Social Actions – open source microphilanthropy in action

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Social Actions is a fantastic online initiative that aims to make it easier for people to make a real difference in the world, by essentially aggregating thousands of online microphilanthropic opportunities from over 50 different non-profits and other sources (at the last count) through one site with powerful search functionality.

However, what is really clever about the way that Social Actions works is that it is not just reliant on people visiting the site to search for opportunities to take actions they might be interested in. It can also ‘push’ action opportunities out to any other website through widgets that will present selected opportunities based on the specific content of the website in question. For example, there is one widget that can plug-in to any WordPress.org blog, identify the keywords of each blog post, and display related opportunities to take action. Now that is really smart thinking.

And that’s not the end of it. They are also harnessing the power of open source development through the provision of an open API that enables anyone to build an application utilising Social Actions’ aggregated data on microphilanthropic opportunities.

As I mentioned in my recent post about the new Kiva open API, the incredible power of this approach is that it offers the potential to massively increase the number of ways that people can engage with the opportunities on offer, and thereby the audience reach achieved, far faster than a single organisation could realistically achieve – by harnessing the creativity and technical abilities of enthusiastic developers right around the world.

To get the open source development ball rolling,  Social Actions launched a ‘Change the web challenge’ during March to get people to come-up with new tools to share the microphilanthropic actions on offer – with $10,000 in prizes up for grabs for the best ideas. The deadline for submissions is today and so far an incredible range of creative applications have been submitted. The top 20 finalists will be announced on April 13th and the winners announced at the NTEN Nonprofit Technology Conference on April 28th.

There are several things that I especially like about the whole Social Actions initiative.

Firstly, the way in which it recognises and specifically works to meet the growing desire for people to be able to personally choose how they get involved with specific causes that interest them – in both financial and non-financial ways.

Secondly, because it goes out of its way to make making a difference easy for everyone. Not only through its aggregation of actions from a host of different sources, clever search functionality, and use of widgets to present specific, context-sensitive opportunities on other sites. But also by emphasising the massive impact that even the smallest action can have, if sufficient people are motivated to take it. Social Actions’ founder, Peter Deitz, defines Microphilanthropy as any small scale activity or gesture, facilitated by technology, that carries with it some intent to do good and has the effect of transforming communities for the better – which is a significant, and potentially very powerful, expansion on traditional thinking around online community fundraising.

Thirdly, the way in which they have so wholeheartedly embraced the whole open source philosophy – engaging the wider online community to help develop the tools with which they will subsequently take microphilanthropy action opportunities to countless more people.

If you haven’t visited their site before – then go and take a look, and have a think about what you might be able to learn from the way in which they are engaging with people online.

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Kiva launches open-source API – meaning YOU could develop the next big Kiva fundraising application

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Kiva, the incredibly successful 3-year old non-profit peer-to-peer microlending organisation, has just announced release of an Application Programmers Interface (API) that will enable any developer to create new tools and applications supporting the Kiva lending community.

Using the API, developers will be able to access public data from Kiva – such as a full list of entrepreneurs requesting funds or the latest lending activity – and integrate it into whatever type of application they care to develop. Suggestions from Kiva to start developers thinking include an iPhone or Blackberry App or a map showing the real-time transfer of funds around the globe.

While this might sound all rather geeky, it is an incredibly important move for Kiva – as it acknowledges that as an organisation it can only deliver so much functional enhancement of its website and associated tools within the natural restrictions of time and money. By enabling any developer in the world to build tools that directly integrate with Kiva they stand to achieve a breadth and speed of functional evolution and audience reach far beyond anything they could hope for alone.

This is just what we saw when Facebook (5-years old this week) became the first of the mainstream online social networks to launch an API back in May 2007. Suddenly countless thousands of developers began adding functionality to the Facebook platform – everything from business applications and fundraising tools to food fight and zombie games – all of which fueled an incredibly rapid growth in member numbers.

Since then many other social network sites have followed Facebook in offering such support for application developers but, as far as I know, Kiva is the first non-profit site to take advantage of ‘going open’.

Who will be next? Will GlobalGiving follow suite or will a new entrant to the online fundraising world like soon to launch Play it Forward beat the established players to it? Whoever it is, I predict that we’ll see a lot more open-source API fundraising opportunities from online fundraisin

Online Fundraising and the Hype Cycle

The other day I got chatting with a colleague about the ‘Hype Cycle’, used by technology consultancy Gartner to illustrate the adoption of technologies through the lifecycle of hype, disappointment and (in some cases) the eventual delivery of practical benefits. As shown in the chart above, the Hype Cycle comprises 5 phases:

1. Technology Trigger: the breakthrough, product launch, or other event that generates significant press and interest.

2. Peak of Inflated Expectations: A frenzy of publicity typically generates over-enthusiasm and unrealistic expectations. There may be some successful applications of a technology, but there are typically more failures.

3. Trough of Disillusionment: Technologies fail to meet expectations and quickly become unfashionable. Consequently, the press usually abandons the topic and technology.

4. Slope of Enlightenment: Although the press may have stopped covering the technology, some businesses continue through the ‘slope of enlightenment’ and experiment to understand the benefits and practical application of the technology.

5. Plateau of Productivity: A technology reaches the ‘Plateau of productivity’ as its benefits become widely distributed and accepted. The technology becomes increasingly stable and evolves in second and third generations. The final height of the plateau varies according to whether the technology is broadly applicable or benefits only a niche market.

In the light of all of the current discussion about the potential for Social Media (aka Web 2.0) to deliver real benefits for fundraisers (aka Community Fundraising 2.0) this got me thinking about just where different aspects of online fundraising are on the Hype Cycle – a useful thing to consider if you’re in the process of planning any mid to long-term online fundraising activity.

On the ascendancy between technology trigger and peak of expectations we have things like Twitter – the micro-blogging social network that is generating a load of discussion at the moment but not, as far as I can tell, as yet being linked to any significant fundraising activity.

Just past the peak and on the brink of tipping into the trough of disillusionment there is fundraising in virtual worlds. I still remain convinced that at some point in the future some form of 3D virtual environments will become commonplace for everyday transactions like retail and fundraising. However, despite the interest in the American Cancer Society Second Life Relay for Life and various other Second Life non-profit initiatives last year, I think we’ve got quite a long way to go in the meantime.

Then, some place between the peak of expectations, the trough of disillusionment, and the slope of enlightenment (depending on who you ask) we have fundraising widgets and social networks. Anyone still needing convincing of the fundraising opportunity offered by the latter need only take a look at the Hitwise data from last year which shows how social networks are taking over from email as the primary drivers of traffic to key sponsored event fundraising site justgiving.com. There’s still a lot of testing to be done, but I don’t think it’ll be too long before widgets and social networks arrive on the plateau of productivity and begin to significantly out-perform the ‘old school’ of email as the drivers of online fundraising income.

Easy widget creation – now anyone can make a Facebook App

Ever since Facebook launched its open developers platform almost a year ago Facebook Apps have been all the rage, including a wide range of Apps developed in support of various charities. However, for anyone not especially into software development the idea of creating your own Facebook App may well never have occurred. Where do you start even if you want to have a go?

Well, based on the 30 mins I’ve just spent creating a simple little Facebook App for this blog (which you can add to your Facebook profile with just a couple of clicks here) a good place to start is at Widgetbox. As well as being a place to browse through over 50,000 web widgets, the site also enables you to create your own – through an incredibly easy to follow step-by-step, point-and-click process. There’s even a way to turn your widgets into cash – although I haven’t looked-into that as yet.

It’s free to use and, while the Widget and Facebook App I produced are very simple (actually a Blidget, apparently – a widget carrying a blog feed), if you’ve got more than half an hour to spend learning the ropes then you may well be able to come-up with something more sophisticated.