Thursday, December 9, 2004

Tipping Points...(how things really happen)

I have been on the "wouldn't it be great if people built open source software that specifically met nonprofit needs" bandwagon for so long, I wonder if I'm wrong, dreaming, or just plain crazy. Things are starting to look up.

For the past couple years some amazing folks have had their heads down doing stuff... Techrocks (now defunct) built ebase. Groundspring created their products and with the help of a dot com refugees, picked an open source strategy for their software. Many, many personalities and players were talking about the ideas.

Fascinatingly enough, it is the infusion of talent from both the dot com sector and the broader open source community that seems to have driven the idea of npo-specific open-source into reality. Today we have civicspace, advokit, groundspring and other projects.

The slowness of this evolution, I think, boils down to the fact that we don't have any hackers in the NPO space. The big nonprofits that do software projects hire contractors of a more traditional ilk. This is changing too, with folks like Aspiration doing a good job of bringing hackers together... to bad they don't seem to do quite as good of a job getting traditional NPOs leaders into the room.

As Bob Dylan said, "Times they are a'changin".

In 2003 a bunch of people packed into one of the "small" rooms at the last Roundup in Oakland, CA (before it got itself all corporatized into the Nonprofit Technology Conference run by NTEN -- not that there is anything wrong with that ;) That packed room had a spirited discussion about what it really was going to take to develop open source software for the nonprofit sector. In that room, strategies were hatched that said basically, the software development side of open source is theoretically interesting, but impractical. Hence the Nonprofit Open Source Initiative's quite intelligent focus on leveraging existing open source products for nonprofit use.

(I was always the guy babbling about open source software development)

As I look back on the notes we wrote down from that session. Some of which are here. I think about how much momentum is building.

I think its all pretty cool.

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