Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The brighter side :: NGO technology collaborations

Slightly depressed by my last post, I thought I'd highlight some of the big thinking that has happened... the success levels might not be what I would hope for, but it does highlight there are people out there thinking the big thoughts and putting them into action. Yay for them!

Greenpeace Melt. Built for a specific Greenpeace project, open sourced, but never really got much traction. -1- -2- -3- .

NPOKI. Perhaps the most real effort I've seen. -1- -2-

Global DME Solution. Collaboration of big global NGOs. Similar/ same as NPOKI. -1-

Solpath. Stillborn open source grants management solution, but great market research -- very foundation like, lots of paper but o actual code ;) . -1- -2-

Voluntary Action Westminster. "To reiterate what we want to do is develop a community of developers who all use - and are improving the same system. " on CiviCRM!

Various efforts around PEG TV stations. -1-

These examples and other really do highlight the oil and water nature of organizing around mission and organizing around tools. I think you can do one or the other. Eventually, when CiviCRM gets big enough, it will gain market share, but will likely never be selected for mission reasons, just on a feature matrix and cost calculation.

CiviCRM was built because all these mission-driven efforts share very similar underlying CRM-based technology needs. Yet only one uses CiviCRM. And the Melt decision to roll their own put the nail in the coffin of collaboration.

More to the point, the structural considerations around something like NPOKI... funding sustinability, etc, actually drive people away from the CiviCRM model of build it, share it freely... if anyone can get the software, why would they spend money? If I open it to the world, I can't control the community!

These of course are red herrings... complex software requires consultants you pay for. And as long as you control the SVN check in you control the software. Very simple stuff.

It would be nice to know of other past present and future similar efforts, please put them in the comments!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Picking Winners... not so easy.

In reading a recent OpenSourceCMS market survey by Water & Stone, I reflected on how we pick technology solutions to solve specific problems.

Around the same time a few years back, Jon Stahl, Ryan Ozimek, I and many others were trying to tackle the problem of how to provide small charities with effective technology... generally in the form of data (a CRM) and content (a CMS). We all agreed on the relevance of open source for its practical, rather than religious, benfits... cost, innovation, the potential to support niche markets.

There was no really effective CRM solution at the time, so I was involved in the ramp up of CiviCRM and Salesforce Foundation began donating licenses, so neither solution was really obvious. On the content management side, we went three different ways... Plone, Joomla and Drupal.

Here the interesting part. We were serving the same basic constituencies, we agreed on the same basic values being important, we had very similar mental models for how technology could support social change and charity operations.

In the end, we contributed to three different communities and effectively split the old Circuit Rider mind share (a subset of nonprofit technology assitance providers). Today, Jon is on the board of Plone, Ryan is on the board of Joomla, my old partner at CivicSpace is on the board of Drupal.

I have to wonder what all our (and others) deep comitment and significant invested energy and resources over the past few years might have accomplished if it had been invested in a single open source community. I have to be careful to not frame this as a "wouda, coulda, shoulda" question... the individual decisions that were made were fantastic. But since those decisions were about investing in a community rather than a vendor or piece of software, it is funny that the forces that drew us to the technology were far stronger than the forces that drew us together on the basis of our work in the same sector for the same constituents.

Technology is just a tool, so the mantra goes. Therefore, if you need to pound in a nail, you can use a hammer, a mallet or a rock and meet your mission. You'll probably talk to other mallet users and compare notes. Every once in awhile people will switch from mallets to hammers.

It is very clear to me that technology solutions come and go. The charity sector has no strategic vision of technology, nor will it ever... not many charities hire a CIO to think the big thoughts. And there doesn't seem to be the potential in the charity technology community to craft a community of action like there is in Drupal community.

For the life of me, I can't figure out why.

Tuesday, July 8, 2008

Open source vs Antharia

The folks over at Antharia are some true blue mission driven nonprofit technology providers, but I suspect they are buying into the entire open source vs. vendor thing driven by FUD (fear, uncertainty & doubt) generation on both sides. To whit this post.

I think Jordan and I would enjoy having drinks... something about an affinity for a rant. So here goes,

  1. Drupal, Plone and Joomla ARE NOT VENDORS.
  2. Antharia, CitySoft, Convio, etc. ARE NOT SOFTWARE.
When you send Antharia a check you are buying two things:
  1. FourtyFourFish / On Content, their software.
  2. Antharia, the vendor.
Jordan has this comment her blog post that is a common misperception... and the way vendors spread FUD about open source (I'll cover how open source spreads FUD about vendors in a sec.).
If I did not know better I would swear the makers of Drupal, Joomla, and Plone were greasing the pockets of NTEN.
I'm not sure how the 1400 individuals that "made" Drupal by offering uncompensated contributions of software code could or even would slip NTEN a check, but hey, whatever. You are not buying a vendor when you use open source software. End of story.

Now, NTEN can take it on the chin for screwing the pooch on the CMS software survey by conflating the software and the vendors into a single entity rather than having people rate the software and the vendor seperately. Not sure how Drupal can deliver on promises since software doesn't make promises, vendors do.

And the open source guys spread FUD about vendors mostly by using the words lock in and free. If you have a good vendor, your probably pretty happy with your lock in.

Finally, as a big open source proponent, I must pose the question... who can write better software? A small company with a couple developers? Or 1200+ contributors driven by a multi-million dollar ecology?

And props to the small nonprofit technology vendors... who can help out a small nonprofit implement software better? 1200+ conributors who couldn't care less about you? A small company where you are an important customer?

What is the best solution for nonprofits? Excellent software (open source) implemented by excellent vendors (small mission driven shops).