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The topics discussed here grow out of the bread-and-butter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

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Monday, January 31, 2005

Its been a Google Week

Well, this is the week I decided to take a look at Google's other offerings... all the other places besides the SEARCH where they can get Adwords in front of you. I've just started this account on Blogger, as you can see, but I've also been playing with Gmail, Picassa, and their SiteSearch service

The week got rolling when Ansley Berrones sent me an invitation to gmail. It's a pretty interesting model for email, flavoring things just a little differently than most email systems. While I miss the ability send HTML emails, and set up autoresponders, I'm enthusiastic about a lot of the innovative features. What the archiving, labeling, and starring add up to is: I can keep my inbox empty. In Thunderbird, I had over a thousand read messages in my inbox, waiting to be filed. Here, I can label mail as I read it (actually I have filters handling a lot of the labeling) , star them if there is a TO DO implied by the email, and then archive as soon as they are read.

But I've only been using it for a few days - let's see what I say about it next month.

Next, I decided to take a look at Picassa - Google's photo management software - and started to see what it is that makes these apps Googlish - they are built around what google does - searching. This dynamic searching replaces the catagorization I used to do to keep track of all my images. It makes a a real difference in how you use your data.

Picassa builds an index of all your photos across all your hard drives, and lets you search and label them, just like you do in gmail. Sets of images sharing a common label can be displayed exactly like physical folders. So really, I do not even need to worry about storing all my images tidy little folders. I just need to label them as I dump them on the drive. And I certainly do not need to keep duplicate copies of a picture because I want it in both with the pictures I use for marketing materials and the pictures of my recent vacation. I just give it two labels. Just as we put a a single person record on multiple lists in MEMBERS ONLY.

Finally, I decided to put a google search on my web site. That turns out to be a trivial task. You go to Google SiteSearch and walk through a wizard that build a script for your page. You end up with a little search box on your page that allows users to search either the entire web or your little piece of it. Here's what it looks like. And all you pay for it is putting up with Google adwords on your site. The risk - a competitor's ad could pop up. On your site! harumph!

Saturday, January 01, 2005

About me

I'm the founder of Members Only Software, Inc - a provider of software to think tanks, professional societies, YMCAs, service and advocacy groups, and trade associations.

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I've worked directly for a number of non-profit groups and community agencies over the years as well. Working for the Berkeley Community Health Project in Berkeley California for three years in the seventies was a crucial formative experience for me. But I'm also a certified nerd: I have a degree in physics from MIT.

Alistair Cockburn wrote that software development is a game of invention and communication, and that very much reflects my understanding of the process of moving software from the coffee cup to the desk top.

Professionally my interests span all aspects of this process. I love programming: you can frequently find me buried in code with one of our other programmers. Software development methodology is critical: I'm always trying to refine our approach to working with our users. I also love the marketing and selling of our products and services, working with organizations to understand their needs and trying to adapt our wares to respond to what we learn.

I'm married, live in Washington DC right near Dupont Circle. My wife Doria is also a principal in Members Only Software, so we work very closely together on a daily basis. What do I do beyond the bits and bytes? I write, I read, I play old-time fiddle, I cook, and I like to get off the pavement and into the woods now and then.

About this blog

This blog is a chapter in the web-wide discussion of non-profit technology issues.

How does this discussion differ from those on other blogs in the non-profit space? I'd like to try to keep my focus mainly on the bread-and-buter issues that confront my consulting and software clients on a daily basis. We'll talk about prosaic stuff like Membership Management, Meetings and Events Management and Fundraising, broader ideas like security and software project management, and the social, cultural, and organizational issues that impact IT decision-making.

In our work implementing enterprise software systems for our clients, we frequently encounter moments where what appears to be an information systems problem turns out to be actually a organizational development issue. The relationship between information technology and the broader life of the organization will be a major theme in these page.

This blog is built on a three-column blogger template by Thur Broeders. While three column layouts are common on many blogging engines, the templates provided by blogger are all two-column, so I was excited to find that Thur taken the time to set these up. Of course I've fiddled with the css some, to getting the spacing, colors and
bullets just the way I like 'em. It's designed for 1024 x 768 resoultion or higher - at 800x600 it will look a bit cramped!

But of course there are brief dissertations on art, literature and society thrown in when I just can't contain myself.

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How to Subscribe via RSS

Would you like to be informed whenever there is a new posting to read on this - or any other - site? It easy - if you know how to subscribe via RSS.

A study done by Yahoo in October claims that only 12% of internet users know what RSS is, and only 4% are actively using it. But its REALLY easy. So here's the poop.

What is RSS?
RSS stands for Really Simple Syndication. Its a a method for using the file format called XML to keep you updated about the contents of news sites, blogs, and other frequently updated sites. The RSS information from a site is known as its feed. You can often see the raw feed data for a syndicated site by clicking on the little orange XML or RSS button if it is displayed. But this information doesn't do you much good. [Update (March 08:: On this blog, the button reads XML - Its at the top of the left-hand sidebar - I see from the comments some folks have had trouble finding it!]

How do I use it?
To use RSS information, you need to first select one of many feed reader products available for use. Most of them are free. Some are downloaded to your desktop, and some live on the internet and are used through your browser. I like these, because it means you can get at your feeds wherever you are. Far and away the most popular of these browser-based readers is Bloglines.

If you click on the Subscribe with BlogLines button in the left-hand sidebar, you can subscribe to this blog AND set up a totally free BlogLines account in minutes! PLEASE do this now if you do not already have a feed reader! You'll be glad you did.

So how do I subscribe to something else with Bloglines?
Bloglines provides about the easiest way to subscribe that I've ever seen. Now that you have a subscription, go to this page and read the instructions for setting up a Subscribe with Bloglines button on your browser. Its very easy - especially for Firefox - where you just drag the bookmark from the webpage to your bookmark bar. From now on, whenever you are reading something you'd like to subscribe to - a blog, a newspaper's web page, whatever - click this bookmark. Bloglines will ask you which folder to store it in, and that's that.

How do I read these subscriptions?
Just go to Bloglines, and click on MyFeeds. You will see your subscriptions in folders on the left. If there is an unread item in a feed, the name will be bold, and the number of unread items appears next to it. Just click! Now you can go to one location and see if there is anything new at any of the sites you keep tabs on.

That's nice. But I'd rather you just emailed me whenever you post something.
Well, you can subscribe that way too. Just under that BlogLines button I have a Subscribe via Email button. Just fill in your email address and click Subscribe Me. Again, you will need to spend about 60 seconds setting up an account, this time with FeedBlitz, who provides this elegant little email service. I just learned about this service the other day from Britt Bravo at TechSoup.