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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