Friday, December 1, 2006

Reinvention of the wheel again...

One of my irritations in life is when dollars dedicated to social change get invested invested in duplicative technical infrastructure.

So I've been looking at DonorsChoose, Kiva and GlobalGiving. From a software perspective, I pretty much can't tell the difference between them. Authenticated user creates project, visitors contribute money to project, project contains some rich information about the project, there is some accountability structure and reporting.

Why did they have to build three incompatible software systems? Why not standardize on single open source platform? That way each organization's investment in the open source foundation benefits all users. Over time the cost of innovating and maintaining the software per organization falls drastically. [I'm not naive... there are lots of good reasons, but still.]

Better question... where is the "micro-project" data standard so small fundraising opportunities (a school in need of a whiteboard, a village in need of a goat) can be syndicated quickly and easily across the Internet?

Lets build our technology with the same eye toward social change we use when developing our projects.

Thursday, November 30, 2006

Online communities with fundraising microsites

From the CivicSpace Blog.

We think anyone should be able to create a Kiva or Global Giving style site for their social change project without having to pay for rebuilding the same basic technology over and over. Ultimately, we want to allow anyone to launch a Kiva or Global Giving style site for a low monthly fee with open source software (Drupal/CiviCRM).
The benefits of open source is that you can focus on the mission and share the costs of the technology, building a community of folks supporting social change.

Sunday, November 5, 2006

CiviCRM Team Start Outlining Architecture

CiviCRM is an incredible open source framework for constituent relationship management. But as a user it takes some learning to understand the basic structure of groups, relationships, activities and contacts.

As a developer it gets even more complex. Luckily the team has started to blog about the architecture of CiviCRM. Check it out.

Sunday, October 1, 2006

Customers want it all... why not?

The guys over at DIA uncovered a quote I missed from the DotOrganize survey:

Users tend to expect technology vendors to provide around the clock support and intensive customization at below market value.
On one hand, I love this quote because there seems to be a complete disregard for the cost and complexity of technology in the civic sector. The market value of a high level of service is pretty expensive.

But more importantly, it unscores the fact that our current technology delivery models are ill suited to deliver super-low-cost technology to the grassroots. Sure, if every group would let me sell internet ads and cell phone service to their constituencies, I could provide them with great service for free. Probably wouldn't get many customers though since groups' constituencies would probably object.

At CivicSpace we recognize there are three big levers in a service provider's financial model. First is the cost of customer support. If I give customers a 24-hour 1-800 number, I have to charge customers a lot of money. Conclusion: time for a new model of customer support.

Second is the cost of customer acquisition. If I send a sales guy yout to the customers, I have to charge the customer a lot of money. Conclusion: time for a new customer acquisition model.

Finally, if I have to spend a bunch of money on programmers and acquisitions to deliver the functionality customers need, I have to charge the customer a lot of money. Time for a new R&D model.

Providing technology services to the grassroots as a business is a lot like providing cell phone service to consumers... consumers will ask for far more than you can afford to deliver and your competitors will be driving down margins like there is no tomorrow.

But by rethinking the model, challenging the assumptions, and changing the way we achieve our mission, we think CivicSpace has a model that can use all the major financial levers to deliver around the clock support and intensive customization to the grassroots at a market rate far below what the current providers can achieve. Stay tuned.

Monday, September 25, 2006


George Hotelling won the Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest.

I am fascinated by the selection. On one hand I completely agree with it... CitizenSpeak provides a key function for the grassroots. It makes a difference on the ground and was put together with incredibly few resources. It is a triumph of a small group with no resources creating a high-impact solution. They will use the prize money to do something fantastic.

On the other hand, it exemplifies the complete disregard in the sector for basic infrastructure. CiviCRM is building the water pipes and sewer system, CivicSpace is building the electricity and public transportation, and Citizen Speak is the nice little house on the corner that has electric lights, is public transit accessible, and has running water and a toilet.

It also highlights the importance of ecology. CitizenSpeak can store the CRM information in CiviCRM. People can install the CitizenSpeak module in Drupal or the CivicSpace download. CivicSpace On Demand can offer CitizenSpeak functionality in our hosted service. This is the power of open source and more importantly, the community behind open source.

Congratulations George and Jo. Well earned and well deserved.

Thursday, September 21, 2006


Kinda cool. CivicSpace On Demand went to beta last week. Nice to see groups using it and partnering with us improve it.

CivicSpace On Demand offers an integrated, simple-to-use solution for running a group's website, collecting money (donations & memberships), sending sophistocated emails/ e-newsletters, and maintaining a constitutent relationship management system. It is entirely web-based, avaliable in minutes and accessed through your web browser. Based on Drupal 4.7 and CiviCRM 1.5, we look forward to continuing to contribute back to those open source communities.

Ask around, maybe you can get access to the beta :)

Wednesday, August 16, 2006

CiviCRM Up for a Prize

CiviCRM (more specifically, Lobo) has been nominated for the Antonio Pizzigati Prize for software in the public interest. Reading the wonderful testimonials from the CiviCRM community, I realize that CiviCRM is equal parts great people, great ideas and great software.

One of the keys of evaluating open source is evaluating the community. I think CiviCRM has been able to build a community worthy of the civic sector... real support, a friendly face, and a committment to 'customers' and incusiveness.

If you use CiviCRM, please offer a post about why.

Some neat quotes:

" Always polite, always helpful (Lobo) is the main reason many of us can even deal with a project with the ambitions of CiviCRM."

"We had skilled tech volunteers but couldn't afford a "turnkey", and extensive research in 2004 into both commercial and "free" CRM solutions showed that there was a dearth of affordable, flexible and easy to use web-based CRMs for small NPOs like ourselves. When CiviCRM came along, it was clear that it would meet our needs and talk to our values."

And my favorite:

"At first I had trouble envisioning a sucessful implementation of open source. This perception changed as I became more involved, but they drastically changed when I started working with CIVICRM. There is a clear gap between CIVICRMand the remainder. Not only is CIVICRM a robust piece of software, it was clearly built by a team that is privy to the needs of the organizations it serves. This is not an uninformed effort; CIVICRM is as close to a custom solution that I could ever hope to get, even if I paid a team of developers to work only for me. It is one of the most well thought out pieces of software I have ever used."

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Wednesday, July 19, 2006

Hacking for Good

The sucess of an open source ecology is based on a bunch of things. One of those things is raw innovation. 100 programmers in a room building "stuff" is a fountain of innovation.

CivicSpace exists to harness that innovation and make sure the largest possible audience of civic organizations can access it. So naturally we are involved with Silona's grand plan.

We need nonprofits to participate so the coders don't go creating things *they* think would be cool. We need experienced Drupal/CiviCRM coders so that hackers move the ball forward rather than building code we can't utilize in the community. Visit the wiki and participate!

*The League of Technical Voters is sponsoring a programmer lock in!*

*What:* We are going to lock in 100 programmers for 48 hours developing Open Source Software for non-profit organizations.

*When:* October 13-15th 2006

*Where:* Austin Texas at Ventana Del Sol

*Why:* To make the world a better place, have a great time, andlook cool doing it. To top it off, Austin Texas is great in October!

*How:* Sign up, catch up, and pipe up! Password is: transparency

*The Madness*

We are going to have 5-15 minute events happening every 3-4 hoursto keep all the programmers motivated. Everything from surprise gueststo various styles of performers (like firespinning at 2 am.) We willkeep everyone fed all 48 hrs (not just pizza) and hydrated (not justcoke). However, we aren't promising showers or beds. This event isonly for the most hardcore programmers out there, 'cause this is gonnabe intense.


- How the hell is this gonna work?
We are using Drupal and php. We'll have a list of modules andfeature sets that people will grab and run off to develop. We willalso have a few optional speakers and tutorials on getting started inDrupal if you are new to the environment.

- Why Drupal, you may ask?
Mainly because of the supportive community, modularity and featurerich pre-existing code base. We have a large set of features that wewill have to implement or fix in a short amount of time. If you wannaprogram in something else... lets talk about version 2.0. When theLOTV site reaches the amount of traffic that will break version 1.0, weshould have the resources to build the next one.

- Why php?
'Cause we are using Drupal... duh...

- Nothing will work and you guys suck.

So who pissed in your wheaties this morning? We don't honestlythink that at the end of 48 hours everyone's code will miraculouslywork. We just want to get this organization kick started and createsome useful tools for other Non Profits... and maybe raise a littleawareness about Open Source Software and Non Profits. No other groupsout there understand more about collaboration than Non Profits. Socome on out and save the world for 48hrs! It may make you less grumpy.

- Who is this League of Technical Voters?

Our primary goal is to involve more technical people in thepolitical process, especially in relation to the use of technology bygovernment. We plan on doing this through tying together blogging,social networking and community management tools. We aim to rule theworld and make the world rule! Join us!

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

Can the grassroot be in control?

Jon Lebkowsky offers another piece of the CivicSpace value proposition in a Web 2.0 recap/rant. The quote is from "Web 2.0 Social Web: who is in control?" by Donna Bogatin, ZDNet.

The relationship between Web 2.0 Social Web property owners and Web2.0 Social Web user contributors, in fact, is inherently symbiotic.While each side needs the other, however, the relationship is not oneof equals; Social Web contributors are dependent upon the“free” infrastructure graciously offered by Web 2.0properties.

Part of the CivicSpace value proposition is that CivicSpace pushes the control of the infrastructure of the social web further out to the edges.

CivicSpace On Demand will provide an instant website, online community, central CRM database, online donations and email newsletters. Rather than rely on News Corp (MySpace), you can actually operate your own social web. We want to give the grassroots some control over the social web and empower them to use it for social change purposes.

The holy grail of this line of thought is identity owned by the user-- software like Flock and various identity efforts are pushing toward this. Until then, we are happy to provide a little more disruption in the system by trying to push power and control out to the edges of the network.

Can the grassroot be in control?

Jon Lebkowsky offers another piece of the CivicSpace value proposition in a Web 2.0 recap/rant. The quote is from "Web 2.0 Social Web: who is in control?" by Donna Bogatin, ZDNet.

The relationship between Web 2.0 Social Web property owners and Web2.0 Social Web user contributors, in fact, is inherently symbiotic.While each side needs the other, however, the relationship is not oneof equals; Social Web contributors are dependent upon the“free” infrastructure graciously offered by Web 2.0properties.

Part of the CivicSpace value proposition is that CivicSpace pushes the control of the infrastructure of the social web further out to the edges.

CivicSpace On Demand will provide an instant website, online community, central CRM database, online donations and email newsletters. Rather than rely on News Corp (MySpace), you can actually operate your own social web. We want to give the grassroots some control over the social web and empower them to use it for social change purposes.

The holy grail of this line of thought is identity owned by the user-- software like Flock and various identity efforts are pushing toward this. Until then, we are happy to provide a little more disruption in the system by trying to push power and control out to the edges of the network.

Monday, July 3, 2006

Computers and previous thingamabobs...

This quote from Wendell Berry keeps re-surfacing in my life:

Computers make people even better and smarter than they were made by previous thingamabobs. Or if some people prove incorrigibly wicked or stupid or both, computers will at least speed them up.

When we think of tools like CivicSpace... platforms for social change, we need to remember that they are neutral... social change for good, social change for bad. People often ask if CivicSpace is going to take a position on what is good or bad. As a business, I think that Google's "Do no evil" motto is a nice thought, but making money is almost by definition an amoral activity. So I doubt CivicSpace will take a position on what is good or bad.

What we will do is build a community around what we think is good. That requires partners, friends and supporters in an ecology based both in values and in economic exchange. Sitting down with venture investors and others, it amazes me how many people don't get our CivicSpace Associate model.

We're building a community of stakeholders. Sure, there is an economic component... as much as I am a Utopian at heart, I'm going to get my people health insurance. That community is what tips the scales and makes sure the technology powering social change is in the hands of folks doing what the community thinks is good. And hopefully their energy and commitment will allow those doing good with the technology to far outstrip others.

I would love to see an investor look at the associate model as a way to reach more customers rather than "limit" the market. A way to do more good, rather than "limit" revenue opportunities. A way to build a stronger ecology, rather than a weaken the defensibility of the business.

I'm a business person that understands the power of networks and community and how a small slice of a huge pie can be far better than a "defensible" market position. This is either naivety or sitting on the edge of a significant disruptive innovation. Time will tell.


Saturday, July 1, 2006

CiviCRM 1.5 Skypecast July 06, 12:00 PST

CiviCRM Community Skypecast will provide an overview of the new features in CiviCRM 1.5. July 06, 12:00 PST

Learn about features coming in v1.5. Ask questions, and sharefeedback, ideas, tips for using CiviCRM with other users, developersand folks from the CiviCRM core development team. (CiviCRM is the firstopen source and freely downloadable constituent relationship managementsolution. CiviCRM is web-based, internationalized, and designedspecifically to meet the needs of advocacy, non-profit andnon-governmental groups.)

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Wednesday, May 31, 2006

A challenge!

I love it when Holly Ross from NTEN takes me to task for being boring and rehashing the same old conversation. :)

How will the Open Source movement respond to Open API's? Is this a major victory for the sector? Or the wrong kind of victory taking the wind out of the Open Source sails? That's the kind of "State of Open Source Software" I want to hear about.

Respond to Open APIs? Open APIs are a last dieing breath of proprietary software's effort to remain relevant. Without open source, there wouldn't be open APIs, there would be systems integrators charging you $20k to integrate your CRM and your financials.

So I agree that the open source sector can take credit for the victory that is open APIs, mash-ups and the continual reduction in the monetary value of software functionality.

But it is clear there is enough room in the "marketplace" for lots of types of innovations... open source and open APIs. The bottom line is a point that Holly makes in her post... if it isn't easy to use, it will not be used.

No matter how cool the API is.

Friday, May 5, 2006

First Monday Talks about PeopleFinder

So First Monday has a reasonably good article on the Katrina PeopleFinder Project. Interestingly enough, the authors never contacted me, so I should offer a few clarifications.


This they got spot on... go read Ethan Zukerman's quote. It all gets started from the personal network and rapidly expands to other people's personal networks. I got to Ethan through Jon Lebkowsky, from there we got to the LiveJournal community.

This is an extremely powerful model for network-driven action.


Everyone should have the technology tools to create massive social change at their fingertips. That is what we are doing with CivicSpace On Demand. If you are interested in using our services or investing in the CivicSpace company, please drop me an email.

The Red Cross

The Red Cross simply was not equipped at that time to deal with the type of technology we were creating or with some random group of people off the Internet. This is changing with a new CTO that is bringing some folks in to support a culture shift around technology. I hope they succeed.

But at the time, there was little in the way of a "relationship" with the Red Cross. I don't think I ever had a direct conversation with anyone at the Red Cross, those communications went on elsewhere in the network. The issue of sharing data was never in question... that is why we build the PeopleFinder Interchange Format (PFIF).

The issue was that Red Cross and their vendor Microsoft tried to create "the single authoritative source" for evacuee information -- katrinasafe. We were in this for people, not technology, so if Red Cross/ Microsoft would have been able to launch a solution and clearly communicate their intentions, we would have helped more people more quickly.

The issues that I saw the community discuss revolved around two things:

  1. The Red Cross and Microsoft made pronouncements, but never delivered at the pace the PeopleFinder project was delivering. Why stop helping people today, in the hopes of helping them "better" next week?
  2. The approach the Red Cross was backing was a closed approach that simply funneled data into a single katrinasafe site and did not release any data back out again to people that had innovative solutions to make the situation better. This fundamental philosophical difference is playing out in our society today through issues like SaveTheInternet and Creative Commons content licenses. This was the fundamental conflict. But we were all in it help people find their loved ones... the philisophical questions could be sorted out latter.

Corporate Participation

I think the conclusion that corporate participation or resources are required in an effort of this scale is just plain false. Foundation was an incredibly valuable partner that was critical to the success of the project.

But the fact we relied on their hardware and software resources actually slowed the PeopleFinder project down by days. Open source software and communities mean that no one has to get permission, people can just dive in an solve the problem. We had perhaps 50 programmers volunteering for us, and solving problems, but only a couple people on the Salesforce side. We had offers of server clusters and all kinds of technical resources.

One problem we faced is we had collected about 500,000 records we needed to get into the katrinalist database, but the technology could only upload a small (something like a thousand) number of records at a time. By the time we were aware of the problem, a high school student in the Midwest released software that fed data into the system in small chunks.

It is this innovation, this mass action, that corporations and a corporate resources are not equipped to understand, interact with or leverage.

I realize now that early in the process I had been culturally-conditioned into believing that big companies and institutions were the only ones with the resources to do really big things. Now I realize that the network scales almost infinitely-- corporations and institutions have limited capacity.

Thursday, May 4, 2006

Mapping Community Data

CivicSpace has some amazing capabilities. A group can take virtually any data and create multiple views like lists and maps. Work with crime statistics, data about local schools, abandoned houses, whatever data you need to create social change.

Zack demonstrates community data mapping in Drupal 4.7 (the CivicSpace upgrade to 4.7 is coming).

A community can manage data easily and put it into reports, maps and other formats at the touch of a few buttons. All with free and open source technology. Pretty powerful stuff.

Heck, there is even some development code that allows you to use CiviCRM as a data source rather than a csv file.

Monday, May 1, 2006

Drupal 4.7 Released

Drupal is the underlying content management system that powers CivicSpace. Combined with CiviCRM, we have a powerful platform for running the online presense of the nonprofit and the behind-the-scenes constituent database.

Drupal 4.7 was built by 388 contributors. We easily have that many techies in the nonprofit sector willing to contribute their talents if they knew the groups they cared about plus thousands of others would benefit. Hopefully they find CivicSpace (Drupal + CiviCRM) a good platform to contribute to.

Read more about Drupal 4.7.

Thursday, April 20, 2006

CivicSpace, here I come...

So I have joined the guys at CivicSpace full time as a Managing Partner after leaving the Beaumont Foundation. I'm responsible for strategy and business operations in the organization.

This is particularly exciting because CivicSpace is poised to make a big leap from good open source idea to compelling, paradigm shifting sea-change. How are we going to do this you ask?

We are going to build a sustainable economy around CivicSpace. In talking with folks, it has increasingly become clear that "the business is the community" and the "community is the business." Folks need health insurance. It takes money to change the world.

And, surprisingly, CivicSpace has seen very little investment relative to its impact (the same is true of CiviCRM). Not sure if all those visionary individual donors and foundations are asleep at the wheel and can't see the thousands (yes, thousands) of nonprofits adopting the technology because it meets real, concrete needs to improve efficiency and expand impact. Alternatively, we aren't communicating the story well or in a compelling way (something about being focused on the needs of thousands of individual groups, perhaps?).

In either case, we'll draw some attention to ourselves and see if we can multiply our impact by 10 (for those following at home, that would be tens of thousands of groups engaging in more effective social change). If any of those investors read this blog, please do send me an email (dgeilhufeATyahooDOTcom).

Back to the business model. We think that there is a big and sustainable business in launching a hosted version of CivicSpace. In fact, we have quietly launched an initial trial of CivicSpace on Demand. But the business is the community and the community is the business.

So we also think we have a model for how the innovation in our business can be harnessed to benefit the larger civic sector. Rather than be a traditional ASP peddling our wares directly to nonprofits, we are looking for CivicSpace Associates. These are folks that deploy CivicSpace On Demand for "customers" (nonprofits, civic groups, political organizations, whatever). Associates could be a business that serves a hundred nonprofit sector clients or just a college student that builds a grassroots community website every couple of months as a volunteer project.

These Associates, as they invest their time and energy into CivicSpace On Demand to create a better experience for end users, end up creating a better CivicSpace open source download [remember we are a social enterprise so we can give away our proprietary advantage for free if it helps the community; our financial ROI stops far short of Porsches-- closer to health insurance for employees].

Our innovation? Create a direct financial incentive to improve the open source software. Since Associates re-sell CivicSpace On Demand to customers with a mark-up for the value added services they offer (set-up, configuration, training, support, etc.), they have an incentive to make sure that CivicSpace On Demand is a great product. Since a lot of Associates are already comfortable with open source communities, they will participate in CivicSpace On Demand the same way they participate in other open source communities since the CivicSpace On Demand code will always be available as the free and open source CivicSpace download.

But the community is the business and the business is the community. So I'm getting ahead of myself and will go back to our initial associates and ask them what the business looks like. They have the final say because they are the ones that know how best to create an economy around CivicSpace On Demand.

Saturday, March 18, 2006

Open Source Infrastructure

Chris Messina ties together some thoughts from Doc Serls is a very socialistic fashion :)

Chris posits that all infrastructure needs to be "open source" becuase of Doc Serl's point that "You make money becuase of (open source), not with (open source).

It always shocks me how little history gets applied to thoughts like this. The Tennessee Valley Authority (rural electricication), Hoover Dam, the interstate highway system all were infrastructure investments where people made money BECAUSE of them, not WITH them.

The drive for privatization of infrastructure is becuase people don't like the concept of paying a gas tax to maintain the highway system... government isn't as efficient as the private sector, they say. Listen to the World Bank and they will tell you the water provision in the developing world should be privatized since governments have largely failed at providing cheap clean water.

I like Chris's vision of a water system with Digital Rights Management (DRM), you can use the water to drink at one price, but you need to pay extra to wash your clothes.

The point here is about trade offs. Governments are inefficient in one way (pork highway projects for example). The private sector is inefficient in another way (maybe poor people couldn't use the highways if the private sector built them, casue there isn't much money to be made from poor folks).

Open Source, however, overlays a concept of self-organization that both conservatives and liberals should be really excited about. First, those with a need can self organize... if we need a road to be maintained, the folks with the need figure out how to do it (peering aragements between ISPs, the evolution of Apache as the core infrastructure of the web). The big bad government doesn't even really have to be in the mix.

The liberals can embrace open source becuase it is non-exclusive. Poor folks face no finnacial barrier to participating... to making money BECAUSE of the infrastructure.

But corporate control of infrastructure means that in the interests of profits, we need both heavy government involvement (copyright laws, DRM legistations, courts to enforce the stuff) AND exclusivity... you only get to use the infrastructure if you pay the profit maximizing rate.

If I thought for a moment that your average elected official could even understand the arguement I just made or if I thought that corporate officers could look past their own greed long enough to be a citizen, then I would think we are on the brink of a new world defined by opportunity for all (making money/progress/art/ideas/etc BECAUSE of (open source) infrastructure). But I am a little more cynical than that and see the all to likely outcome to be a few corporations making money WITH proprietary infrastructure.

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Friday, March 17, 2006

The emerging ecosystem

Last night CivicSpace announced a hosted ASP service. For those of you that pay attention to my sometimes borderline rants :) , the ability of nonprofits to access a high-quality affordable ASP is one of the most important factors in creating a sustainable ecosystem around CiviCRM and other open source tools for social change. Nonprofits need a no-brainer and affordable way to access these tools.

Please consider being a brave soul and help them as an alpha tester.

The service will be similiar to Drupal hosting offered by Bryght but will provide the CivicSpace 0.8.3 Drupal distribution. In the future we hope to launch the ASP publicly as a low cost service for the non-profit & advocacy sector, but for now we are looking for a few brave CivicSpace community members to help us test it. Please fill out the form if you are interested in participating and we will be in contact with you shortly.
You can sign up as an alpha tester here:

Monday, March 13, 2006

Too much choice!! What's a nonprofit to do?

From Ross Mayfield's blog. Providing a summary of a interview with Barry Schwartz at PC Forum.

People are so overwhelmed with choice that:

  1. Instead of liberating people, it paralyzes them.
  2. With all this choice, people may do better objectively than when there was less choice, but they will feel worse.
With CiviCRM, we intentionally built an open source project that had the potential to overwhelm the end user with choices. Want a donor management system, configure it that way, what a client tracking and outcomes system, configure it another way. But our target audience was NOT end users. It was an ecosystem of people, firms, nonprofits, intermediaries and others that would serve end users.

I think this is one of the issues we have right now in a Web 2.0 world of web services, mashups and all the rest... a lot of this technology is really usefull to people who build applications for end users. For the end users themselves, it is too feature rich and offers too much choice to be truely enhance productivity and make people feel good and satisfied with their enhancement of productivity.

One of the lessons I take away from the discussion is that we need to make some very simple, user-focused features in CiviCRM to model for the ecosystem that we still have work to do to make this stuff truely end-user friendly. I think we've done a great job with CiviContriibute. Once you get CiviCRM installed, (1) go to paypal, get an API key; (2) enter it into an admin screen; (3) use the wizard to create an online donation page; (4) start accepting online donations. Hopefully the community will help build out more of these very simple end-user focused tasks and workflows.

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Sunday, March 12, 2006

Gender, Techies and CiviCRM

So, inspired by Christine Herron (, I tried to count the gender respresentation at BarCamp Austin. I can't figure out how she does it... I couldn't get an accurate count, but it certainly was in the 10-15% range that seems consistent with her techie conferece numbers.

But the issue is clearly on the minds of folks... Doc Searls was the official "woman" on the Open Source panel.

Then I did my CiviCRM (open source constitutent relationship management for nonprofits-- database, online donations and mass email) presentation, and low and behold, the percentage of audience jumped to like 40-50% (of maybe 15 or so people). OK, CiviCRM is more relationship based, a little more soft and fuzzy... targets toword nonprofits and online communities... in a stereotypical way it could be considered a bit more gyno-friendly.

This got me wondering. CiviCRM seems to be attractive to a more balanced (in terms of gender) crowd. So how can we market to/ engage with all those "edge" women who might not be participating in technology today, but might engage in some more female-friendly activities like CiviCRM? I don't feel like I have answers, but I sure would like some women to join the CiviCRM community (or women that are already there) and help us figure out how to make it a more friendly and inviting place.

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Saturday, March 11, 2006

CiviCRM at BarCamp Austin

So we're doing a CiviCRM session today (Saturday) at 8:30pm at Bar Camp Austin. [changed from 3:30]. If you are at SXSW, please drop by

Bar Camp has a pretty good turn out given that South by Southwest is happening at the same time. CiviCRM wasn't invited to SXSW, not to metion SXSW is a little pricey, so Bar Camp Alustin was a little more my speed ;)

I'll blog a little from Bar Camp on interesting stuff.

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Thursday, March 2, 2006

Strengths and Weaknesses of CiviCRM

Steve Anderson has yet again inspired me with his top five reasons not to use Salesforce. This combined with Amanda Hickman's recent reference to the ebase "Truth in Advertising" statement inspired me to take a hard look at CiviCRM.

Now I'm still an advocate, so I look at this as "where CiviCRM needs to improve" rather than reasons not to use CiviCRM. ;)

1. CiviCRM needs a bigger and better ecosystem. We are growing, CivicSpace 0.8.2 integrates CiviCRM with content management, events, volunteer management and more. Consulting firms like Trellon and CivicActions are using our technology and contributing back to support the ecosystem.

Exciting announcements are around the corner, including the first monthly hosting providers of CiviCRM solutions, support for new content management systems and an expansion of the consulting firms that support our technology.

2. CiviCRM needs better documentation. Jon Stahl rightly called us to task by posing the question "If an API gets built but not documented, can it be said to exist?" Now our APIs and the rest of our software is documented, but it could be far more thorough and easier to use.

3. We need to build out functionality closer to the user. CiviCRM is powerful and configurable, but how do you configure it to be a useful donor management system?

We can't be truely sustainable in the nonprofit sector until:

  • A large number of consultants are familiar with and use our tools, including strategic and implementation consultants.
  • Nonprofits can pay $X /month for a hosted solution or $Y for a local install. AND X & Y are as low as possible.
  • Robust and reliable documentation, training and support is avaliable from a variety of organizations, both NTAPs and commercial firms.
  • People that extend CiviCRM contribute their innovations back to the community as open source software.
But once we get there, we're home free :)

Tell the truth all the time

Kieran Lal from CivicSpace forwarded a great article, "What Corporate Projects Should Learn from Open Source"

The first principal is "Tell the truth all the time."

I think this is particularly critical among the businesses that make up
an ecosystem around open source. Our clients will get better, faster,
cheaper "stuff" sometimes. They will also sometimes get slower, more
expensive, and better "stuff." It is important that clients get both
messages so that they can choose how to generate the best long term
return on investment.

The critical piece of an open source ecosystem is building up the code
base into something better and more effective for everyone, not just
freeloading off the basic architectural work done by others. Clearly
most clients are not going to invest in some of the core work on their
own without a clear explanation of the costs and benefits, and a clear
case why investing in the core, in doing it 'right', will benefit them
over the long run. And much of the time, investing in the core might
not make financial sense.

I think groups like Ironweed Films and
Goodstorm are perfect examples of customers
that "get it." They understand that by investing in core technology,
they both help themselves in the short term, and catalyze innovations
that will help them in the long term.

The question that I would pose to people making money off open source
ecosystems like Drupal/ CivicSpace/ Joomla/ CiviCRM is how do you
explain the costs and benefits in a way that the long-term return on
investment of investing in core components of open source software is
clear to the customer?

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Wednesday, March 1, 2006

CiviCRM Affinity Group Meeting in Seattle March 22

CiviCRM Affinity Group Meeting
Wednesday, March 22, 2006
11:00 am - 1:00 pm

The Westin Seattle
1900 5th Avenue
Seattle, Washington 98101

This session will bring the CiviCRM ecosystem together to get questions
answered and do a little planning for the future. The agenda will be
defined by who shows up. Depending on what people would like, we'll be
prepared to break into smaller groups and do demos of what CiviCRM can
do, talk about case studies, talk about how developers and integrators
can use CiviCRM to serve nonprofits, dive deep into the API, and other
topics people want to cover.

We can do some agenda building in advance of the meeting on the wiki:

You do not have to register or attend the NTEN conference to attend the
CiviCRM affinity group session.

Register Online:
(or just add your name to the Wiki)

CiviCRM Team

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Friday, February 24, 2006

Empowering the agents of Social Change

From the Drupal developer's list:

Drupal does not empower the majority of the public, it's too hard to
use. It empowers programmers and systems integrators.

In the nonprofit sector, folks I talk to are sitting on the fence about open source solutions like CivicSpace and CiviCRM because it's too hard... there's no vendor to solve my problem. At the same time, hundred of individual organizations are attracted to the platform and beginning to adopt it at an accelerating rate.

The programmers and system administrators that were empowered by Drupal and CiviCRM went out and built CivicSpace-- it works, but it still doesn't empower the majority of the public.

The next stage of the evolution will be creating the hosters and strengthening the integrators [Three Pillars of Social Source]. We have the house framed and now we need the hosters and the integrators need to help us put up a roof and some walls.

If you offer database and web services to nonprofits, you should look at CivicSpace and it's underlying technologies, CiviCRM and Drupal. It will help you help your customers more thoroughly and more cheaply than any of the alternatives.

There is a pretty clear roadmap for where we need to go, it's unclear if the rest of the nonprofit sector is yet listening, understanding, or standing ready to help. Invest in the CivicSpace ecosystem... use the software, support the vendors, fund the integrators and hosters. And lets see how much social change Internet technologies can power.

Friday, February 10, 2006

Social Source Symbiosis

When I'm not actually accomplishing things, I can write about 3 paragraphs of deep thoughts before I get bored and have to actually accomplish something.

Awhile back I wrote a post on Social Source Symbiosis (some deep thoughts).

This is what it looks like in the real world:

CivicSpace  CiviCRM

Thursday, January 26, 2006

I wish I had known about it...

In nonprofit technology we have a knowledge problem. Britt Bravo is the community organizer for Techsoup's Netsquared project. She pulled together an email list of "builders" for the Netsquared community with a Yahoo Group.

My first reaction was why didn't they use NPOGroups? Britt hadn't even realized the service exists.

This highlights the basic question of capacity building. Technology is just a tool... so pick the tool that works... why worry about whether it builds the capacity of the nonprofit technology sector?

BUT as we imagine a world of web services and central databases of constitutents, the question becomes will Yahoo respond to nonprofit needs? Probably not... they don't represent a powerful customer base. Compumentor will not be able to use the information on Netsquared builders for future initiatives without some fancy import/export work.

In reality, we have a definition problem... what does capacity in nonprofit technology mean? The ecosystem that supports the nonprofit community as a matter of mission isn't particularly strong. In the nonprofit technology arena, it is almost exclusively vendors driven by profit as a primary motivator. In no way am I suggesting that nonprofit technology vendors aren't good folks, but they certainly aren't comitted to universal technology access for any nonprofit that wants to use technology tools.

I like to call the general negative reaction I get when I propose there should be more mission-focused nonprofit technology players the "sounds like socialism"problem. It's pretty clear that funders aren't going to bankroll the mission-driven nonprofit technology ecosystem, but there is no reason the sector itself can't fund a more grassroots, micro-enterprise, open sourcey community of companies, nonprofits and intermediaries.

Why support Yahoo when you can support three guys at Electric Embers that work every day for nonprofits to have better access to technology? Not sure there is a clear answer, but it's a good question.

[1/27 update]
Not that this happens alot at Yahoo Groups, but Nancy White highlights one groups the lost their yahoo group. Wouldn't it be better if you knew and trusted the actual humans with names providing your technology?

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Monday, January 23, 2006

Small Nonprofits and Technology Planning

Michael Gilbert makes a solid point... we ask the wrong questions of nonprofits in the technology planning process. We ask technology-centric questions, rather than asking mission centric questions and then connecting them to appropriate technologies. As an illustration, he looks at TechAtlas and Techsoup.

Laura Adler defends TechAltas and Techsoup a little, arguing "Providing these folks with a means to less-than-horrible technology decisions is a worthwhile and even honorable goal."

I think there is another point in here. When I buy a car, I ask how far am I going to drive, what saftey rating do I need, am I going to spend a lot of time in the snow? These are the consumer equivalent of mission questions. But the end-point are "pre-packaged" solutions-- a truck, a car, etc.

What we haven't done in nonprofit technology is focus on assembling, building and providing the prepackaged solutions. Once those are in place, you can ask mission-focused questions and realistically connect them to technologies that will meet nonprofits' needs.

Laura says, "But in looking at the possibilities, we need to be sure to account for the nonprofits who can’t afford to hire us." If everyone has to assemble unique solutions from component building blocks to meet mission-needs, then nonprofits who can't afford to hire people to assemble these solutions are simply out of luck.

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Monday, January 16, 2006

CiviCRM 1.3 Released

CiviCRM 1.3 is has been released including CiviContribute (Donor management and accepting online donations) and CiviMail (improved developer release of broadcast mailer with open and click tracking). 1.4 is around the corner. What do you think needs to be in 1.5?

Read the release announcement.

Thursday, January 12, 2006

Where is the nonprofit API traffic? reports:

And from our modest beginnings with Sforce 1.0, we've seen the Sforce Web service API grow to account for over 40% of all of's total traffic. Think about that for a minute - the API is almost as heavily used as the Web application.
In the nonprofit sector, where is the API traffic? Do you access Convio, Kintera & Get Active via API? Can you build simple connectors to web applications like Steve Anderson does for the ONE/Northwest database consulting practice?

The issue, I think, is that we have yet to establish valid business reasons in the nonprofit sector for heavy use of APIs. Steve's use of APIs is primarily to get around the inherent limitations of the salesforce automation software when used as a nonprofit database.

The big reasons for APIs are:
(1) Connect best of breed solutions. This tends to be at odds with most nonprofit software vendors' approach of being a "one stop shop".
(2) Create custom, technology-enabled business processes. Not sure the nonprofit sector is doing quite as much innovation to serve the homeless more effectively or run food banks more effectively as it perhaps should.
(3) Central data repository. Not sure the broad nonprofit sector really "gets" this basic concept of CRM.

What does the future look like?
(1) Vendors will be pushed to opening up their functionality. Nonprofits should be comfortable demanding that they be able to knit together a Kintera feature with a Get Active feature and have it all backed by a CiviCRM database (or any other combination that meets their needs).
(2) Nonprofits will become educated about what CRM can do for them.
(3) Smaller nonprofits will get access to affordable consulting and software services. (cause the APIs are really for the consultants)

Thursday, January 5, 2006

Surmounting the barriers to using Technology to support Social Change

Jim Fruchterman of Benetech writes about four barriers that prevent web-based technology from producing social change. We think that the CiviCRM/ Social Source Foundation approach, based on the lessons of open source communities, is the best strategy for surmounting all four barriers.

What’s the great barrier to producing social change in general? Funding availability, especially to the most capable and dynamic groups. The web-based modifier doesn’t change that fact.
In a social source ecosystem, the vast majority of the money is generated in a commercial market. Firms and individuals selling services related to CiviCRM can generate sufficient resources to fix bugs, innovate, market the platform and generally "keep the lights on" in the community. Sure there are issues... free riders, commercial interests at odds with social change, but we believe they are surmountable.
A second issue is the difficulty in designing effective software for the social sector. The sector is reasonably balkanized, and market incentives don’t provide enough push to make better software, with a few exceptions (i.e., fund raising software). Plus, the users are not developers, and so it’s hard to understand what mission-critical tasks the software can effectively assist with.
In a social source ecosystem, users, intermediaries and developers are part of a community. They communicate through mailing lists, forums, events, and consultants. By increasing the number and frequency of communication channels, users can have access to ideas of "what is possible" in a language they understand, developers are specialized and focused on meeting nonprofit needs (and have a slightly better chance at understanding mission critical tasks), but the intermediaries are the key. That is why we spend a lot of time recruiting intermediaries into our ecosystem.
Distribution in the broadest sense is the third big barrier. Building it doesn’t make them come, generally. Marketing doesn’t come naturally to most social change groups.
Again, bring in the folks with the incentive to market. Small progressive organizations, for example, are often served by small consultants. Make ir easy for them to do their job and let them so the marketing for the ecosystem. Larger consulting firms spread the word to larger players. Here again, intermediaries are critical.

IP rights are the fourth significant barrier. When the money is not there, owners of intellectual property believe they cannot afford to go after socially oriented applications.
Which begs the question, why would anyone license software for social change under ANYTHING but an open source license (an aguement I've made before), preferably a viral one that actively ensures that innovations are shared with the community. It has yet to be demonstrated that innovation is stifled by open source licenses. In fact, as long as people can sell services, open source is a way to grow markets at the same time one reduces the cost of the item. Software becomes a commodity. Its cheap and there is an aweful lot of it... keep in mind there is big business in sand, lumber, coal, and other comodities. But buying some coal to heat your home is not particularly expensive.