Thursday, June 18, 2009

Social Source Four Years Later

I love it when thoughts converge.

Sonny Cloward tweeted a nice reminder of the nonprofit technology open source vs. commercial debate that has been going on for awhile [his post, my post]. He was congratulating Johanna Bates on a very nice post on her personal view of open source and nonprofits.

All this was catalized by Eben Moglen's NTC Plenary and has been covered by Holly Ross's post.

Four years latter basically nothing has changed in the discourse, but facts on the ground have seen a sea change.

The discourse is stil either/or & black/white.

The CiviCRM guys don't point out that Salesforce has a more polished functionality and better reporting tools. The Salesforce guys don't point out that CiviCRM can do membership management, events management, seamless acceptance of online donations and mass email -- all things that nonprofit users ask for every day on their message boards.


Simple marketing.

It is virtually impossible for platform providers to acknowledge one another or integrate because you are trying to get the customer to select your platform. Salesforce says select our platform and our ecology will help you out (though over the last 4 years I have seen little in the way of software innovation avaliable on the same terms as the platform donation - volunteer management tools, member management tools, event management tools, etc. CiviCRM says wait a few months and you'll get the stuff on our roadmap (better reporting, case management, improved events, etc.). I'll leave others to invent a better model of marketing a platform.

The facts on the ground, however, are finally getting really inspiring.

Salesforce has done a great job of penetrating the market through their donation program. In the last month, they finally seem to have got their act together and put the infrastructure in place to support long term, sustainable impact on nonprofit technology. And in doing so, low and behold, they have embraced open source.

Four years ago Sonny pointed out "I could easily use Salesforce as a model of proprietary/open source partnership—a corporate developer that embraces open source integration into their product." Yet it took them until today for them to actually take the lead and open source the starter pack.

The Nonprofit Starter Pack is now and open source project and they can begin the process the CiviCRM team began 5 years ago of building out nonprofit software that works for day to day users (events, memberships, etc.). By Salesforce embracing open source, they have finally, IMHO, put the critical pieces in place to transform nonprofit technology as part of a mission rather than as part of corporate philanthropy/marketing.

As an interesting side note, the traditional commercial nonprofit software providers are being assimilated into the Salesforce borg (Convio's CommonGround, recent MicroEdge announcement). Not sure of thos implications, but very interesting.

On the CiviCRM side, the juggernaugt continues to innovate and expand with features that regular nonprofit staffers need to use every day.

Four year ago Sonny took me to task and highlighted the key point: "nonprofit staff are pining away for affordable and effective apps that allow them to do their jobs"

Today, the situation is far better than it has ever been before.