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Rewarding public-interest programmers

Via Jason at Communicopia, news of a new award for those who create open-source software that helps make the world a better place. It's the $10,000 Antonio Pizzigati prize for software in the public interest:

The new Antonio Pizzigati Prize for Software in the Public Interest will honor individuals who, in the spirit of open source computing, develop outstanding applications that help nonprofits become more effective in their ongoing efforts for social change.

”Within the world of public interest computing, no significant prize has up to now existed,” said Tides Foundation Director of Philanthropic Services Tod Hill. “The Pizzigati Prize aims to honor people working in the field and help create real solutions for activists working for positive social change.”

The prize is named for Tony Pizzigati, a promising young activist and software consultant who was killed in a car accident in the spring of 1995.

An announcement of the first winner is slated for later this month, and it will be worth checking out. The advisory panel for the award includes the brilliant Katrin Verclas (newly of N-TEN), Network for Good’s Joseph Mouzon and the E-volve Foundation’s Allison Fine.

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Blog for Vancity -- and collaborate with Social Signal

We're thrilled to be working with Vancity on a new online community project that will be unveiled this summer. The project will create an online community where people in the Lower Mainland & Victoria can find information, tools and connections to inspire and support change in their own lives, their communities, and the world.

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Dispatches from NetSquared -- Day 1, part 2

I was going to say that I wish I had made more time earlier today to blog the rest of yesterday's sessions for folks to read about, but you know, I really don't wish that at all. I spent the second day of the NetSquared conference fully engaged, and I wouldn't trade the time I've spent with people here for anything.

That said, though, now that the five of us who remain here in our swank silicon valley hotel are gone to bed & there's no more to talk about, I feel like it's okay to fit in a little writing. So, as promised, here's some more highlights from Tuesday afternoon. 

Distributed Grassroots Marketing

This session featured Elisa Camahort, Tara Hunt & Chris Messina. It was (im)moderated by the invincible Marnie Webb. This is the one session during which I took stellar notes. I think it was because it was pretty noteable -- well-prepared and well-facilitated, not to mention incredibly educational.

The point of this session was to discuss how grassroots marketing works in an online context & to develop strategies for creating critical mass around an issue, event or product so that it takes on a life of its own in the community. I wasn't sure that I'd be all that into it, really, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the presentation, particularly Tara Hunt's portion, was actually super-interesting. It's easy to recap the high points, since Tara's portion of the presentation outlined 5 straightforward & simple concepts that make grassroots marketing campaigns successful. 

Here's her list:

  1. Maximize inbound rather than outbound messages.
    • Elites and 'thought-leaders' are not as influential as they once were. The most influential groups in peoples lives are amateurs and peers. Spend time working to let those people in.
  2. Be a community advocate, not a company evangelist.
    • Learn to take feedback about your company or org, and allow that feedback in turn to help you tailor your product/service to better serve the needs of your community. People love that stuff.
  3. Practice 100% authenticity.
    • There was a great question from the audience about the difficulty of communicating authenticity. Chris weighed in to say that the way to earn peoples' trust in this regard is to thoroughly document your journey. People will get a sense of who you are through your personal (or organizational) history... you just have to let them have access to that history somehow.
  4. Cater to the long tail
    • Under-represented audiences grow, whereas older, more 'conventional' audiences hardly ever do. Plus, working with under-represented audiences is cheap!

  5. Follow open-source principles
    • Let your users see how you did what you've done, and let them learn from you.
    • Allow your users to drive your project to its destination. Create an API & allow people to freely re-mix your technology.

There were many great questions from the floor, too -- check out Sarah Pullman's live-blog notes for more info.


Gender & the Social Web

This was the event that I was most excited about. I spend a lot of time thinking about (offline) social issues related to the construction of gender, and I'm thrilled to know that people are pushing to make gender a central issue in our online communities, too.

But I have to say, the session wasn't exactly what I expected. I had hoped for a great discussion about ways to a) push out gender as an issue online, make inequities visible & create 'best-practice' style solutions, and b) broaden the incredibly narrow understanding of gender in the world of digital identity. The session was actually more of a 'state of the woman on the internet'; a kind of round-up of success stories. Which is also super-cool -- don't get me wrong. It was great to hear about the successes of Blogher, the Omidyar network & Moms Rising in fostering gender-neutrality on the web. I was disappointed, though, that the conversation wasn't more dynamic. Gender was ever expressed in binary terms, and success seemed to be measured by gender parity, which I felt was a little shy of awesome. I was reminded by a good friend, though, that this is still a pretty young conversation in the online domain. There's still lots of time to push it in all directions. 

One very interesting thread that emerged during the conversation was that the trend toward 'bottom-up' organizing in the open source community is very much in keeping with principles of feminist organization often seen in activist communities. Changing the timbre of social movements is all about changing the nexus of control, and it was inspiring to think about open-source models as successful contemporary examples of non-heirarchical structures that work incredibly well. 

The panel discussion included Catherine Geanuracos, Christine Herron, Fran Maier & Lisa Stone. It was facilitated wonderfully (really -- the facilitation was impressive) by Susan Mernit. For more information, check out the session page. (I couldn't find the live blog notes this morning when I looked for them...)


I'm going to cut it off here. There was also one other session that I attended during the day, which was a discussion about Social Networking, but I was embroiled in tech support work for the NetSquared site, so I didn't get to pay very close attention. I'll try to add my notes from 'day 2: twice as awesome' later today. Woot!

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NetSquared: Online tools changing offline politics

There's a panel on right now with three fascinating thinkers and doers in online political activism: Joan Blades, Amy Goodman and – facilitating – Micah Sifry. Here are my very rough notes.

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Dispatches from NetSquared -- Day 1

Wow. Day 1 was amazing.

The conversations were inspiring, the presentations were interesting and very lively, but overall, the best part by far is hanging out with all these cool people. Having worked remotely on the NetSquared site for the last 6 months, I've developed great relationships with a lot of the folks at Techsoup and Compumentor, so it's been awesome to finally make f2f connections with these super-super-super people. And meeting the 'strangers' in the room has been equally amazing. It's impossibly exciting to me to be in the company of so many people doing good work in the world. 

It's exciting to me to see all the activity that's been happening on the NetSquared site, too -- site traffic is through the roof, the community blog is on fire with people  live-blogging and commenting on various sessions, and the remote conference rooms are totally buzzing. The community has really come out. If you haven't checked it out lately, you really should. It's awesome.

I've been taking some notes on the conference sessions I've attended. As I mentioned above, there are lots of folks doing a great job of live-blogging and notetaking the conference, so I'm not going to try to re-create the sessions in great detail. But I do have a lot to relate, and I'm excited to go over the high points of my day. I'll try to include notes for finding more info where I can. I'll start with the morning sessions, and I'll post about the afternoon sessions later today. Ok, here goes...

Blackwell Conversation 

The conference opener was an introductory conversation with Angela Glover-Blackwell from PolicyLink, an American nonprofit policy research organization. She spoke very articulately and passionately on the importance of scrutinizing elected representatives, industry leaders and policy-makers on the basis of their progressive social agenda first, and their use of technology second. To paraphrase:

"look to the people who lead with their social agenda. Don't get snowed by tech-savvy-ness or cutting edge use of technology for its own sake. Look to the folks who have real, big ideas about people. Because if the progressive and compelling social agenda is there, the progressive technology use will follow. It has to. It's in the air now." 

For more info on Angela's session, check out her session page on NetSquared. And be sure to check out the great work she and others are doing (particularly around race issues in the US) at

Making the most of disruption 

The first plenary session of the day was about disruptive technologies (technologies that cause significant changes in the way that individuals live, businesses operate, or society behaves). Howard Rheingold and Paul Saffo were the panelists, and for experts on disruption, they were exceptionally well behaved. 

They took us on a kind of casual tour through pivotal disruptive technologies of the 20th century. One of the most interesting (IMO) themes that emerged from their talk is that tools are tools, and they're nothing more until you use them.

To illustrate the point, Paul related a great story of early thinking on the implications of air travel. Apparently there was a wide-spread and popular conversation going on after the invention of airplanes about the fact that from the air, one can't see natural borders at all. And the implication of this observation, of course, was that if we can't see natural borders anymore, their importance will diminish, and we'll (finally!) see the emergence of a truly global community. Airplanes will usher in a new age. Airplanes for world peace!

Obviously (and not all that shockingly), though, airplanes have not actually brought us world peace. Similarly, emerging tools will not bring us peace on their own -- tools, however cool, don't do anything on their own. Revolutionary changes come about through the strategic use of these new tools to achieve the greater good. In a room full of technologists & tool-geeks (among others), this was a brave and welcome sentiment, and it helped to set a great tone for the rest of the day.

Check out the session page on the NetSquared site for more info. 

We the Media: the rise of grassroots & open-source journalism

Next up was a great panel discussion on citizen journalism featuring Dan Gillmor, Hong Eun Taek and Ethan Zuckerman, moderated by Michael Rogers.


This was perhaps the most familiar conversation of the morning for an Indymedia wonk like me. It was interesting to hear someone like Hong Eun Taek (from the Korea-turned-international news phenomenon speak about the power and popularity of citizen-driven media, especially when it comes to predicting the future of media, on and offline. One of the nice highlights from the session was this comment from Ethan:

Whether we ask them or not, people will make media. And they'll do it before the media gets there. This idea -- the citizen witness (& the citizen witness with a camera) is not a new phenomenon. (remember JFK?) But nowadays, where formerly there was maybe one image from one observer, there are now thousands.

 The conversation went on to outline some of the new and interesting ways that people are contributing to and creating media, including Wikipedia, mashups & the ever-popular internet video satire, as well as blogs, vlogs, podcasts & the like. Plus, Ethan Zuckerman (of Global Voices) is a real 5-star speaker. Check him out.

For more info on this session, check out the session page on  


Well, that's the morning. As I said, I'll post more about day 1 later today. For now, I'm back to paying attention to the ever-inspirational Amy Goodman of DemocracyNow. Awesome!

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Now en route to NetSquared

Rob and Aaron are both heading down to San Jose this week for the NetSquared conference. For the past eight months, we've been working with the CompuMentor/Techsoup team that is behind this event. 

The conference aims at pushing nonprofit engagement with the "social web" (aka "web 2.0") to the next level. The web site (which we helped develop) has built an online community around the same agenda, and will now link the online community to the San Jose conference through a two-day remote conference.

I'm holding down the virtual fort from here in Vancouver, but look forward to hearing updates from Rob & Aaron. And if you're going to be at NetSquared yourself, be sure to say hello.

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May 30 & 31: NetSquared's online conference with nonprofit leaders

as posted on Corante's Civic Minded blog

Where can you find inspiration for online advocacy, guidance for online faclitation, and gossip about online politics? On Tuesday May 30th and Wednesday May 31st, NetSquared is hosting a remote conference featuring live chats and Q&A sessions with leaders from across the nonprofit web.
Find me at the Net2 Remote Conference

The remote conference is happening at the same time as a two-day confab in San Jose. After eight months of work on the NetSquared project, I'm heartbroken that I won't be there in person (something about not travelling in the ninth month of pregnancy, mutter mutter grumble) -- and absolutely determined that the online event will be so fabulous that when my colleagues return from San Jose, they're going to be jealous that I was the one who got to hang out in the chat room.

And what better way to get over that morning-after-the-Memorial-Day-before feeling than to spend the day chatting with leaders in nonprofit technology -- leaders like:

  • Judith Feder on "Health care and web 2.0 patient communities"
  • Rolf Kleef of Greenpeace
  • Micki Krimmel of Participant Productions on "Media that Mobilizes: An Inconvenient Truth, ClimateCrisis and more tales from"
  • Beth Kanter on "Tagging in the Nonprofit World"
  • Robyn Deupree of Bloglines Lisa Stone of BlogHer
  • Alexandra Samuel of Social Signal on "Building Online Community: Behind the Scenes at NetSquared"
  • Mike Linksvayer of Creative Commons on "Leveraging Technology for Free Culture and Your Nonprofit's Mission"
  • Enoch Choi of Palo Alto Medical Foundation on "Tech Tools in Medicine: Personal Health Records, Mobile Devices, Blogging,Podcasting, Health Search & Tagging @ Google Co-op"
  • Boris Mann from Bryght on "Open Source and your non-profit"
  • Scott Heiferman from
  • Nancy White of Full Circle on "Online Facilitation Open Discussion"
  • Edward Vielmetti from the University of Michigan School of Information on "Superpatron: viewing libraries from a patron's point of view"
The remote conference is open to anyone with an Internet connection. And feel free to drop by the conference hallway for even more remote conference-y goodness.
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Fast Company profiles social networks (and quotes Social Signal)

You can catch some of Alex's thinking on social networks in the latest issue of Fast Company. It's part of a great piece by Anya Kamenetz on what social networks mean for business, government and social enterprises:

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Now downloadable: Hacktivism & The Future of Political Participation

As announced today on Civic Minded:

I'm making my complete dissertation available for download, beginning today. Depending on your interests, you might want to download the whole enchilada, or to look at selected chapters:

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CBC dips the whole foot in the podcasting waters

Okay, so it isn't the revolution. But it's a big step forward for the CBC as Radio One unleashes a whole bunch of new podcasts on an unsuspecting public.

Every day will bring a new edition of a particular podcast:

  • Monday - The Best of Ideas
  • Tuesday - Dispatches
  • Wednesday - The Best of Outfront
  • Thursday - The Best of The Current
  • Friday - The Best of As It Happens
  • Saturday - Quirks & Quarks
  • Sunday - The Best of DNTO

That enough for you? Wait, don't answer – there's more, updated with varying frequency:

  • CBC Radio 3
  • Sounds Like Canada: The Digital Extra
  • CBC Radio Editor's Choice
  • Words at Large
  • Word of the Week

Still got some room on that iPod? There's also a weekly roundup of stories from every region of Canada.

The upshot is a dramatic multiplication of the CBC's podcast offerings, with a promise of more to come. This has to be pretty gratifying for the broadcaster's in-house tech visionary and podcast evangelist, Tod Maffin, who's done a lot to make this happen. Online communities around each podcast would be a natural next step, but this is terrific progress.

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Work Smarter with Evernote

Get more out of Evernote with Alexandra Samuel's great new ebook, the first in the Harvard Business Press Work Smarter with Social Media series!

Available on Amazon, iTunes and HBR.

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