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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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Friday, September 14, 2007

Tools and Tips

Here are a few items brought to my attention recently.

Non-Profit Blogging. Bill Freeman has been writing a blog for about a year on Tips and Tools for NonProfits. You can find him at One of two non-profit technologists I now know with degrees in theology, Bill brings to his current roles as blogger and consultant an impressive history of non-profit leadership.

Social Bookmarking. Mashable recently posted this index of over 180 tools for use with, the popular social bookmarking site. I've been using the official delicious Firefox extension for over a year now, and consider it Standard Operating Procedure. But taking a look at some of these third party tools makes me forsee a rainy Sunday afternoon of experimentation in my near future. Thanks to photograher and painter Serena Konig for bring this to my attention. If you so any significant amount of online research, and do not yet use, you really ought to look into it.

Email Tools. Speaking of Mashable, back in early August they also published a toolbox of more than 60 add-ons for Gmail. I've only looked at a few of these, but have completely adopted Better Gmail, a repackaging of several earlier Greasemonkey scripts for use with Gmail. Better Gmail provides a host of small improvements to gmail capabilities - my favorite is that finally I can use HTML in my signature. Several of the tools -- this was bound to happen - hide the ads on the right hand sidebar.

And now for something entirely different
, here's antisocial networking!


Tuesday, September 11, 2007

Hot-button telepathy

Agile methodology Guru Alistair Cockburn wrote that software development is "a cooperative game of communication and invention." But as George Bernard Shaw told us: "The single biggest problem in communication is the illusion that it has taken place." And so we arrive at the challenge when software guys sit down with organizations to make the system do what their users need.

Recently we'd been having a number of conversations with a prospective client. Everything seemed to be going well, and I was pretty sure we were going to get the gig. When we didn't, we of course asked our prospect what particular issues had led them to buy elsewhere. "Well, we loved your software, but there were a few aspects of your approach that really turned us off. One was that you mentioned several times you deliver all the source code with the application. But none of us are programmers; we wouldn't know what to do with it. So we decided we wanted a vendor that did not make us take the source code."

Like so many times in business and life, our first thought was "Boy, these guys don't understand anything! Sheesh!" But then if you want to communicate, you've got to take responsibility for being understood. What mistake had we made that allowed this misunderstanding?

Our mistake was to assume what I call "hot-button telepathy" In our business, openness of applications is a hot-button issue. "Can I have the source? Can I get at the data? Can I host it on my own server" are big questions in our world. So it never dawned on us for a minute that someone might not "just know" that having the source code is a good thing.

Hot-button telepathy is an error users can make too. Your technology vendors do not know the hot-button issues in your non-profit work. You may think every day about the issues involved in fighting malaria in West Africa, or educating girls in Central Asia. But your technology vendors are not. And this can lead to all sorts of miscommunication.

I was at a meeting once where one of the YMCA's we work with was interviewing a prospective networking firm to install a Citrix farm for them. The sales rep, in summing up his presentation, said, "You guys know how to run a health club - you shouldn't also need to learn how to run a wide-area network". Well, saying this almost cost them the gig. Doesn't everybody know that private health clubs are fighting in the courts to have the Y's 501c3 status revoked on the grounds that they are just another health club, and to refer to Ys as health clubs is therefore to deny all the other valuable work the YMCA does in the community? What an insult!

Of course this networking professional was not familiar with this issue, and meant nothing of the sort. After a brief cool-down period the conversation resumed and they won the project. But it just goes to show how right ol' G.B. Shaw was.
Image of George Bernard Shaw from Wikipedia Commons. Description and Attribution.

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Tuesday, September 04, 2007

Summers Over Once Again

Over the long weekend I finally managed to get started on a new project I've been excited to get involved with - a new website for the Sigida Keneyali health project in Mali that I blogged about in January. Our good friends at Orchid Suites were kind enough to donate the software and hosting for this group, which is tackling public health in the poorest part of the Bamako area. I'll let you know when we launch the site. Meanwhile, here's a post labor day assortment of tidbits that have been brought to my attention by friends over the long weekend.

1. IT at NPOs:
Non-Profit Tech Recruiting. Via my friend Marnie Webb's blog, I happened to read this article from Information Week. Reporting on a survey conducted by Johns Hopkins University of recruitment at 790 organizations, the article reports that non-profit organizations find recruiting technology staff particularly difficult. Perceptions that non-profits pay less, provide less attractive benefit packages, and offer less chance for professional advancement were cited by the recruiters as reasons candidates were reluctant to sign up. The study also noted, however, that only 37% of non-profits surveyed were trying to recruit tech staff, while 84% were trying to recruit professional staff in general.

2. Blogging: Why Full-text Feeds Actually Increase Page Views. Tinu Abayomi-Paul points out this little piece that argues that people who put only snippets in their blog's rss feed instead of the full text of their postings, hoping to lure people into their site to finish reading, actually diminish the number of real visits to their site. The article is fairly convincing, and led me to immediately change my feed to provide the full article.

3. Mobile: An Open/Standards-based phone to debut. I got twigged to this offering waiting in the wings by a posting by Riche Zamor on Facebook. OpenMoko is a GNU / Linux based platform for mobile device software development. The company will be releasing their phone, the Neo1973, sometime in November. The Economist says
OpenMoko, an initiative aimed at developing all the technology for a mobile smart phone based on non-proprietary Linux software, is everything the iPhone could have been but is not.
4. And now for something completely different. Just in from Wired: Powerpoint-based Pecha-Kucha takes Tokyo by storm.