Getting Real

August 20, 2007

Not too many updates lately, I have been busy completing assignments for my MSc, a lot of it tedious reading through methodologies that should have been left in 2005 where they belong. Still its good to see where today’s methodologies come from or have arisen in opposition to.

I was reading through my system engineering coursework this weekend (has the waterfall life cycle ever worked for anyone?) and having just finished reading 37Signals‘ Getting Real, which should have been subtitled a smaller, faster, better way to build software, I got to thinking about how software itself, the kind of software that we actually build has changed. Ok, so I actually had this thought before and wrote The Six Laws of the New Software about it, and despite the fact that we are now building smaller software that integrates with existing software more than enterprise applications we are still propagating the waterfall life cycle methodology.

Anyway, Getting Real is now available online. All 16 chapters and 91 essays that make up the book available for free. It makes for easy reading and is essential if you’re going to be developing an online application. If you don’t know who 37Signals are, have a look at basecamp or highrise.

Convio has had Convio Widgets and Personal Outreach Pages for a while now, but today they announced their Convio Personal Events,

“… a comprehensive online application designed to help individual supporters or members of nonprofit organizations, associations, institutions of higher education or faith-based organizations host and market personal events around a cause, theme or campaign…”

When the big names start getting into widget fundraising and personal events we are starting to look at a massive movement towards decentralizing the organizational website. Instead of having a single ‘official’ landing page, Convio is driving the trend towards having hundreds of smaller widgets – a kind of the best people to raise money/awareness are your donors, so lets give them the tools to do it philosophy. I predict that this type of decentralization is going to be the trend that drives fundraising and philanthropy into the next stage.

By seeing each constituent as a node in a network rather than a part of an organization, group fundraising helps you tap the knowledge, enthusiasm, and the peer network of people already giving to your cause. Its the wisdom of individuals in a crowd, applied to outreach.

I am possibly moving to Dallas, Texas, in the next couple of months, and I have been looking around at the real estate market on that side. I’ve been really impressed by quite a few APIs, applications and search engines that have sprung around the real estate market. It seems to be a very exciting area in terms of APIs, visualizations and software, I suspect because the data has always been there and has been captured and analyzed to death, now its time to rework the interface.

Anyway, I came across this very interesting visualization called Hindsite by an real estate search engine called Trulia. It is based on public property assessor records for properties in Trulia’s database and typically includes the date that a house was built. Check out this amazing visualization of the Dallas/Fort Worth area, specifically Plano. It is certainely making searching for a house a whole lot more interesting.

Real Estate information and mapping are ideal partners for a mashup, and besides using Microsoft Virtual Earth for Hindsight, Trulia has a very strong integration with Google Maps for their search engine. All around a very nice application. And they even have an API.

Yesterday eBay made a series of announcements regarding new APIs and developer tools, calling for the company to rebuild the technical guts of its eBay.com site as a series of modular services, rather than a single, unified application. Today, David Berlind chipped in with an interesting analysis of web based APIs from Google, Amazon, Yahoo, Microsoft, AOL and eBay becoming the new platform providers in the way that in the desktop era it was the operating systems of Windows, Mac and Unix that provided the primary platforms for applications.

In a sense what he is saying is that if we compare the API providers to Windows, or Mac, then the next step in application development is the user interfaces that are being built on top of those APIs. Microsoftware.

the Holy Grail for companies like Salesforce, eBay, Amazon, Yahoo, Google, et alia: to be in the infrastructure business but to let developers be the ones that drive adoption through innovation. Sure, if you’re one of those or other API providers, it helps to provide prototypes or something that’s minimally functional to get new users started. But when I look at where Google is going with Google Apps (of which Google Docs and Google Spreadsheets are only a part), my sense is that there are innovators out there that will come along and build user interfaces on top of Google’s APIs that are far more compelling than Google’s native interfaces.

So where does that leave the nonprofit looking to leverage current trends and forthcoming trends? For a second stop thinking of the organisation as single unfied organisation based on a single platform. Start thinking of it as a technological enabler for a cause. The tools to enable that cause are developed and then the constituents are given these tools to develop their own version of the tools on top of them. In the way that Excel allows you to develop your own spreadsheets, rather than in the way that eBay releases a new API. If your constituents are savvy enough, you can always give them an API as well.

btw if you read through to the end of David Berlind’s article one can not help but think that he is arguing that the business to be in is the business of creating a better UI. I think Joel may agree.

eNonprofit Benchmarks

June 11, 2007

In the Web 2.0 World measuring success is fairly easy, how much profit did the company make. Its the same whether you are working on a google adsense campaign or monetizing via subscriptions or even donations.

In the nonprofit world it is a bit more difficult – what do you measure? How many people were educated? Informed? Served? Engaged? Activated? How much money was raised? Did legislative policy change? Corporate policy? Public opinion? Success or a ROI, is the cornerstone of most endeavours and being able to link your efforts to a reliable benchmark is key. Whether or not a nonprofit organization can and should be run as a business is an interesting question in itself, however the first piece of software that can benchmark in a consistant way would really corner the market.

The eNonprofit Benchmarks Study sets out to have a look at the effectiveness of major American nonprofit organizations using the Internet to raise money and influence public policy. At the same time it defines a set of criteria that can be used to benchmark a nonprofit effectiveness. Now we wait for someone to put together Google Analytics for nonprofits.

Integrated Marketing

June 11, 2007

Convio recently released the results of an integrated marketing study. One of the interesting points raised in the study, is that in a blended multi-channel environment – i.e. one where there is online as well as offline marketing channels it is difficult to tell whether the money donated online is as a result of online activity or offline activity. Donors tend to engage the non-profit on multiple channels, as an example, a donor may receive a piece of direct mail requesting a donation and log-on to the organisation’s site to look for more info and then end up donating online. Does that get credited to the online or offline channel?

It is a truism in today’s multichannel world that in order for a brand to sink into the subconcious mind of a donor or marketer that it has to be seen at least three times. Offline and/or direct mail channels may be the impetus that drives a donor online, but it is the online facility that offers the ease of donation and immediate feedback that offline does not have. In a world where many organisations are reluctant to spend too much effort online because of a reliable offline marketing plan, it is difficult without reliable matrics to justify spending a large amount of time online.

The study found that people who received information both on and offline have higher long-term value, retention, and lifetime value as donors than people who receive information through only one channel – whether the channel was online or off. The conclusions that we can draw from this study, do seem to indicate that online giving does not simply cannibalize offline revenues but support them by allowing easy access to financial facilities as well as the ability to give immediate feedback.

How do you break through the information chaos that exists in the social media world? By releasing a social network press release. The idea behind this press release, is a naked form that is essentially a toolkit to allow others to create their own stories around it. A kind of list of facts and quotes unembellished by hype and opinion, that allows the end consumer to create their own message backed up by sanctioned facts and quotes. Different markets require information specifically tailored for them, the only way to create enough different stories is to allow the users and participants to create their own stories for their own blogs and to give them the tools to do that. Adoption through innovation for the marketing world, we supply the tools you create your own story. Or if you’re more of a Kathy Sierra person, giving your users the tools to kick ass.

The Geocommons Social Media Release case study
Social Media Newsroom Template
The GC release on Fortiusone