. If you don’t have options to do that when you log on to the web site, your registrar should do it for you upon request.



Transfer Procedures

To initiate the transfer, go to the web site of the registrar that you want to switch to and follow their instructions. They will have you submit a request and, upon receipt of your domain fees, issue an email to the email address associated with the domain containing a link to a form where you can confirm the request. That form will also ask for the authorization code. Subsequently - and this can take up to seven days - you’ll receive an email from your current registrar asking you to confirm the transfer request. Once that is submitted, the transfer should go through.

Detailed rules about how domains are transferred, as well as what the responsibilities of the registrars are in handling the transfers, are listed at http://www.icann.org/en/transfers/policy-en.htm.

Choosing Registrars

Registrars charge anywhere from $5.00 to $50 dollars for a year’s domain service. The two best known registrars are Network Solutions and GoDaddy. Many people go with Network Solutions because they're the longest standing of the registrars (for many years, they were the only registrar). GoDaddy has become very popular by dramatically undercutting the cost. Note, though, that both of these registrars have been accused of questionable business practices:

  • Network Solutions has engaged in "Front Running", a questionable practice of locking domains that a potential customer might search for in order to block competitors from making the sale. They will also use subdomains of your domain to advertise, a practice called subdomain hijacking. A decent registrar will not seek to make profits based on your intellectual property.


  • GoDaddy famously suspends accounts based on corporate requests. In 2007, they suspended seclists.org, a website that archives internet security mailing lists, per the request of MySpace, with no court order or valid complaint. MySpace was upset that content posted to one of the lists that Seclists archived was inappropriate. But, instead of contacting Seclists to deal with the content in question, GoDaddy closed the site and wouldn't respond to desperate emails or phone calls regarding the sudden closure. Worse, after the fiasco was resolved, they were unrepentant, and reserve the right to shut down any site for any spurious reason. If your NPO does work that is in the least bit controversial, keep this in mind when considering GoDaddy.



Web Hosting and Registrars

Many registrars supplement their business by providing web hosting services as well. Some will even offered discounted or free domain registration with a hosting plan. While this simplifies things, it can also be a bit risky in the “eggs in one basket” sense. Having a separate registrar and control over your DNS service allows you to be more flexible with switching hosts, should your current host prove themselves unreliable or go out of business. And the web hosting industry is pretty volatile, with companies coming and going pretty quickly. I would suggest a best practice is to keep your host and registrar separate.

Dealing With Domains - Part 1




created at TagCrowd.com


Domain Name Management: not a very sexy topic. This will be a rare post for me that won't mention popular search engines, the latest "superphone", content management or rumored tablets. But I hope I can provide a good glossary on a geeky subject that anyone with a web site sporting their organization's name has to deal with.

You have a web site and you have a domain, and as long as the web site is up and running, everything is fine. But what happens if your domain is hijacked? What if you need to make changes to your domain registration, or register a new one, and your registrar is simply disinterested? What if they go out of business? Your domain name is a valuable property, and you should keep it in pro-active and trustworthy hands.


How Domain Registration Works

Domain registrars provide the service of keeping your domain name mapped with current information so that it can be found on the web. Domain names are meaningful aliases for numeric IP addresses, and aren’t technically required in order to host a web site. But, the internet would be hard to navigate if we could only find things by their numeric addresses.

The primary thing that a registrar does is to keep your contact (whois) data maintained; point your domain to the appropriate name servers; and allow you to move your domain to another registrar if you choose to.

Domain Services

In addition to domain registration, most registrars offer additional services, such as:

DNS Management (address mapping) for subdomains (which allows you to host your main domain on one server, but, perhaps, an online store called “store.yourdomain.com” on another server),

Aliasing of Addresses (so that both http://yourdomain.com and http://www.yourdomain.com go to the same place),

Backup Mail Handling, so, should your primary mail server go down, messages sent to you will be stored until they come back around;

Web Forwarding, so you can, say, register yourdomain.org, yourdomain,.com and yourdomain.net, but forward all visitors to the .com and .net sites to your website at yourdomain.org.

SSL (Secure Socket Layer) Certificates, to encrypt sensitive data, like online donation forms.


Things to Look For in a New Registrar

  1. Are they accredited? ICANN, the organization that oversees domain management , accredits registrars. If they aren’t on ICANN’s list, they aren’t trustworthy.


  2. Do they add a year to the existing expiration date, or charge you for a full year as of engagement? They should do the former.


  3. Do they offer automated access to all functions (via web forms), including locking/unlocking domains, retrieval of authorization (EPP) codes, and modification of all whois records? (Some registrars prefer to list themselves as the technical contact. It should be up to you whether they can have an official name on your domain, not them).


  4. Do they list a telephone number, and is it promptly answered during business hours?


  5. Do they respond promptly to emails and support requests? The ability to communicate with your registrar is rarely needed, but, when it is, it’s critical - you don’t want them out of the loop if your domain is subject to an attempted hijack.


  6. Do they offer the ability to manage DNS for mail servers and subdomains? While this is an added feature, it’s common enough to be worth expecting.


  7. Do they have any additional services (examples above)? While these supplemental services are far from critical, they are convenient. More to the point, a company that is engaging in a robust suite of services is more likely to be focused on their business. The truth is that anyone can be a domain registrar, if they make the proper investment, but whether it’s a going concern or a neglected piece of extra income for them is a question you’ll want to ask.


Next week: Safely transferring domains and a word on web hosting completes the topic.

Things You Might Not Know About...

...or you might. I find that, in a 25 year IT career that has always included a percentage of tech support, human nature is to use the features of an application that we know about, and only go looking for new features when a clearly defined need for one arises. In that scenario, some great functionality might be hiding in plain sight. Here are a few of my favorite "not very well-hidden" secrets. Share yours in the comments.

Google Search Filtering

google options 1.png
Have you ever clicked the google options 2.png "Show Options" link on your results page? Do a search for whatever interests you and try it (it's located right under the Google logo). This will add a left navigation bar with some very useful filtering options. Of note, you can narrow to a trendy real-time search buy clicking on "Latest" under "Any Time"; choose a date range,filter out the pages that you've seen, or haven't seen yet - how useful is that for finding that page that you googled last week but didn't save? The funny thing is that Google has an "Advanced Search" screen, which, of course, can do many things that this bar can't (such as searching for public domain media).

Microsoft Outlook Shortcuts

If you use Outlook, you know how simple it is to find your mail and calendar. Other common folders are conveniently placed in your default view. Outlook shortcuts 1.pngBut if you're the slightest bit of a power user, or you work in an environment where users share mailbox folders or use Exchange's Public Folders, than keeping track of all of those folders can get a bit tedious. Outlook Shortcuts 2.pngThat's what the Shortcut view is for. Buried below the Mail, Calendar and Task buttons, you can move it up to the visible button list by right-clicking on the bar area (in the lower-left hand corner of Outlook 2003 or 2007's screen) and choosing "Navigation Pane Options". Highlight "Shortcuts" and then click "Move up" enough times to get it in one of the first four positions. Click OK, then click on the "Shortcuts" bar. From here, you can add new shortcuts and, optionally, arrange them in shortcut groups. You can rename the shortcuts with more meaningful titles, so that, if, say, you're monitoring a norther user's inbox, you can give it their name instead of having two folders named "Inbox". One tip: to add shortcuts to a group, right-click on the group title and add from there.

Facebook Friend Lists

Nothing makes Facebook more manageable than Friends Lists, and, with the new security changes, this is more true than ever. If you're like me, your connections on Facebook span every facet of your life, from family to childhood friends to co-workers. Wouldn't it be useful to be able to send links and messages to all of your co-workers but not your friends, or vice-versa? Click on "Friends" from the Facebook menu, then all connections. If you've become a fan of a page or two, you'll see that Facebook has already created two lists for you: Friends and Pages. To make more, scroll through your connection list and click to "Add to List" option to the right. You can create new lists from there, and add friends to multiple lists.

facebook friends.png

When you share a link, note, video or whatever, you can choose which list to send it to by clicking on the lock icon next to the "Share" button and choosing "Customize".

There Are More

Did you know about these features? Are there other ones that you use that make your use of popular applications and web sites much more manageable? Leave a comment and let us know.

Won't You Let me Take You On A Sea Change?

seachange.png
Last week, I reported that Nonprofit assessors like Charity Navigator and Guidestar will be moving to a model of judging effectiveness (as opposed to thriftiness). The title of my post drew some criticism. People far more knowledgeable than I am on these topics questioned my description of this as a "sea change", and I certainly get their point. Sure, the intention to do a fair job of judging Nonprofits is sincere; but the task is daunting. As with many such efforts, we might well wind up with something that isn't a sea change at all, but, rather, a modified version of what we have today that includes some info about mission effectiveness, but still boils down to a financial assessment.

Why would this happen? Simple. Because metrics are numbers: ratios, averages, totals. It's easy to make metrics from financial data. It's very difficult to make them out of less quantifiable things, such as measuring how successfully one organization changed the world; protected the planet; or stopped the spread of a deadly disease.

I used to work for an org whose mission was to end poverty in the San Francisco Bay Area. And, sure enough, at the time, poverty was becoming far less prevalent in San Francisco. So could we be judged as successful? Could we grab the 2005 versus 2000 poverty statistics and claim the advances as our outcomes? Of course not. The reduction in poverty had far more to do with gentrification during the dotcom and real estate booms than our efforts. Poverty wasn't reduced at all; it was just displaced. And our mission wasn't to move all of the urban poor to the suburbs; it was to bring them out of poverty.

So the announcement that our ratings will now factor in mission effectiveness and outcomes could herald something worse than we have today. The dangerous scenario goes like this:

  • Charity Navigator, Guidestar, et al, determine what additional info they need to request from nonprofits in order to measure outcomes.

  • They make that a requirement; nonprofits now have to jump through those hoops.

  • The data they collect is far too generalized and subjective to mean much; they draw conclusions anyway, based more on how easy it is to call something a metric than how accurate or valuable that metric is.

  • NPOs now have more reporting requirements and no better representation.


So, my amended title: "We Need A Sea Change In The Way That Our Organizations Are Assessed".

I'm harping on this topic because I consider it a call to action; a chance to make sure that this self-assessment by the assessors is an opportunity for us, not a threat. We have to get the right people at the table to develop standardized outcome measurements that the assessing organizations can use. They can't develop these by themselves. And we need to use our influence in the nonprofit software development community to make sure that NPOs have software that can generate these reports.

The good news? Holly Ross of NTEN got right back to me with some ideas on how to get both of these actions going. That's a powerful start. We'll need the whole community in on this.

Get Ready For A Sea Change In Nonprofit Assessment Metrics

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Last week, GuideStar, Charity Navigator, and three other nonprofit assessment and reporting organizations made a huge announcement: the metrics that they track are about to change. Instead of scoring organizations on an "overhead bad!" scale, they will scrap the traditional metrics and replace them with ones that measure an organization's effectiveness.

The new metrics will assess:

  • Financial health and sustainability;


  • Accountability, governance and transparency; and


  • Outcomes.


This is very good news. That overhead metric has hamstrung serious efforts to do bold things and have higher impact. An assessment that is based solely on annualized budgetary efficiency precludes many options to make long-term investments in major strategies. For most nonprofits, taking a year to staff up and prepare for a major initiative would generate a poor Charity Navigator score. A poor score that is prominently displayed to potential donors.

Assuming that these new metrics will be more tolerant of varying operational approaches and philosophies, justified by the outcomes, this will give organizations a chance to be recognized for their work, as opposed to their cost-cutting talents. But it puts a burden on those same organizations to effectively represent that work. I've blogged before (and will blog again) on our need to improve our outcome reporting and benchmark with our peers. Now, there's a very real danger that neglecting to represent your success stories with proper data will threaten your ability to muster financial support. You don't want to be great at what you do, but have no way to show it.

More to the point, the metrics that value social organizational effectiveness need to be developed by a broad community, not a small group or segment of that community. The move by Charity Navigator and their peers is bold, but it's also complicated. Nonprofit effectiveness is a subjective thing. When I worked for a workforce development agency, we had big questions about whether our mission was served by placing a client in a job, or if that wasn't an outcome as much as an output, and the real metric was tied to the individual's long-term sustainability and recovery from the conditions that had put them in poverty.

Certainly, a donor, a watchdog, a funder a, nonprofit executive and a nonprofit client are all going to value the work of a nonprofit differently. Whose interests will be represented in these valuations?

So here's what's clear to me:

- Developing standardized metrics, with broad input from the entire community, will benefit everyone.

- Determining what those metrics are and should be will require improvements in data management and reporting systems. It's a bit of a chicken and egg problem, as collecting the data wis a precedent to determining how to assess it, but standardizing the data will assist in developing the data systems.

- We have to share our outcomes and compare them in order to develop actual standards. And there are real opportunities available to us if we do compare our methodologies and results.

This isn't easy. This will require that NPO's who have have never had the wherewith-all to invest in technology systems to assess performance do so. But, I maintain, if the world is going to start rating your effectiveness on more than the 990, that's a threat that you need to turn into an opportunity. You can't afford not to.

And I look to my nptech community, including Idealware, NTEN, Techsoup, Aspiration and many others -- the associations, formal, informal, incorporated or not, who advocate for and support technology in the nonprofit sector -- to lead this effort. We have the data systems expertise and the aligned missions to lead the project of defining shared outcome metrics. We're looking into having initial sessions on this topic at the 2010 Nonprofit Technology Conference.

As the world starts holding nonprofits up to higher standards, we need a common language that describes those standards. It hasn't been written yet. Without it, we'll escape the limited, Form 990 assessments to something that might equally fail to reflect our best efforts and outcomes.
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