Friday, June 24, 2005

Effective, affordable and ubiquitous nonprofit technology

Social Source is a vision and practice of software development that specifically meets customer needs. Social Source changes the institutional and systemic incentives that govern the behavior of actors within nonprofit software development.

It starts with a simple idea:
Software customers need effective, affordable and easy solutions.

Commercial vendors in the proprietary world say they provide effective, affordable and easy solutions, but their definitions of those terms may not match the customers'.

Vendors tend to provide effective solutions for the problem that drives the purchasing decision. I buy effective fundraising software today, but in five years my needs have expanded and when it hasn't been upgraded because the vendor needs to maintain their profit margins and cannot afford to expand R&D, it might no longer be so effective.

Social Source uses open source development methodology to deliver effective solutions across the life cycle. CiviCRM, the Social Source Foundation's new nonprofit-centric contact and relationship management solution, can remain effective over the entire software life-cycle IF an social source community of volunteer and paid developers, consultants, vendors and users embrace the platform.

Commercial vendors only provide an effective solution if it is profitable. Blackbaud's Raiser's Edge was recently criticized by the transgender community because their demographic profile only included male and female. With an open source solution like CiviCRM, if the maintainers of the software won't change their software, you can hire someone or do it yourself without violating licensing agreements.

Affordable to a vendor means the highest possible price that the market will bear. We call this in economics profit maximization. Customers clearly get value... they are willing to pay for it.

With open source software, there is a natural competion among vendors. You can only buy Kintera Sphere from Kintera corporation. With an open source solution like CiviCRM, you can buy the solution from any developer/integrator/consultant that understands how the software works.

The dual upside/downside is that this provides a large variation in vendor quality from college students on summer break to major corporate systems integrators. The customer will need to choose the best providers, but they can choose from a wide variety of price points and service levels so that the customer's specific needs are met. If you want Kintera Sphere, you pretty much only get Kintera Sphere at Kintera's price point and service level.

We call this the ecosystem around a piece of social source software.

Proprietary vendors tend to make using software easy. Getting, installing, modifying, customizing, understanding, etc. are all too often difficult in order to generate additional fee income that supports profit margins.

Social Source vendors have incentives to deliver "easy" in all aspects of their services. As they compete in the marketplace, they can't afford make any stage of the process difficult... the competition will acquire customers by making what was once hard, easy.

So how does this Social Source idea work all this magic? We'll take a deeper look in the next few days.

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