Last November we saw a few alarming events taking place in this social media for social good sector: Causes left Myspace and Ideablob shut down, both without warning or community support. In a guest post on the Tactical Philanthropy blog I started brainstorming about what was next. Now, with the recent news from Ning that it plans to discontinue free service, I am revisiting those thoughts about “what’s really needed?” and asking myself if these events aren’t just disruptive to members and users, but also huge signs that we need a new way of building. Building networks, communities, connections, campaigns, and our work.
When I start thinking about this, I come back to three main issues with the current way we build:
1. Not All Communities Can Be Treated Equally
Grassroots, hyper-local, nonprofit, and educational communities cannot be expected to operate in the same way as commercial or sponsored communities, online or off. These kinds of groups can’t even be expected to fall in the same kinds of rubrics for use or application of tools between each other as they are inherently unique, every time.
2. Payment Is More Than Purchase
I truly believe that when it comes to the financial requirements for tools and services in the nonprofit and larger public sector, payment is far more than a purchase, it is an investment. We are willing to buy in to something if we can be part of shaping what it is, how we can use it, how we can improve it.
3. Investment Is More Than Money
If investment was required to get a tool, I believe many groups would be willing to participate in evaluations, provide feedback, submit user stories and help in the development of the tool. All things that take time, which is valuable. But not money. Many groups would much rather have an impact and involvement in the shaping of the tools they use than pay for something that others control.
So, how do we build this marketplace?
When I wrote about this back in November, I closed my post with an invitation. I’d like to repost that invitation here and then add a next step.
Your invitation: Join this conversation. Tell me what the recent Causes/ideablob announcements means for our sector and for you. And share your ideas with your friends and colleagues to further the breadth of the conversation. The more voices the better! Here are some places to start:
- Evaluate your use of social media tools: do you encourage your supporters on other platforms to register on your website, ensuring you have their contact details?
- Evaluate your community: are you reaching a diverse community or operating in a silo?
- Evaluate your relationship with developers: are you using tools that allow you to surface suggestions, ideas, and useful functionality for development? Do you know what the plans are for the tools you are using?
I have already had creative, exciting conversations with others in this sector about how we could build a marketplace that:
- allows end users surface ideas for tools or new functionality for existing tools
- allows those ideas get support, gather feedback, get fleshed out by developers and users
- allows funders (whether they are foundations, organizations, VCs, companies, etc.) identify tools to fund
- allows developers to find work they know will be adopted and start working on tools with an active base of users
- maintains an expectation that these tools will continue to be available for the people, by the people.
It is the last point that I think is the most important. It isn’t about having a crazy-liberal or Utopian version of the web. It IS about adopting tools that we feel comfortable deploying to our communities and building on, knowing they won’t close or leave without notice.
I am going to continue having this conversation, examining how a marketplace could work, and what these events mean for our sector. Please join me. Share your ideas and your experiences. Let me know how you wish we built things. Let’s start at the vision of how we want it to work, and then build towards it.