Don't pitch

April 01, 2010

Last week I read this article on ReadWriteWeb that advises a startup to " Give It to Them Straight: Avoid "Pitching" to Your Board ." The article explains how it can be bad to exaggerate your product and cover up problems that you are experiencing in development: To which I must respond: no shit! We all hear bad news all the time. Get is straight, a "pitch" is a lie plus hubris . None of us want to be lied to. Would it be that hard to just tell everyone on your project the truth about what your software does and how the development process is going? It's incredible to me that we have created a world in which this has to be pointed out: don't delude your closest supporters . It's indicative of the fact that developer culture has become the domain of hucksters and charlatans. There is a deeply manipulative and delusional culture at work here, and let's be clear there is absolutely no room for it in nonprofit and humanitarian technology . Read the language around a tech conference like TechCrunch Disrupt , where hundreds of startups come to fetishize themselves as combatants on a "startup battlefield." From their own words, it sounds like an joyous exercise in self-delusion: "It'll be a little bit like pitching a top VC…

Recent Meedan press

March 15, 2010

I've had a great time working at Meedan recently as Director of Miscellany. We recently rolled out an update of the site and took of the "beta" label. I was pleasantly surprised at the amount of interest generated — turns out people are actually pretty interested in crowdsourced translation! We've got a lot of work ahead of us, but at least we are iterating live again now, and we have an incredibly supportive community getting our little nonprofit through the buggy spots. Anyway, the recent press clippings: The Economist discusses the human-machine "cyborg translation" approach in a summary piece mentioning Meedan as well as our friends at Worldwide Lexicon and Global Voices. The London Guardian wrote a nice article : The Guardian also as wrote a blog post mentioning our Arabic-English Open Translation Memory . I appreciated this one because it at least mentioned our desire to move to WWL (away from a proprietary IBM backend which we have been loaned): Le Monde covered Meedan in French! Here's the original French and the translation . (It's actually quite readable MT for a change — French to English machine translation does not need humans nearly so much as Arabic to English.) The Slashdot discussion of Meedan…

What could possibly go wrong?

January 23, 2010

What could possibly go wrong? Thousands of volunteer hackers break ground on dozens of projects at a bunch of hastily organized unconferences promising to Save Haiti ? In a word: everything. Tonight there are a number of people organizing some pretty intensive projects involving one of the most sensitive places in the world. Let me tell you — most of us have no idea what we are doing. Perhaps 5% of us have ever actually dealt directly in crisis response. We are a bunch of dilettantes and armchair quarterbacks. We are normal people. I'm co-organizing one of the " Crisis Camps " here in Portland, and after a few days of work on project I think many things could go wrong with our approach. God forgive us. We will easily rebuild code that already exists, accidentally step on someone's toes, and flub a would-be partnership. It's even likely that our community will waste this rare opportunity to work with the real relief effort. Perhaps we just still won't get our act together, or we'll have an ineffective way of putting people to meaningful work. In fact, it is possible that things could go very wrong, far beyond wasted coding effort on a Saturday — Just imagine the insanity that a few poorly trained volunteers could unleash…

'Slashtags' for citizen editors

November 09, 2009

Updated Nov 16, 2009: @chrismessina created a wiki for the Twitter syntax http://microsyntax.pbworks.com/Slashtags The NYT reported today on how the #fthood hashtag has failed: I believe that there is an enormous potential to do citizen journalism better on the web, and that we need the leadership of people who are willing to help clean up the mess. Unlike some people , I do not think that the poor citizen journalism around #fthood is an indictment of citizen journalism — rather I would say it points to the absence of citizen editors . In the Vote Report and Swift parlance, these are "Sweepers," the custodians working to clean the stream, validate claims, and generally insert some professionalism. Taken to their logical next step, you can see the emergence of volunteer "citizen editors," who appreciate journalistic rigor and take time to bring signal to the noise in dozens of different ways. Recently around Meedan we have been talking a lot about using Delicious and Twitter tagging to more effectively manage our content across our many networks, and to bring more meaningful conversations to our users. This is the power of tags: they are impossible to contain in a single network. By relying on Delicious and other…

Bookmarks

September 29, 2009

I have been keeping track of things that are interesting on Delicious for some time now. Here're my top tags from September 2009 in case you are interested in checking out my Delicious feed . I am working on several projects that use tags in slightly different ways, involving other specialized "social bookmarking" applications. I will post a note here when those feeds are ready! My current development activies (as a frontend coder and interaction designer) will be released over the course of 2008 at http://meedan.net and http://swiftapp.org .

How Much Do You Trust Your Own Network?

September 26, 2009

Some time ago, I joined Twitter as @unthinkingly , and I loved it. Then, something felt wrong, and I deleted a bunch of followers. First I went down to 200 people, then 100, then 50, and it still was somehow wrong , so I quietly slipped out the door. Nobody really complained. I think many people have experience this burnout. Twitter is kinda hard. There's just so much happening. To me, what was exciting became overwhelming. Serendipity curdled into distraction. When I left I was incredibly relieved. I could stop listening and start kicking ass. So, I took a break, moved away from the ever-intense San Francisco bubble, worked in Cambodia, wrote a bunch of code ... and now, hey look! I'm back on Twitter. But, just to confuse you, I've setup not one but two Twitter accounts : the old @unthinkingly is back for professional stuff, and now @cgblow for more private personal observations. Turns out, it's such a simple and healthy solution; I don't know why more people don't do it. It's not a complicated hack or anything, you just have to use a separate email account. (A tool like Seesmic Desktop lets you stay signed into both at the same time.) Now, please don't misundersand me: I strongly believe in living a principled, genuine…

The "Special Case" of NEED Magazine

September 24, 2009

During the collapse of the journalism industry, I have rarely been surprised — and only occasionally truly saddend — by a newspaper going out of business. It's not that I don't have empathy. I have worked briefly as a journalist, have a degree in journalism, and many of my professional heroes are journalists. I actually attribute most of humanity's advances in the last 100 years to communications infrastructure, particularly good journalism. And still, I make a living with news. So, it's only with my teeth clenched that I can say, "we need this" and try to keep the longer view toward the 1500s, and the previous revolutions that fell out of Gutenberg's noodling with the press. Like Clay Shirky says. He's pretty blunt: I agree with Shirky that this is an inevitable collapse of the old school. And I agree that our best option is to work as creatively as possible to get through it and find another way to make meaning, to build understanding, to be journalists. The thing is, it's brutal. And it's not just print — all news costs money. Meaning-making takes energy. Real editors, real photographers, real writers. And, yes there is still the bottom line of printing. (Or, in my case, the expenses of wrangling servers.) The…

ICCM 09, the Crisis Mapping Conference

September 09, 2009

In October I'll be geeking out at the ICCM 09 , the first International Conference on Crisis Mapping. The conference is "harnessing mobile platforms, computational linguistics, geospatial technologies, and visual analytics to power effective early warning for rapid response to complex humanitarian emergencies." If you're scratching your head wondering what the field of crisis mapping is all about ... you're not alone! Good thing Patrick Meier has proposed a sketch of the field . You have to love a guy who literally defines a field. Patrick is a collaborator at Ushahidi and Swift, and I have really been fortunate to see him at work, particularly his leadership in bridging academic and hacker-practitioner communities in this "crisis" space. It's the same thing that is making everyone so excited about this conference. Thanks, Patrick. Cross-pollination at these conferences is incredibly important to our success. We're doing many of the same things over and over, with innovative twists appropriate to our context. We just don't know each other. Now we get to meet and work together for three days. I think it's terribly exciting because of an increasing sense that we can all be doing these things much better . See also Crisis Camp…

OpenStreetMap Cambodia

June 30, 2009

I've been doing a series of presentations here at the InSTEDD lab in Phom Penh, and so far the best-received one has been (to my surprise) about something I really just getting into: OpenStreetMap . I figured that this would be a good-spirited critical discussion about FOSS philosophy given that Google was in town . :) I wasn't expecting it to be quite so engaging for the lab though — I think they all had a great time. We did an introductory mapping party and I explained some of my appreciation for OSM, particularly the Gaza mapping that happened early this year. I am an OSM newbie myself so I was just happy that we managed to get everything working end to end (using GPS devices kindly loaned by the OSM Foundation — thanks Mikel !) Also thanks to Chippy for leading the OSM session last month that answered my questions about the OSM toolchain and gave me the idea for doing an intro party in Phonm Penh. I ripped off most of your presentation, Tim!

Sustainable Interaction Design in Cambodia

June 29, 2009

So, I've spent almost a month now as a resident geek at the InSTEDD Innovation Lab in Phnom Penh, Cambodia. InSTEDD is working on epidemiology-related technologies that are very relevant to my research interests: I was invited to their Cambodian lab to give a usability review to some of their software, and to give some interaction design training to their team. It's been a fantastic escape from San Francisco. Cambodia has been alternating depressing, exciting, confirming and challenging. Certainly I have learned more than I have been able to teach. Last winter I was doing some preliminary research for Swift , and contacted InSTEDD to learn more about their platform for "team-sourcing" the analysis of information about the spread of disease. (I was given a preview of Evolve and thoroughly blown away.) I was super impressed with Eduardo's explanation of the lab , and happily jumped at the invitation to work as resident in Phnom Penh. I actually had no idea what to expect here. I've lived in the woods a couple years without bandwidth, but I'd never really worked as a designer or developer in conditions quite like this. Phnom Penh has its fancy bits, for sure (the lab here is quite nice), but you are never far from tragedy…

Swift

May 07, 2009

For the last 5 months I've been working with friends at Ushahidi and Meedan on a project nicknamed "Swift." Our goal with Swift is to provide a crowdsourcing platform for "data triage." Imagine something like Mechanical Turk used only for tagging news, photos, microblogging and videos. There's no business model or anything like that — it's strictly Open Source Nonprofity Goodness(tm). Meedan and Ushahidi are partners in hacking it out. As a user of Swift you can sit down at an "assembly line" of news and tag it. Swift gives you a straightforward aggregator for news (say, news about earthquakes in california) then asks you to tag all of the people, places and organizations in that firehose of data. With a little bit of effort (collecting a few rss feeds and marking up all the content) it becomes possible to put a very bright light on an emerging part of the web. You can, for example, tag violations of electoral code in an election, as we are doing with Vote Report India , which uses Ushahidi and Wordpress as a platform for grassroots reporting in the month-long Indian election. I'm especially interested in knowing how much we can actually do with the public data that emerges in realtime during a crisis. From a…

Trying to Quit

December 03, 2008

I have been trying to quit programming for about six months. I'm down to about 2 times a day, on average, sometimes more. It's a problem. Don't get me wrong, programming is one of the best disciplines I ever stuck my nose into. Programming teaches you fundamentally how to constantly improve your craft . But it's exhausting, distracting, and inseparable from the cult of efficiency. It takes you away from humans, mashes your nose into an LCD all night, and leaves you with a delusional sense of total control over your environment. I wish that I could take back every second of my life that I spent learning to build stacks and refactor my own crappy code. The problem is that code is so damn useful. It beckons with APIs and gives you entire weekends of mindless flow; hack, hack, hack, make it pretty and fast. So anyway, I'm working on it.

Dealing Lightning with Both Hands

December 03, 2008

It changed what is possible. The 1968 demo presaged many of the technologies we use today, from personal computing to social networking. The demo embodied Doug Engelbart's vision of solving humanity's most important problems by using computers to improve communication and collaboration. In the Bay? Buy a ticket already.

Eleventy Million New Flickr Posts

November 13, 2008

Including lots of fun sketches for my new job. Working on a translation + foreign affairs + journalism + social project called Meedan . Back to the nonprofit world. Still in San Francisco. Fun stuff! New stuff on flickr is here: UI and design stuff ... and interface sketches .

suspicious infoviz of the day

October 09, 2008

Just found out about Political Streams . I really do like this idea, but reinventing the pie chart with those desaturated squares is not a good start. I'll be checking it out to see how they iterate on representing the concept, which is fascinating. The graphs, by contrast are wonderful and straightforward: oh and cf. Microsoft Blews (TM) which has similar data (and infoviz problems).

Kermit: bonafide-trueblue- guarantee- your- money- back visual thinker

October 09, 2008

Somehow Kermit managed to skewer the woo-woo hippie hype surrounding visual thinking 40 years ago. http://www.youtube.com/v/fcqY66chhCA&hl=en&fs=1 ] But then of course he really gets to the truth of the CA design scene: "You really have to let go, you unwind into the cosmic infinity of things." via http://iatelevision.blogspot.com

Ushahidi for the iPhone

September 18, 2008

Update: The Ushahidi team has released a strong new open source iOS codebase. After a few months of work, we have gotten a new wireframe of the mobile app running on the iPhone. http://www.ushahidi.com/images/buttons/ushahidi button4 170.gif "Ushahidi: Crowdsourcing Crisis Information" Lately I've been volunteering a little bit for Ushahidi . Ushahidi is an open source tool for monitoring crises and disasters. It recently won the the NetSquared challenge and was called one of the top startups to watch in the MIT Technology Review. Man, I really don't have to give up anything to work on this one — it's really a top notch operation going on. Other nonprofit and open source teams could learn a lot from the Ushahidi project. Some of the amazing things about the Ushahidi project include: Anyway here's the latest mockup. Here's the latest source PSD . It's v0.2 and still has a long way to go. We did the iPhone app first and will be using lessons learned from this one to port the project to other platforms. http://whiteafrican.com/images/ushahidi iphone v02a-500x310.jpg I did most of the sketching and developed the concepts that were flying around, and then my man Joe Jones did all the real work in Photoshop. It's been a…

Monday Night Telly

August 19, 2008

For the User Experience people: Bill Buxton is a genius. Got me sketching. (And redefined "sketching.") 1.5 hr. lecture. Teaser: includes the phrase "Charlton Heston flying through the air." Oh and also please buy Sketching User Experiences . Operators are standing by. For the type nerds: Erik Speikermann is my idea of what real men are like. The opening jingle made me shoot beer through my nose. 6 minutes. Just watch it. Check out his blog too. For Architecture Geeks: Stewart Brand is brilliant and insane. Fun SF footage too. Feature length PBS type thingy: Part 1 of 6. For Anyone Who Uses a Computer: Doug Engelbart is my hero. "Dealing lightning with both hands," indeed: this is the public debut of the freaking mouse, hypertext, screensharing and the networked office. This is where it all went down, in 1968 San Francisco ( think about it ), to a standing ovation in a auditorium full of geeks who had their minds blown. (Bonus points if you know Stewart Brand's connection.) Long and really boring honestly. Use this like TV Guide, but watch the video on Youtube. If you look close you can see Skype crash.

Build Your Own Search Experience: Yahoo BOSS is pretty amazing

August 13, 2008

Most of the gang at Bolt | Peters went to BayCHI tonight, and I was really impressed by a presentation from Yahoo about BOSS (Build your Own Search Service) . Turns out that, once you get beat badly by Google, you start to get really open. Nice. Basically BOSS (bad name, great tool) means that, with a minimal contingency of programmers, you can get a completely custom search running, and apparently you can even manipulate the rankings algorithm. Currently Yahoo is running it without requiring ads or anything. Exciting. What a great way for a big conservative company to innovate — just let hackers go to town on your fancy database and algorithms. I can't wait to see what comes out of it.

Mozilla, The AP Aurora Concepts, and Open Source UX Design

August 06, 2008

Today Adaptive Path, the godfather company of the interface and experience research industry, released the first of some amazingly high quality concept videos about the web browser of the future. I'm really impressed, even though I spent most of the day grousing about some of the details of the interface they showed — my nitpicking is really just evidence of how much detail there is in the video. Anyway, the real importance of the videos is not specific to any of the UI details — it's about what's happening at Mozilla, and the new inclusive approach they are taking to visual and experience design. I couldn't put it better than Dan Harrelson did this week : UPDATE: My buddy Andy pointed me to the Mozilla call for participation , which does a great job of summarizing the initiative.

Thursday Morning TV

June 26, 2008

Actually this is better than Thursday morning TV, which, in my hometown at least, was pretty weak. This stuff is amazing. http://www.youtube.com/v/WIvmE4_KMNw&hl=en (more type video if you're into it) And the bike: http://www.youtube.com/v/-U-mvfjyiao&hl=en ] The wacky bike was designed by IDEO people — I'm also impressed with their recent riff on the magazine quiz (maybe think madlibs): A Rockefeller sponsored guide to creating social impact with your design firm. And the App: FrontlineSMS is a thoroughly wonderful idea in many ways ... I mean, if you're into international rural research with mobile phones. A tool worth watching very closely, it's what I think is the leading platform of the mobile research "industry". (if there is such a thing.) They just released a major new milestone and have bunch of great new branding. Great work, Ken !

Visualizing Human Rights with the Google Charts API

June 20, 2008

Smartly presented information is a nonprofit's best friend. If you can't communicate the problem, no one is going to give a damn. Hash's blog just pointed me to some powerful charts Sokwanele mapping project , which I've mentioned previously . These charts are extremely important data to have in the public domain, and it's great that they appear well-executed and polished, with a high resolution of visual information. Google Charts from Sokwanele and Mobile Researcher The charts at Mobile Researcher also caught my eye recently (also pictured, at right and bottom). Turns out they were both made with Google Charts. I hadn't used it before, but I recognized their densely set labels and had some vague ideas that there was a Ruby wrapper. And I just thought that the Mobile Researcher charts were really beautiful. Turns out it's super easy. There are plenty of libraries for managing the requests to the API, and, in some simple cases you can even code it by hand, since all of the code is simply passed through a query tag on an image url. What it does do is proved fodder for organizations inside and out to make an even stronger case against this repressive regime. - Erik Hersman @ whiteafrican.com But in most of the cases the…

The Unevenly Distributed Future (of Mobile Application Design), Visualized

June 13, 2008

Intel produced this fantastic map yesterday at the 2008 Research@Intel Day . Red countries have higher rates of technology adoption. This is really valuable data for thinking about how to influence the adoption of technology, and for thinking about the ICT4D political spectrum in more than two shades of grey (or red and orange I guess). I think anyone who reads about this kinda stuff already has some vague map like this in their head. The only real surprise is how slow, relatively, the US is (I guess South Africa being flat is a surprise too). But the country-by-country resolution here adds such a valuable data point to the conversation about the BoP and the overall role of technology in the developing world. (It's also a pretty damn good crystal ball on the future distribution of economic development). I want one for my wall.

Book of the Month Club for Interface & Design Geeks

May 31, 2008

It's been a good book month for interface geeks and IXD/UX people. Congrats to AP on the new book and kudos especially to upstart publisher Rosenfeld for the innovative stuff they are doing, including user testing of their 500-page, large font digital versions . Rock on, you madcap publishers you. You're gonna make it big working like that. All of these are worth buying (plus extra to give to clients):

The Future is All Android, All Open Source. And Underpants. And Ice Cream.

May 29, 2008

On the occasion of amazing new videos of the latest prototype, it's worth remembering that Android (not the just-barely-open iPhone) is the future of mobile development for the masses. Especially when combined with the hardware support of the Open Handset Alliance and the general propensity for open source projects to kick ass. PS: where the hell is Nokia on this list ? And then there's ice cream and underpants: http://www.youtube.com/v/jWtFeIw8MVM

The Three Simplest and Most Effective Anti-Spam Hacks I Have Ever Seen

May 28, 2008

Hack zero: Switch to Gmail This is not a joke: Gmail is a fantastic and nearly spam-free platform. Notably, you can hook it up with a custom domain name so no one knows you are part of the Goog machine like everyone else. Hack one: Greylisting with Postfix on Ubuntu Assuming that you have your own email server, greylisting is genius. Diabolically elegant , really. If you run an email server (or any server that can receive email) you are probably running the Postfix MTA, in which case their is a main configuration file appropriately named main.cf. A couple of edits to this file and you are on your way. Here's how this setup looks (not my graph but I have definitely seen this happen on production mailservers): The really brilliant thing about greylisting is that it it deals with spam way before it ever reaches your inbox, which is the only way to go (I don't use any spam filtering on my mailbox. That's too late, especially from a sysadmin perspective (think of the children cycles!). Step one: install postgrey. apt-get install postgrey Two: edit your main.cf file. sudo vi /etc/postfix/main.cf Three: Then open it up and look for your smtpd_restrictions; add the following line: check policy service inet:127.0.0.1:60000 Four…

Agile Engineering vs. Interaction Design: Pissing money away and leaving scar tissue

May 22, 2008

I was never super into Alan Cooper (of Inmates are Running the Asylum fame) until I read this hilarious argument with Kent Beck , the godfather of Agile programming. ... it's pretty depressing that this doesn't exist anywhere except for the zombieweb.) Here's a couple of the best bits. Oh, and it's all about Agile programming and Interaction Design . If you don't care about such things then this is all really boring probably. It might be boring regardless. And if the architect does detect that there might be problems, he or she will consult with an engineer to make sure that he or she is not painting himself into a corner, technically speaking. At a certain point, the architect and the customer are going to achieve common ground. At that point, the architect turns those sketches into detailed drawings. Now, during the detailed-drawing phase, there's a lot more intense interaction between the architect and the engineer. The architect, you know, draws a span and calls in the engineer and says, how big a girder do I need to support this span? And there's a lot of detailed interaction between the two. This is precisely what happens in the world of good interaction design. Beck: I think it's nothing like those. If you build…

On being "unixy"

May 20, 2008

Several times this weekend I used the phrase "unixlike" or "unixy" to describe applications or devices. This is what I meant:

Poverty, Phones and User Experience Meetup

April 16, 2008

'http://farm1.static.flickr.com/62/217338309_49a8181e6a.jpg by meanestindian via flickr' Just a quick open invitation, if you are in San Francisco this weekend: UPDATE: Changed the time to 4pm. I'm meeting with designer-researchers Niti Bahn and Dave Tait on Saturday, April 19th, at 6pm 4pm at Atlas Cafe in San Francisco (in the Mission). Come have a beer with us! We're talking generally about designing and researching technologies for the poorest people in the world (the " bottom of the pyramid "). Africa, Asia, mobile phones, sustainable change, environmental technologies, research methodologies, product design, application development, user experience ... lots of stuff. Niti is a researcher, strategist and international rock star; Dave is an award-winning product designer and researcher based in South Africa. Developing world cell phone geeks, too. Check out this article they co-authored for a feel for what they are into: Design for the Next Billion Customers . If you're interested, email me, or just show up! Oh and, we're doing some planning for a BarCamp unconference of the same themes this summer. Let me know if you would be interested in attending or supporting an event like that. Probably Late June or July…

Can the Cellphone Help End Global Poverty? (Readers' Digest Version)

April 12, 2008

So I went to this Street Hacks talk 2 nights ago is here: http://www.janchipchase.com/ (it was awesome, you missed it. Clam Pizza.) And then it turns out Chipchase just got all famous this week, seriously : First a rad video in the Economist . And then in the New York Times . Here's my Reader's Digest version, since I know you are graphing how much time you spend on blogs. About Chipchase, who really is a super-nice guy: About getting over your hatred of your cellphone (cursed device efficiency-obsession). This bit hit a nerve for me: On the incredible value that can be provided by something so simple, like SMS: On Microfinance and the bottom of the Pyramid: Now you have to read the whole thing .

Command line metrics

April 11, 2008

Speaking of personal metrics ...

Personal metrics, infoviz porn & productivity obsession

April 11, 2008

I've recently been reading quite a bit about "personal metrics" (aka "attention data", aka your "information wake"). Pictured are some examples from Last.fm , Nike+ and RescueTime (which I used for a few days this week! My Saturday computing is visualized below.) As an infoviz junkie, I have to say that I have always adored this stuff. But the tonight I heard a very smart person say that, prior to Nike+, collaborative running was impossible. Wait, really? How did we get to the point that we need a website, an RFID chip, and an iPod to coordinate running with friends? And, perhaps more importantly, when did we start to forget it was possible otherwise? Information visualization of this kind exudes authority and direction — it gives you clear goals, measurable output, definitive results. It facilitates competition, reward, efficiency and progress. Sexy, sure. But so does fascism. In these graphs, I see a kind of quiet aplomb that says, "look, buddy, this infoviz shit clearly says that I know so bloody much about what I'm doing, and it's very likely that I'm doing it all twice as well as you are, sub-aware urchin." There's indeed an air of inevitability about it all, but why? Is it inevitable that, just because it is…

Chipchase mobile phone talk tomorrow

April 11, 2008

Very much looking forward to this Adaptive Path event (San Francisco) tomorrow: Street Hacks and Long Wows - An Evening with Chipchase, Burns, and Schauer This presentation will highlight the mobile phone hacking skills available on the streets of cities from Accra and beyond, the sophisticated ecosystem of reverse engineered repair manuals and highlight how it challenges our thinking about what it means to make, distribute our products. The presentation will introduce Remade - a phone made from upcycled and recycled products. Here's the link on Upcoming: http://upcoming.yahoo.com/event/466964/ Via Peter Merholtz and AP .

Zimbabwe Election Watch Map

April 11, 2008

The Zimbabwe Election Watch is doing a pretty amazing job of aggregating media reports about the Zimbabwe elections and using Google Maps to present the results. I'm both impressed and depressed about it.

Favorite Rails tools

April 11, 2008

Next week I'm sure Rails will be completely pass in favor of Merb (managed by git , of course). But for now, here's the stuff that makes me a happy programmer this weekend:

Populi.net: a mobile phone-based research platform

April 11, 2008

Now this is what I am talking about: A mobile phone based API for doing things like managing quantitative research projects . Supports a bazillion types of phones . Developed by a South African company. You own your own data. Sounds like a brilliant new project and I look forward to hearing more about it. Now the exciting part is that this isn't just a single application, but rather a platform for application development; that's Populi.net. Then there is Mobile Researcher(what I think is the first and only app thus far developed for it). Mobile Researcher sounds itself really amazingly cool — you develop surveys on the web and then anyone can take them with their cellphones. They've got an interesting case study up on the web featuring the South African Medical Research Council . Quoting directly from their case study, it's obvious that there are some exciting ideas going on — I hope to see some further news that reinforces these findings (the only thing that makes me wary is that they have no pricing information, and no screen shots of the survey builder interface): Via MobileActive .

Two favorite artists

April 11, 2008

Glenn Gould ; he was at his best when he was young, wearing his bathrobe, hunched waaay to low, and doing incredible interpretations of Bach ... and doing this awful singing thing ... Just like he is here: http://www.youtube.com/v/qB76jxBq_gQ&hl=en And Margaret Kilgallen , the archetype of San Franciscan brilliance: http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-9020381880076188853&hl=en

Education is the only permanent social change

April 11, 2008

I've felt for a long time that education is the most important vehicle for social change. I mean, really how else does anything actually get done? You've got to have some kick ass teachers along the way, or you're gonna be a vegetable. And vegetabledom happens to entire societies. Watch out. So I'm a little depressed that I don't get to work directly in the education sector anymore — I used to have a great time working on educational evaluation projects, and for a time I was a mentor. Now I'm a full time geek staring at an LCD, and I don't so much ever get the thrill of seeing kids make the grand connections. (read: manipulating young minds, bwah ha ha.) Anyway, just watched a great TED video from Dave Eggers. Give it 20 minutes and tell me if you don't want to sign up to be a volunteer. It's a hilarious talk anyway, even if you hate kids. http://static.videoegg.com/ted/movies/DAVEEGGERS-2008_high.flv

The Future of Money

March 21, 2008

If there is anything I hate more than cell phones, it's money. I mean, of course everybody likes money, but seriously, who wants to actually deal with it? Going to the bank, cutting checks to the landlord, saving receipts, budgeting, negotiating salaries, calculating the tip, trying to find stuff on sale, thinking about taxes ... man, I have so many more interesting things to do. It's all just exhausting, if you ask me. But. As usual. I'm griping. So, ok, reality check. When it comes down to it: A) Thank Allah I've got enough to live on and B) Thank Jesus that I have some sort of infrastructure to deal with it in the first place. As in — literally — I'm thankful that I have a bank, and receipts and all that crufty stuff that makes it all actually work. Because a hell of a lot of people don't. Here's Chipchase on it earlier this week: "Imagine a world without access to banks and the services they provide - baseline services such as credit, money transfers, savings. For many of the world's poor this is the everyday reality and it's a space where in part due to the spread of mobile telephony there are disruptions and innovations." And, Hey! Look! there they go again, those damned Cellphones! :) Since this money stuff…

Happy Hosting

February 21, 2008

If you need a professional application server, particularly for rails, I'm recommending Rimuhost these days. Their VPS plans are a reasonable deal, but, as always, the support is what is always most important when choosing a host unless it's a super small static site, in which case the big guys like mediatemple, dreamhost, bluehost are fine. (Oh and check wordpress.com if you need a free site.) Just now I've been getting really clear, friendly, (and super fast) support from Brandon at Rimuhost, and he showed me a great trick for removing a password from a ssl cert: Previously one of their techs was chatting to me well into the evening about a SQL issue I was having, free of charge, after he got off of work , just cause he was cool. and I love their VPS control panel, which lets you reboot, power down, and upgrade your RAM/HDD on the fly. If you need a development and production box, they will clone your production VPS (for free), in under an hour. Fastest demo box I've ever set up!

Kestrel update.

February 20, 2008

Things are looking great so far with this hairbrained project of ours. Fabulous, actually: Bolt | Peters is super interested in the project and wants me to work on it for some percent of my total time at work. Which is fan-freaking-tastic! Thanks BP! If you have no idea what I am talking about, check out my last post about it . But, in short, these are the three things that I love about Kestrel already: Kestrel is a web application for farmers. Kestrel is a participatory design project. Kestrel is an open source project. Kestrel is a user-centered project. (Deeply so; as in, we won't build it if it doesn't solve real-people problems.) Ok that was four. Anyway, I've gotten so much great feedback already by email phone and comment — and I am now setting up interview dates. Let me know if you would like to talk on the phone for about an hour. We'll be gathering feedback about the initial concept and looking at some first drafts of first drafts. Basically, we're gabbing on the phone for a bit and I'm taking some notes. You can participate in a number of ways: Please leave a comment or email me at unthinkingly at gmail if you want to participate. You know you wanna. Research is fun! We're conducting real live…

In Praise of Shitty Programmers

February 11, 2008

There's this great movie called A Beautiful Mind that I saw once, and in the last few months I've been quoting it a few times when talking about my programming career. Overall it's a great story, but the one scene that really gets me is when he (John Nash, famous mathematician) is standing in front of a class at Princeton and he puts a particularly complex problem on the board. It's the first day of class, and he puts the problem on the board, and then explains how complicated the problem is. "This problem will take some of you a few months to solve, ... for others, it will take the rest of your natural lives." Assuming that I could ever even get into a Princeton math class (uh, no), this would be when I walked out. I would drop it and go back to something easier to BS, like a user experience research class. I mean, what fun is working on things that you can never really GET? Things that you aren't born with? Anyway, this has basically been my experience since I've moved to San Francisco. As in, totally getting my brain fried by the stuff I see other programmers doing — programmers who were just born with it. I meet guys in coffeeshops and they tell me casually about the device drivers they're writing. (Seriously, he was…

Sunday Afternoon Telly

February 10, 2008

Three videos for your Sunday afternoon enjoyment. (The first two are for the hippies, the last one is for the geeks.) "Among the 40 interview subjects are CEOs and top-level executives from a range of industries: oil, pharmaceutical, computer, tire, manufacturing, public relations, branding, advertising and undercover marketing; in addition, a Nobel-prize winning economist, the first management guru, a corporate spy, and a range of academics, critics, historians and thinkers are also interviewed." The Corporation http://video.google.com/googleplayer.swf?docId=-3969792790081230711&hl=en "The implementation of RSpec stories also fills a gap once filled by Rails’ integration tests. RSpec stories run against the whole stack of your application, including routes, controllers, models, and views.This 50-minute screencast introduces stories and shows you how to use them with pure Ruby code or inside a Rails application." This one ain't free! But totally worth it. -ed.

Ode To Ethan

February 04, 2008

The other day I referenced Jan Chipchase's blog as "almost certainly my favorite." This is patently false. I am a big fat liar when I get excited. (Chipchase is probably tied for second with a few other exceptionally cool writers.) The blogger at the top of my feedreader is, really this time, absolutely, Ethan Zuckerman . I got into his blog when I was getting my journalism degree and I stumbled across " Global Attention Profiles ," basically maps of media blindspots. He was doing all of this research that combined media analysis with mapping with data scraping. Very cool. When I was reading about that project in 2003 or 2004 I was totally turned on by the idea of writing scripts to create DIY datasets; I had no idea how to program at the time, but the stuff I have done with perl scrapers my whole new career in programming is directly attributable to Ethan's inspiration 2 years prior. So I kept reading his blog, and it got me into all freaking KINDS of stuff, among them ( this is just the stuff that I directly attributed to him, by name, and took the time to write a blog post about ): Ethan writes (at length, with incredible detail, humor and rich references) about the developing world at http://www.ethanzuckerman.com/blog…

Cellphones FTW

February 02, 2008

I am obsessed with cell phones right now. Mostly I bloody hate them. I haven't had one for six months, but work made me get one last week. So since they made me get one I am lobbying to get into some cell-phone-type research, partly to figure out my personal issues with cellular voice communication, most mostly because, clearly, undoubtedly, they are the most important technology in the world: they are the network of the developing world . As a BBC article put it a couple weeks ago: ""it's time that we recognised that for the majority of the world's population, and for the foreseeable future, the cell phone is the computer, and it will be the portal to the internet, and the communications tool, and the schoolbook, and the vaccination record, and the family album ..." My question is: where the hell are the tools for people who use cellphones in this way? (In particular, where are the banking tools and educational tools?) In the first world we've got $600 iphones that can read your freaking mind . But a simple flashcard application for learning a few of the 62 languages spoken in Kenya? It's not quite as sexy. So this is the part that I am really obsessing over, as a developer. It just seems to me that there is huge…

Kestrel: A Simple Web App for Community Supported Agriculture

January 03, 2008

I'm just getting started on a new project nicknamed Kestrel. The basic idea a simple and user-centered web app that helps facilitate ordering, billing and member management for CSA's. Things are JUST getting started and I am soliciting help in doing some feasibility research as well as a basic evaluation of existing CSA management applications. The only real spec so far is an application that is incredibly simple and driven purely by a real understanding of the users' needs. There is no timeframe yet. I imagine things could take a year or so; nobody's getting paid by Kestrel. Codewise, I've done some simple scaffolding of the application, but really I think the requirements for this type of thing are simple — the codebase is not really the issue. Just a few forms, login/out and billing. So I'm not looking for help from coders as much as I am trying to garner some interest from A) the users of the application, farmers and consumers and B) people with experience in user-centered application design and user testing. The goal is a management tool that would simplify the process of ordering food from your CSA, but also serve as an educational model of CSA best practices. Right now I'm thinking a hosted solution, almost certainly…

OK, Nevermind. Actually, The Future is in the Past

December 21, 2007

I've been following the recent debate about the future of web standards and whatnot. It's been making me think a bit about what I really want to see in the future of web standards. And I can't get this great California zine Cometbus out of my head. (Well, ok, by "following the recent debate" I'm just trying to find a smart way to say I read a few blogs. Every single one of which is linked to on Tuesday by Jeremy Keith . Except this one from Thursday Zeldman post . Zing zing. Good stuff. Read the comments for sure. Or just read my post first if you want to feel good about skipping it altogether.) Anyway, lemme explain. In its essence I think that the call for better, more ambitious HTML and CSS specifications is great. Obviously it's crazy that we're just evolving to CSS 2.1 candidate recommendation after what, six years? (And I could have sworn we already passed the mark but, ok, I've complained enough about it enough this week). Anyway, it's all well and good. Things are slow. (per Zeldman: "a slow bitch.") Besides, really, most of us wouldn't have a job if it was not for IE6 . :) But one of most the interesting points raised somewhere in the debate goes something like "We need to sometimes ignore web…

The Future of CSS is Here .... It's Just Not Evenly Distributed

December 17, 2007

In light of the litigious, melodramatic backwater that the CSS spec has fallen into , I thought it would be worth writing up a teensy, non-brilliant-but-incredibly-useful DIY hack for stylesheets. In my mind, there is really no way of getting around CSS if you are working on the web. CSS makes your site ugly or beautiful, rendering a site in just a split second of processing right before your retinas pass information to your brain. I love it; it's one of my trustiest tools. Back in the day I did enough hard time with tables and inline FONT and MARGIN stuff that CSS really was a revelation for me. So yeah, CSS, I love you, even if you are spooky and crusty and awkward sometimes. And did I mention annoying? Ok sometimes REALLY annoying. ... Sometimes it's late, stuff's completely hosed by SOMETHING in this bloated stylesheet, and I realize that I've just learned to survive on CSS island with a sturdy coconut helmet and strong superstitions about absolute positioning or a negative margin or that extra wrapper div. That's mostly Microsoft's fault, but besides all the browser bugs, it's really a pretty dumb language. Seriously, what does it take to do a just bit of real vertical positioning without total hackery? And aren't computers…

svn up

December 14, 2007

Why I moved to San Francisco

December 02, 2007

"Move to San Francisco" seems to be the advice that I've been giving to pretty much all of the geek + activisty folks that I know. There have been really great conferences like An Event Apart and CompostModern , green socialite stuff and Green Fest , a great cycling scene, gorgeous coastline, sustainable agriculture galore, municipal freaking composting , local beer/coffee/chocolate/veggies/everything, the legendary queer scene, the legendary political art scene, an awesome, active AIGA chapter, killer public transport, a hilarious mix of psychedelic and high-tech history... It's all been even more incredible than I'd hoped. This city is just completely alive and thriving with all kinds of brilliant geeky people doing Good Things. ... You should come, really. I got here sometime in the summer for a new job doing design/programming/research at this fantastic little UX shop . It was completely serendipitous how I got the job, but that's a better story told in a bar than a blog. I've got a little studio off of 24th Street in the Mission, which is about as wonderful as city living can be, if you ask me. Best of all, when I moved I got rid of my damned phone and car, two of my least favorite things in the world. :) For…

The Joy of e-waste

June 18, 2007

Recently I've been really worked up about all these computers in the closet. It's a bunch of junk. A bunch of dot-com-bubble bullshit that never needed to be purchased in the first place. I've been stressed out about that festering backwater of old computers since I got my job here 16 months ago. For 16 months, I worried that it would all be super expensive to recycle. For 16 months, I worried that it wouldn't be recyclable at all. I worried because it was all crappy Pentium II processors and Pre-OSX Apples and janky Sun workstations. Stuff our design and programming team would never touch (nose upturned). Not to mention the 105-pound rack-mounted servers. All of it full of toxic heavy metals. Not to mention the steaming pile of three button Sun mice and a giant nest of serial cables. And the 39 (!) keyboards. Seriously, this stuff has been sitting around for years. It obviously must be some sort of corporate psychic baggage. Worse, I'll bet most everyone reading this blog also has some secret e-waste laying around. We're a web design shop, but every office I've ever worked in has at least one generation of 'puters laying around. Taking a clue from Ecoiron , a great blog of green hardware issues, recently bought the book…

Genocide vs. Gadgets

June 15, 2007

I've never seen gadget hype reach the levels that have been achieved by the iPhone. And I've never been so caught up in it myself. After visiting eyesondarfur.org I've decided that I'm giving my iPhone budget to Amnesty International : $50 a month over the next year. In the culture jamming spirit I spliced an iPhone ad into one of the arresting images from the book Darfur: Twenty Years of War and Genocide in Sudan . I'm not anti-iPhone in particular: I just want to remind folks ( especially myself) that there are more important things to focus on than the gadgets being thrust in your face. If you have the luxury of a budget for consumer electronics, why not consider putting just a percentage of it toward something like an anti-genocide campaign? image: The Kalma Camp, Darfur, by Pep Bonet/Panos Pictures and the iPhone by Apple Inc. Used without permission: Please don't sue me.

Wanted: An open-source, user-centered touchscreen platform

May 13, 2007

There has been a lot of excitement recently around a couple of developments in touch screen interfaces: First there was the insane presentation at TED 2006 . Secondly, of course, the iPhone made everyone all hot in the pants for it's touchable goodness. Fundamentally I think that touch is intimate and intuitive, and clearly touchable interfaces have incredible potential, especially for the folks that haven't been brow-beaten into adapting to 20th-century conventions of computer interfaces like the QWERTY keyboard. (i.e., the billions of people that will be introduced to "desktop" computing the next decade. See the OLPC, just launched for reals in Uruguay .) So I'm excited about a new project at work that involves designing a web application for use with a touch screen interface. When I first heard about it from the client I was coffee-though-the-nose excited because I have been infatuated by a recent project I read about on Vestal: Malawi, Linux, & The Fight Against HIV . I knew immediately that I was going to rip off the idea. (In the best open source sense, of course.) Unfortunately the iOpener touchscreen used in the project is no longer for sale (it had a lovely $100-$200 price tag b/c it came with some money-making…

Online banking = overdue leapfrogging technology

May 13, 2007

Seems like Paypal is one of those "leapfrogging" technologies that could help entire regions skip the process of developing a banking infrastructure, which apparently takes about 200 years of war (judging from how the West has done it). So news about Paypal's international expansion is a great development. but ... Out but not in ?! How horribly ironic ... I am sure that there are major obstacles to the inexpensive, reliable, worldwide transaction of money, but it seems like exactly the kind of thing that a web-based market should be able to work around. I guess that there aren't too many open source geeks that are into high finance.

Who's linking to our website? New tools.

February 06, 2007

It is a pretty basic trick to get an idea of people that are linking to your site. Just google: link: http://mysite.com But that is an extremely rudimentary technique for several reasons. The Webmaster Toolkit is a service from Google that you really should be using. It takes just a few minutes to get started and then you get lots of data, including the new link data. If you haven't already (and, uh, you run a website), check it out and you will be happy to pick up a bunch of free statistics about your site. Notably, you can also create an XML sitemap (not a graphical HTML sitemap, though!) of your site to make sure google is indexing the whole thing. And you can test your robots.txt file (important for keeping those pictures of the last drunken staff party out of images.google.com). I did have a couple of problems with the data, though — there still is no way to get a good ranking of your referrers, or a ranking of your most popular pages. Luckily, you can download the entire file and do whatever you want with it. (hooray for openness!) Since we have a bunch of clients I wanted to send this new data, I took the time to write a simple perl script. And I figured a few other people could use it. It's here: unique_addresses…

Thinking About The Search for Jim Gray

February 04, 2007

update: there's a great new post on worldchanging.com about this. -cb I spent some time today searching for sailboats in satellite imagery, looking for signs of computer scientist Jim Gray . The story is covered here . The significance of using this technology to do this work is obvious. Using satellite imagery to find a particular lost person is a dramatic, symbolic moment indicating some maturation of the approach — I can only hope that it will be applied on a larger scale in the coming years. Likewise I was so deeply impressed by the Katrina PeopleFinder project, and I am eager to see extensions of this type of "humanitarian-tech" project. It just seems that there are so many people who are willing to help do data entry or pattern recognition from their home as volunteers ... not to mention the 34,153 geek-brain-hours wasted on programming .ASP shopping carts or similar byte-drivel every day ... And, without being critical of the people involved in setting this up (seriously, cheers to those involved in getting this going!) I think it is interesting to note that the person we are looking for is a famed computer scientist. Besides the contextual irony — he had a lot to do with making this search possible — we…

Experimenting with IBM's "Many Eyes"

January 28, 2007

IBM's new Many Eyes rocks. I experimented with the nptech data last weekend and built this in about 10 minutes. It's a very rough bubble map of the users of the nptech tag. Interesting how it shows the distribution of the tagging activity. Related: Swivel and Data360 . My Many Eyes account is here . (You can get an RSS feed of my visualizations.) EDIT: Just to be clear, the usernames in the plot above do not reflect the actual number of contributions (the top posters are not getting credit for more than 100 posts each), because of a bug in del.icio.us, which I have discussed previously.

The Panopticon. Now With An Improved Menu!

January 20, 2007

Hmmm. Waitasecond. Photographing my leftovers? You're totally creeping me out. I mean, I get the point, but is that really the direction that savvy Web-2.0-aware businesses take these days? The overtone of pervasive surveillance makes me feel a bit ill. Minus points for O'Reilly implying that this will lead to Web 2.0 apps that are constantly improving themselves based on user activity. Of course the corporate world has always wanted to know as much about me as possible. But what do they usually do with it? Banner Ads.

The Culture of Open Networks, or: Watch What You Tag

January 20, 2007

I'm getting into an excellent free pdf called "In the Shade of the Commons," a publication from the Waag Society , which bills itself as a small group of enthusiastic idealists ... with a mission "to make new media available for groups of people that have little access to computers and internet, thus increasing their quality of living." They sound like a nice little bunch of information hippies in the Netherlands. They have quite nicely put together a range of material about the fragility of openness in up-and-coming information societies and the need for "intellectual commons." My favorite part of it so far is the "Vienna Document," (quoted here) which summarizes a number of thoughtful progressive info-principles. The lesson I'm taking away is not just that "information should be free" (ZZZzzzzzz.... ), but there is also need for a kind of "humane" network design that leverages openness in ways that are beneficial to more than just a select minority. For those of us who design software (which is now 99% defined by networked computing), I think this has pretty hip implications. I think it is brilliant to conceptualize information, as they do, as a product of "intellectual labor." In this light it becomes clearer how the…

A question for del.icio.us

January 15, 2007

I am still working on developing a tool for analyzing community tags in del.icio.us, but I have run into a problem that messes up the data pretty significantly. I would be interested to know if anyone has any ideas what is going on. The problem is this: del.icio.us says that there are about 5160 items tagged with nptech in its database. I think this number is correct. But you can see for yourself that, if you put the pagination on 100, you will get to the last page (the first time the tag was used) when you hit the 41st page. That's only 4100-ish. Are there 1000 of our entries missing?

Understanding a community tag: the history of nptech

January 11, 2007

Recently there has been a lot of discussion among the nonprofit technology geeks about the use (and usefulness) of the tag "nptech". The nptech tag (on del.icio.us ) dates back to December of 2004 and was created by a group of nonprofit technologists that were exploring the potential for social tagging in the community. While I have a "curmudgeonly" eye for Web2.0 gizmos, in addition to a deep distrust of technophilic "progress" ... I think that the development of this tag is arguably the single largest reason for the current (thriving I think) state of what is commonly called the "nptech community." Which means a lot to me. (A great summary of the current conversation is at Beth Kanter's blog .) Opinions abound. Most of us seem to be worked up about the efficiency of the tag. On this note there has been a lot of interesting reaction to a post by Gavin Clabaugh , which was critical of folksonomies. Laura Quinn of Idealware largely agrees with Gavin. In this context, it seems that generally the consensus has been that 1.) Taxonomies are harder to create than Folksonomies, but they are better in many contexts. And 2.) we need more data about how to make the nptech tag more useful as an "emergent taxonomy". So, in the spirit…

Great Blog

January 07, 2007

The Linux Desktop in 2007

January 07, 2007

Linux and open source computing is going to have a great 2007. In spite of a few hiccups in some communities, and the astonishing lack of penetration into the mainstream brain, it is obvious that we are seeing more and more people getting it. Just check out IBM's Linux praise page if you want an overview. And governments are getting it too, in Korea , Venuzela , and India . And then there is Chicago . Of course, it is a bunch of elitist BS to pretend that the only reason people don't "get" desktop Linux is because they are just ignorant — Linux is hard. Switching is hard-ish. These governments are not doing something that is totally obvious — they are, but contrast, pioneers, and they are taking no small risk in putting Linux desktops in front of their municipal employees. I mean, really, I just can't see my Dad using ifconfig to fiddle with his network settings. Only recently has Linux distributions emerged that I would consider suggesting to my family, much less my family's coworkers. (By contrast, of course, Linux as a server platform has had success for so long, and open source software is clearly dominant on the server.) Ever since the Ubuntu Linux campaign began a couple years ago, we have all seen how…

Tux is dead-ish

January 05, 2007

I think that Tux Magazine started a couple of years ago. For a number of reasons--not all financial--the model we had built for TUX was not sustainable. At this point, a group of us who were involved in TUX are tossing some ideas around. Where it will go we are not sure but let me assure you that enough of us feel TUX needs to exist that we will try our best to come up with, as they say, "Plan B". Their goal was to server the "new Linux user," with glossy color articles about installing the latest KDE, understanding the differences between the various distros, and getting your new printer to work with Ubuntu. It was an interesting niche that seemed really promising. (Several other Liunx magazines exist, but are written more for the hardcore geeks.) Alas, just before their 21st issue, they have just announced that they are closing down. I wonder what this means for the state of the Open Source OS in 2007?

Low-Bandwidth user experience

January 05, 2007

I make websites, and I manage a few web servers. Making sure that pages load quickly is a pretty fundamental part of my job. Lately I have been thinking a lot about how much more important this concern is for people who are in low-bandwidth environments (my house in rural NC), and especially in what you might call "ultra-low bandwith" places, where issues like cost or a lack of reliable power compound the issue by an order of magnitudes. I am thinking about how web developers can become more invested in the ultra-low-bandwidth user experience. When it comes to bandwidth, international bloggers are talking about something totally different compared the "optimization" issues that web developers are fussing over. For example, the Yahoo User Experience blog has just posted a really interesting analysis of page load time optimization techniques. But it occurs to me that the audience that they are writing for is largely the elite of the internet — they are trying to save a few tenths of a second. They are tuning a product, not really thinking about ultra-low-bandwidth situations. Which is fine, that's why they exist I guess. I mean, It's web development 101 that you need to make you pages small. Load time is the number one…

An Open Source Strike?

December 18, 2006

Many Debian developers denounced the Dunc-Tank proposal. Some even demanded that Towns be removed as leader because he supported Dunc-Tank. Their objection was that by financially supporting developers, Debian would become a two-class system and that, in turn, would be destructive to the Debian community. Linux-watch.com just posted this article commenting on recent delays in the much-loved Debian distribution of Linux. Interesting to note some of the internal politics on an open source project. I have to respect the developer's (reported) concern that the new pay structure at Debian might create a kind of class system on the project. So to me it makes sense the developers might stop contributing their time if something starts to smell bad in the project, but I haven't ever seen a "strike" called quite like this as the article suggests. I might be inclined to chalk this one up to something other than pure politics, anyway. (Gasp, a behind-schedule software project?)

The Darfur Wall

December 17, 2006

The Darfur Wall is a beautifully executed charity project that fills a very simple, traditional purpose (collecting money) using an innovative and stark interface. The black and white, no-images design reinforces the tragedy of the situation without being overwhelming. I think this is a great example of online design serving a progressive cause — which is not so easy to find.

The tools we use

December 14, 2006

Softwarewise I really am overdue to give appreciation to my favorite independent software artists: I think Textmate is the best software I have ever used: as an external blogging client , it makes blogging a freaking joy. If you are serious about a text editor, at least check out some of those demo videos on their site.

Blood Diamonds in the News

December 11, 2006

Ethan Zuckerman has a great post about the recent newsines (trendiness?) about "conflict" diamonds, pointing to a parody site realdiamondfacts.org . It's a sendup of DeBeers and Co. (It's an exact parody of their PR-campaign website, diamondfacts.org .) The bigger issue, Zuckerman points out, is that there are any number of products that the Rich Folks of the world are consuming that cause economic and social trauma in the same way that the diamond industry does ( Coltran — used in my cellphone — seems to be worse than diamonds if you ask me ... ).

Geekcorps Writeup on Newsforge

December 11, 2006

I missed this writeup from a little while ago. It is a good description of what Geekcorps is doing in Mali. Some of their really interesting projects are the Water Bottle Antenna , which provides a powered wifi antenna for about $3 (compared to $100) and the Desert PC which is basically a fanless, sealed machine designed for tough conditions (running a version of Linux of course — customized to minimize hard drive writes for durability!) What is not to love about a custom Linux distro for the developing world? Geekcorps Mali (which seems to be their flagship outfit in Africa, and was founded by Ethan Zuckerman is probably on the leading edge of in-the-field low-bandwidth applications. Geekcorps Low Bandwidth Networking is a wonderful (technical) document that describes in some detail the setup they are using. I use a lot of the same technologies (the mail and webserver) in my job as a sysadmin. And I am totally in love with their Cantenna TV project for its emphasis on community media. Check out the video demo'ing a build of one of their antennas. http://www.youtube.com/v/vBBK2xkuCGY

Ubuntu in Kurdish!

December 07, 2006

You Are The Enemy: "Information Rights" vs Open Source

December 06, 2006

Ever since the introduction of Microsoft Office 2003 it has been possible to distribute documents that can only be used in the way that you want them to be used — such as limiting who can copy, print or forward the information. This type of control, however has been easy enough to defeat with a third party reader that ignores the "Information Rights Management," which is really just a bunch of plain text XML, as Cory Doctorow explains at Information Week . So IRM is really not about security in the first place. "The current version of remote attestation facilitates the enforcement of policies against the wishes of computer owners. If the software you use is written with that goal in mind, the trusted computing architecture will not only protect data against intruders and viruses, but also against you. In effect, you, the computer owner, are treated as an adversary." -The E.F.F.'s analysis on the new techniques Microsoft, naturally, would like to end the ability to use third-party readers like OpenOffice all together, and is working to develop an industry standard that will allow your motherboard to take digital signatures in order to prove that your software is not tampered with. Security is touted as being the reason for…

Need Magazine Debuts

December 06, 2006

I'm looking forward to getting this in the mail. I am excited to see a publication that is addressing this type of issue from a nonpolitical stance. (Or rather, I think, it is implicitly political). If you subscribe now you can still get the first issue from the Need Magazine website .

TED Reaches out to the Proles

July 11, 2006

Featuring super-lovely production and a cast of all stars, TEDTalks emerges from its walled garden with a serious web presence. "Each year, TED hosts some of the world's most fascinating people: Trusted voices and convention-breaking mavericks, icons and geniuses. The talks they deliver have had had such a great impact, we thought they deserved a wider audience. So now, for the first time, we're sharing them with the world at large." via Signal vs. Noise and Ethan Zuckeman and friends at Active Living By Design (who kicked our geeky asses at Ultimate last week).

Instant Live Support for Everything Geek

June 29, 2006

Just had a really great first experience at <a href" http://alpha.qunu.com">Qunu asking obscure questions about our email server. It was an obscure subject, but I needed generalized advice, so I didn't have a listserv (such as a particular software group) to turn to immediately. I was able to connect to a geek in a few minutes and have, basically, a web-based IM chat. Highly recommended if you need computer-related advice. I think there were probably only a few people online that I would have trusted as experts in this particular field, but hell, that's pretty great considering it's alpha. I hope the service grows. God bless the web.

The Reality of the Open Source Desktop in Developing World

June 29, 2006

Great, reveling post about the remaining difficulty of running Ubuntu (the "sexiest" open source Windows-killer yet) in Ethopia by Andrew Heavens over at Meskel Square. Read the rest of the <a href= http://www.meskelsquare.com/archives/2006/06/ubuntu the diff.html#more">post . Via Zuckerman .

Linux Overview

June 24, 2006

Just found this nice, basic, summary of the various Linux distributions. Linux is an operating system that was initially created as a hobby by a young student, Linus Torvalds, at the University of Helsinki in Finland. Linus had an interest in Minix, a small UNIX system, and decided to develop a system that exceeded the Minix standards. He began his work in 1991 when he released version 0.02 and worked steadily until 1994 when version 1.0 of the Linux Kernel was released. The kernel, at the heart of all Linux systems, is developed and released under the GNU General Public License and its source code is freely available to everyone. It is this kernel that forms the base around which a Linux operating system is developed. There are now literally hundreds of companies and organisations and an equal number of individuals that have released their own versions of operating systems based on the Linux kernel. If you are new to Linux, this may help to explain a lot of the confusion in your head about the numerous versions of the platform. http://linux.wordpress.com/2006/06/24/linux-the-choice-is-there/

Smart doctypes and other internet flora

June 19, 2006

If you are interested in keeping up with the best practices of mime types, content types, character encoding and doctypes .... A very nice survey of document types from the best developers on the web: http://www.elementary-group-standards.com/archives/site-standards/why-xhtml.html

GNOME needs women

June 19, 2006

Last I checked, only about 2 percent of developers were women. Just now read this: via GNOME needs women http://www.gnome.org/

Hi, I'm alive

June 09, 2006

I'm posting again after a couple months absence though mostly I think I'll just be doing short excerpts from the stuff I'm reading. At any rate, comments are open again. Please indulge.

New Wi-Fi distance record: 279 km!

June 09, 2006

New Wi-Fi distance record: 279 km! : Ermanno Pietrosemoli and Javier Trivio (of EsLaRed) and Carlo Fonda (from the ICTP) have successfully established a whopping 279 km wifi link in Venezuela. They did it using a pair of Linksys WRT54Gs running DD-WRT and some recycled satellite dish antennas (no amplifiers!)

Temporarily Offline

March 30, 2006

I have a wonderful new job (wrangling Linux servers) and am too busy learning to post at present. After I get through the stack of O'Reilly books on my desk I'll be back (and much better informed).

Relatively Simple RSS Aggregation

March 20, 2006

I recently posted about my need for a simpler RSS aggregator. I worked through the massive list of existing RSS aggregators at wikipedia and couldn't reallly find something that did exactly what I wanted and worked. I needed something that was simple, cached hourly, displayed various encodings well and worked with RSS and Atom formats. Most importantly, I wanted something I could install on my own server, and it needed to be community oriented (not designed for a single reader). Most of the existing solutions on the web are hosted by a third party, and are limited in the number of feeds that they can aggregate. A robust, simple option for a thrid-party hosted aggregator is Feed2JS , but if you want a bunch of feeds on your site you'll have to use a bit of javascript for each one. Multiple feeds get ugly fast, and if their server goes down, your scripts go down. The best hosted solution I found was Gregarius , which has a lovely community. I think that gregarious will take the cake sometime this year as aggregating catches on. For now, however, the plugins are pretty limited — you are locked into a personal reader with "Read/Unread" tagging. (Which makes Gregarious a great replacement for a newsreader like Bloglines, but…

Getting Real

March 06, 2006

My favorite non-open-source software company published a book today, and I think it's likely that it will do quite well. Considering the fact that they practically have their little Web-2.0 paws up the proverbial skirt of every well-intended, moleskine-toting geek in the blogosphere ... I think the fact that they're asking $20 for a PDF will be looked upon as a delightful novelty. I mean, I love campfire and all, but you could've at least published with Lulu.com . Call me a crufty bibliophile, but this doesn't seem like a great advance for D.I.Y. publishing. After, the real barons of dot com publish all their writing online and get a hardcover book deal from O'Reilly. Getting Real: The smarter, faster, easier way to build a successful web application

ReliefWeb Maps for Humanitarian Crisis

February 25, 2006

Image: DRC-migration I have a love for maps because they can be the most rich, yet easy-to-understand communication tools. ReliefWeb , a website devoted to distributing time-sensitive information about humanitarian crises, is an excellent resource for insightful maps and infographics. You can sign up to receive email updates of all their new maps. Stuff like this map showing displaced persons in the DRC. Maps in the mailbox? Wonderful.

Power to the People: Free (as in Beer) O'Reilly Books and More

February 25, 2006

This is where it's at folks: free programming and web design books. Make your computer do impossible feats of inhuman strength with this collection of languages and techniques , from old-school Fortran to Web 2.0 hipster-standards AJAX or Ruby. I'm loving this collection and (hopefully by mid spring) I'm going to gather all of my favorite tutorials for use as a singe "Intro to web design" document. (Round of applause for the Creative Commons license, please.) So far I have been using Google's wonderful new "Search by license type" feature on their advance search page, but this yields mostly just very specific tutorials. This page just turned me on to a whole lot of their helpful resource, even if I can't redistribute materials from the big publishers. Most of the books here are just distributed online for free because they are older editions. They aren't using an Open license, except in the case of the many online tutorials that are linked here (which are typically carefully chosen, I found). This collection contains a lot of really great books (many from O'Reilly) that just happen to be a little out of date. I tend to get real excited when I find these things in the basement of my local thrift store, so this is real exciting…

Combining RSS feeds and Displaying them on Your Page with Javascript and PHP

February 24, 2006

Last night I was trying to do something that I thought would be pretty simple: display a bunch of recent weblog posts on one page. There is a great online community of folks in the biofuels blogosphere, and this page would give a quick summary of their myriad, nerdy, wonderful events and research. So the goal is to have the title of a weblog, followed by the most recent posts, each with the date posted and a bit of the post body. The entire web page might be called "biofuels digest," with a total of perhaps 30 weblogs. Often on the web you will see "blogrolls" that list lots of blogs, but these are usually just links to the blogs (there isn't a post excerpt) and they are almost always either hardcoded html or javascript-included from a third party like Bloglines (see my own blogroll on the front page). I'd had experience with building this type of page last year, when I just wanted to have an "aggregator" page of all my most loved online reading. I ended up just slapping things around with Magpie RSS (an excellent open source PHP class), and it worked fine. Not slick, but fine. I could have easily used a number of services that are available online for displaying other people's rss on your own page, without all the…

Online Focus Groups are Getting Simple, Cheap and Pretty

February 22, 2006

37 Signals is a super-smart little company known for creating easy-to-use web-based project management tools (namely the Basecamp suite), and they have just announced the latest in their product family: Campfire . According to their website, "Campfire brings simple group chat to the business setting. Instant messaging is great for quick 1-on-1 chats, but it's miserable for 3 or 4 or 7 or 15+ people at once. Campfire solves that problem and plenty more. " A little background: By day I work at a university with a nonprofit evaluation team. We work for other nonprofits that are trying (...or are being forced to by their funders) to discover and amplify the best aspects of their program. A major part of our job is finding out what people think works well — so we are typically creating surveys and conducting focus groups or our clients. Focus groups are a great way to bring together a lot of good people and get a lot of good advice about a program. Among all the fun things we do with nonprofits, they're my favorite. But in-person focus groups are expensive and difficult to arrange, especially when you are working with busy people. Who has time to sit around and talk about making a program better? You've too busy working on…

Brief Clip from a Great WorldChanging.com Post

February 16, 2006

WorldChanging: Another World Is Here: LinuxChix Africa "LinuxChix Africa manages to shatter two stereotypes at the same time: the idea that women aren't interested in free/open source software development; and the idea that women in Africa are bound to traditional cultural roles. Founded in late 2004 by Anna Badimo, a computer science graduate student in South Africa, and Dorcas Muthoni of the Kenya Education Network, LinuxChix Africa seeks to build Linux skills among African women, as well as to support more generally the use of free/open source applications and systems across Africa. Like most Linux and F/OSS communities, much of their work entails professional software development and public advocacy of open source, but LinuxChix Africa adds a unique twist: they focus their outreach on encouraging young women to pursue careers in computing."

On Teachers Moving from Web 0.5 to Web 3.0

February 16, 2006

David Warlick posts insightfully about the uses of technology in education. Right now he seems like a pretty stressed out guy. I'm not an educator (though I do work in education via nonprofit evaluation). And I don't get quite as excited as he does when discussing the latest crop of communication technologies. But in one of his most recent posts on his blog 2 Cents , I am right there with him pulling out my hair. The story is kind of funny actually, in a sick way (kind of like the way it's funny when Cheney shoots a 78-year-old man). The story is like this: Warlick presented to a large group of teachers here in North Carolina recently and polled them informally about the technologies they used. How many read blogs? Perhaps 20. How many had listened to a podcast? Maybe ten. How many had podcasted? Zero! How many used flickr? Zero! How many knew about social bookmarks? Zero! Delicious (del.icio.us)? Zero!" This is all really not that surprising to me. I know that two years of hype about blogging has done little to clarify its value as an fun, educational tool. And these are a particular type of hype-prone ("Web 2.0") technologies. And yet, really, these things are exciting and useful. Teachers would love these things. They…

NGO in a Box: FOSS Mixtapes for Change

February 08, 2006

The Tactical Technology Collective is a nonprofit based in Amsterdam that has been doing great work distributing Free/Open Source technology to the global NGO sector. This morning I was reminded (via Worldchanging ) that they are working on creating several different "best of" software compliations for NGOs-- kind of like that lovely old mixtape you have in your car, except with encryption tools, spyware tools and Firefox, among many others. And better liner notes. The first to be released was the "Security Edition" last October (which I suppose is, um, not to be confused with the ubiquitous AOL Security Edition discs at the grocery store). One of the most important parts of the CDs is the documentation, which somes in English, Spanish, French, Russian and Arabic. (Unfortunately a lot of the software only comes in English.) It came as some surprise to me that the Security edition comes with a collection of FOSS applications that are designed to run on Windows (TM)(!). I think the decison to run on a closed platform (instead of Linux) was rather unfortunate ... and unfortunately necessary for now. This CD provides a lot of great tools for NGOs at zero cost — and very few of the Tacitcal Tech's audience is up and running…

Visualizing Community News

February 01, 2006

Mike Davidson has been working lately on an innovative (I said innovative, not trendy) online news company, Newsvine , that provides articles from mainstream media outlets. The Newsvine team is a well-respected web group, most of them formerly of Starwave, a studious anti-hype third-wave (i.e. late 1990s, post-bubble) internet company. (Here's Starwave's startup profile from a 1996 Fast Company article.) Davidson's also a major contributor to SiFR , which typophiles (that's typography, not typos) and web developers everywhere love. The trick of Newsvine is that it comes in a really well designed interface and allows community input, both by linking and commenting. Here's an extract from a larger rundown at Solutionwatch : Personally, I'm very excited to see companies that understand my Sysiphean-Kafkaesque nightmare of flashy, obtrusive, cluttered websites like Yahoo! and all the major news outlets (see image). And of course I'm excited to see (another) community-building website that allows for the development of local folksonomies and scalable collaboration. I would very much like to start using Newsvine in order to tag and collect news items that are relevant to my organization(s). Considering Newsvine's focus on…

Truth in a Home Page

January 31, 2006

Great advice on crafting a home page from A List Apart . In short: build it last, and work first on the details (the smallest, ubiquitous elements of your site). A great homepage with poor search results or product page will only lead to disappointment. So if your site is shallow and ugly on the inside, make sure your homepage is too. Also: While I'm in a website-improvement mood, there is also a handy post today from Alt Tags, summarizing the Five Steps to a Better Website in the New Year (via the ever-useful 456 Bera St. ). In short:

Networking Wirelessly, Freely

January 29, 2006

Thomas Krag has a great-looking new book (with lead editor Rob Flickenger) about wireless networking in the developing world. And it's always nice to see people taking advantage of the print-on-demand services of lulu.com . The book is released under a Creative Commons license and is, as such, free. Read it at: Wireless Networking in the Developing World

Rosetta Provides Collaborative Online FOSS Translation

January 27, 2006

Rosetta is a web-based platform that does exactly what I thought needed to be done: it makes open source software translation really easy for lots of people, and it makes it easy to collaborate on a translation project. Instead of having to edit .po files manually , this web interface allows you to easily just ... translate. Read the message, type your translation, save. It's that easy. Well, almost: the result still should be combed over with a something like POedit. But Rosetta nontheless is an incredible project about which I am very excited, and I congratulate their team and the 8796 translators (according to public page stats) working to make free software available worldwide. I especially like logging into the website and being able to see the progress on each translation for each of the O.S.S. projects they work with. (Currently there is no Wordpress 2.0, just 1.5, unfortunately. There is also no Swahili team, prior to myself and Ndesanjo.) The Rosetta project is, I believe, originally the translation interface for the Ubuntu Linux community. Ubuntu is a distribution (a version) of the Linux operating system. For those who are new to the world of Open Source, Linux is a platform for your computer, just like Microsoft…

Biofuels Community with Google Maps

January 26, 2006

This Washington state map is an example of what nonprofitdesign.org is creating for my local (NC) biofuels community website (in the works). This new biofuels website, I hope, will have a map that functions better than most of the buggy hatchet-jobs out there (above site excepted, of course). There are a lot of directions that can be taken regarding an interactive map, i.e.: Google API (AJAX) vs. Yahoo API (Flash), local vs. national, user-editable vs. administrator-operated. I'm currently soliciting help from other programmers online and of about our options, because I don't have a lot of advanced Javascript under my belt. Personally, I want to see two major features: As for the NC Biofuels community website as a whole, I hope to achieve three things: We could syndicate all of their posts on the community site so you can read everyone's posts in one place. Likewise we could create a tag for use in Flickr , Technorati and delicious . (Something like NCbiofuels.) (Using tags to create a close community online has certainly worked well for the nptech folks in recent months, though it is easier because we're all geeks. But even if just a few people used it for photosharing it would work well enough.) And we could also have…

1.) post to your blog 2.) post to del.ico.us and 3.) save all your links using spurl.com, all at the same time. This, I think will work well for a new biofuels ...

January 26, 2006

I've been using this tutorial from Alexandra Samuel to set up a workflow that allows you to 1.) post to your blog 2.) post to del.ico.us and 3.) save all your links using spurl.com , all at the same time. This, I think will work well for a new biofuels community website that I'm working on with people in (and around) Piedmount Biofuels here in NC. Pardon any mess I make while I'm tinkering.

ConsultantCommons Provides Free Nonprofit Technology Support

January 26, 2006

A beta project from CompuMentor, Consultant Commons provides a platform to share and collaborate on resources around nonprofit technology consulting. I wish I could recommend this site, but it has a long way to go before it really works well. For now, at least, there are a few useful documents, but most of the stuff is geared toward nonprofit consultants.

Great Podcast: Jonathan Schwartz - The Participation Age

January 25, 2006

I love this podcast (and I adore the entire IT Conversations series). Here's a link and a blurb. IT Conversations: Jonathan Schwartz - The Participation Age Jonathan Schwartz, President and COO, Sun Microsystems answers these questions and more in his keynote address at the OSB. Mr.Schwartz, one of the most high profile corporate bloggers around, goes back in time to show how standardization and access to communication has resulted in enormous all round economic growth. Starting with the standardization of canals and railroads dimensions to a standard voltage and plug form for electricity distribution he explains how industries have created new opportunities and moved on to deliver value in non-traditional ways. He talks about how Thomas A. Edison, the inventor of the light bulb and holder of a few hundred patents, failed in trying to protect his Intellectual Property by trying to trash rivals and draws parallels to more recent efforts of companies which try to protect their IP and hypocritically participate in community development. You wouldn't expect Mr. Schwartz to defend FOSS in anything but the strongest terms and he delivers in a manner which will gladden the hearts of this increasingly visible community.

Technicolor Tools

January 23, 2006

Wow. Steve at Slayeroffice.com has an amazing color palette generator based on the design technique of Andy Clark . You enter a hex code value for a color, then another to mix it with, and out comes a beautiful png graphic of the color scheme. Extremely nice work, Steve. This is a great resource for brainstorming color schemes. I've used a number of other methods, but this one gets the prize. Ok, so the color palette generator at wellstyled (shown) is even better. I still recommend one extension of the techniques: take a scheme you like and use Photoshop to adjust the hue locally, and generate as many versions as you need (perhaps for clients or your boss). Then it's even easier to get ideas. If your'e a new web designer, that's a good enough reason on its own to downlo ad a trial of Photoshop , I think.

Where Does Your Favorite Organization Fit?

January 23, 2006

From Emily's World comes an updated rundown of the "digital divide" among nonprofits. Where does your nonprofit fit? Now, what are you going to do about?

The Internet is a War Weapon

January 23, 2006

An interesting article from the Washington Post, (via Kenyanpundit ) : African Rebels Take Their Battles Online .

Don't Make Me Think

January 23, 2006

There are very few web design books that have any currency after about 2 years. Very few. And half of these are notable because their very outdatedness is instructive. The rare remaining 50% of this minority of web design books is the "on-every-designer's-shelf" collection. Among them is certainly Steve Krugman's "Don't Make Me Think: A Common Sense Approach to Web Usability." It is, he writes, a book for "people in the trenches — the designers, the developers, the site producers, the project managers, the marketing people, ... and the one man band people who are doing it themselves." The rule, "don't make me think" is an obvious principle, but it can be translated many ways. One great translation is the user's maxim 'the more difficult it is to use, the less I will use it." You must design for users, not yourself. Always second guess your new aesthetic vision, and, if at all possible, conduct a usability test with real users. Another reformulation of the main theme is "no one cares as much about your site as you do." And really, it doesn't matter to users if they understand everything about your site. (This is difficult for many developers, who are intensely interested in how online stuff works.) Users want to know how to use…

"Decolonizing Cyberspace"

January 23, 2006

I had the pleasure of spending this weekend with Ndesanjo Macha ( English Blog / Kiswahili Blog / Profile at Global Voices ) in Greensboro, N.C., about an hour from my house in the woods near Pittsboro. We're working together on a Kiswahili translation of WordPress, the excellent open source platform for this website. We are fortunate to have the aid of the great invisible WordPress translator's community, which has collaboratively published at least a couple ( 1 2 ) of essential how-to's. Also there is of course the PoEdit team (mostly programmer Vaclav Slavik , I think), which makes the software that edits the software. Do you guys sell T-shirts, or what? Any techno- or translation-minded folks please email chris at nonprofitdesign dot org. Help translate your favorite Open Source software into a new language. I'm hoping we'll be finished with it pretty soon, and we'll be promoting it to the 30-80 million estimated Kiswahili-speakers in the world. (Mostly in Kenya, Tanz. and Uganda: here's a wikipedia article about Swahili.) In the meanwhile, I've transferred him to a shiny Wordpress 2.0 blog. It's embargoed for now, but his new domain will resolve in a few days. He's excited about WordPress because Google's Blogger…

Google Rankings and "Canonical" URLs (technical)

January 12, 2006

Finally some useful help from the "celebrity engineer" Matt Cutts, one of the few people in the world that has had intimate relations with the Google Pagerank algorithm. (EDIT: He also happens to use Wordpress, not Blogger. Hmmm.) This is a description of how to best reference your urls in order to ensure that Google understands them clearly. (the corresponding clarity, is designed — clearly — to increase your rank.) From the blog of Cutts: Roger Johannsen at 456 Berea St. (web design) says he adds 1. RewriteCond %{HTTP_HOST} ^456bereastreet . com NC RewriteRule ^(.*) http://www.456bereastreet.com/$1 R=301,L to his htaccess file in order to ensure that "www" is added to all requests for a page on his server. Great work. Great post. Thanks, Matt and Roger.

RIP: The Committee to Protect Bloggers(?)

January 12, 2006

The Committee to Protect Bloggers is shutting down! Can anyone help? The CPB has long been (um, in internet terms, I mean, that being all of 2005) a great resource for finding information about "blogging under fire." From their website, the CPB has several main purposes: 1.) A clearinghouse for information on incarcerated members of our community, as well as those whose lives have been taken from them because of their enthusiasm for the free exchange of information that blogging allows. 2.) A pressure group to force governments to free imprisoned bloggers, and make restitution for tortured and murdered ones. 3.) CPB will bring to bear the formidable communicative power of the blogosphere to keep pressure on governments to stop arresting and abusing bloggers and to mitigate or reverse measures designed to restrict speech. 4.) CPB will act as direct agents in negotiations to free imprisoned bloggers. If you are interested and able, please visit their site or email them. (FYI. I have no connection to CPB)

What a Relief: Google Maps for Mac

January 10, 2006

This is minor news in most contexts: Google Earth (the software power tool that feels like a toy) has been released for the Mac. Aside from the obvious usefulness of this release, this signals a money-where-their-mouth-is confirmation thae Google isn't just reinforcing Microsoft's monopolistic dominance. Google has offered a wealth of opportunities for open source, multi-platform development. But their unusual business model (offer almost everything for free) means that they've been targeting the largest mass of computer users — Microsoft-bound users, that is. As (Open Source Journalist) Glyn Moody wrote recently: Glad to see that little bit of criticism go so out of date so quickly. Now, Google, a Linux release, please. Via: The Map Room: Google Earth for Mac Officially Released Key system requirements: OS X 10.4 (Tiger), a 400-MHz processor, and 16 MB of video RAM, minimum — essentially, even a G3 iBook from mid-2002 should be able to handle it — but they recommend more than 1.5 GHz, 32 megs of video and a fairly speedy broadband connection. I've been restraining myself from acquiring the leaked beta, but I'm going to download it now.

Mapping Bird Flu

January 09, 2006

I have spent an awful lot of (relative) time writing about maps in this space over the last month, but this one really caught my eye. Declan Butler has recently worked with the journal Nature to publish a map of the H5N1 avian influenza virus outbreaks over the last two years. He used some data from various government sources, an MS Access database, and the ever popular (astoundingly fun) Google Earth application. This is why the new breed of online maps are such wonderful tools for creating understanding: With a little technical work (and perhaps a lot of fact-checking), you can create simple yet information-rich presentation of a pandemic that is affecting millions. Good writeups of the new map can be found on the Nature website and at WorldChanging . (You can find details of the programming side on Declan's Blog .) The trendiness of "mashups" is frustrating to me when I see it only being applied to giving superfluous but super-detailed information about movie times and local gas prices. In this anticapitalist, curmudegonly spirit I appreciate journalist Glyn Moody's alternative description of Google Earth "conceptually simple scaffolding for other data to be brought together and displayed." As he points out in his…

Web Developer's Handbook: developing web-sites, exploring own imagination | CSS, Color Tools, SEO, Usability etc.

January 06, 2006

The reason I love web design so much is that anyone can do it. The web is just full of tutorials, examples and geeks on call. Here's a massive resource of good links. It's well organized and through, but it also manages to focus on reputable sources of information. Put this one in your bookmarks if you want to learn about putting your information on the web: Web Developer's Handbook: developing web-sites, exploring own imagination | CSS, Color Tools, SEO, Usability etc.

Just a few ICT4D Listservs

January 04, 2006

Listservs are always so easy to miss. Sometimes they're a joy and sometimes they're dead, but they're always elusive, popping up just when you think you know every fold of your little online landscape. So, at the risk of being pedestrian, here's a few quick links from super-excited Carole .

Sign Your Name for Open Maps

January 03, 2006

All state-collected geographic information should be shared, for a myriad of reasons. Now you can add your name to a growing list of folks that agree. Visit: Open Access to State-collected Geodata

Web Developer Toolbar Reaches 1.0 Release

January 03, 2006

R. Johansson says it best. This is the single most important tool any web developer can have.

Community Mapping Network (CMN)

January 03, 2006

The Community Mapping Network (CMN)provides an online mapping application that allows folks in British Columbia, Canada, to create and edit information about environmental resources in their areas. The application is used for sustainable city planning efforts and other types of environmentally-sensitive decision making. Perhaps more interestingly, the CMN also hosts a directory of international projects, which you can contact and volunteer with if you're so inclined. These are mostly intended to "collect natural resource information about fish and wildlife species and sensitive riparian, fresh water and marine habitats." It's a Canadian grassroots effort, and it's a wonderful thing to see. I especially like their broader mission to empower communities environmentally: I love this site and their model (although some of their Macromedia ColdFusion mapping applications didn't work on my computer.) I believe that this type of project might be feasible for other types of community projects or collaboratives. Perhaps GPS cellphones and some server-side GIS could make a popular urban system investigating, perhaps, an environmental justice problem.

Internationalizing your Web Site

December 30, 2005

Not that I have followed any of this advice yet, but here's a thoughtful article about preparing websites for an international audience from Molly Holzschlag : There are certainly many reasons this is true, but as more and more Web sites realize the benefits of bringing their products and services to diverse, global markets, the more demand there will be on Web designers and developers to understand how to put the World into World Wide Web. The entire article: 24 ways: Putting the World into "World Wide Web"

Google's Librarian Newsletter Offers New Explanation of Pagerank

December 30, 2005

Google has a new librarian's newsletter that offers a nice clear (and brief) look at how their rankings work. Nice to see a little bit of transparency from the behemoth Google, which is known to be more than a little secretive about its algorithms. This doesn't actually, clear things up entirely, but it is Google's clearest, simplest explanation yet of how things work. Being visible on the web is essential for anyone with good information to share. If you're a nonprofit, activist, artist, or otherwise a force for good, you should know how to make your website prominent. From the introduction: Read the newsletter: Google Librarian Center

Sino-Blogosphere is on the Map

December 28, 2005

Ethan Zuckerman notes that the Chinese are starting to show up in (blog search engine) Technorati.com. www.ethanzuckerman.com: 12 Reasons to Learn Chinese

Beautiful Maps of Africa

December 21, 2005

Just discovered a beautiful resource of maps (mostly environmental info, especially soil) for most of the countries of Africa. (Found via Kikuyumoja ’ s realm .) This is an incredibly thorough, high-quality resource, with scanned resolutions that will knock any map-lover's socks off. The pages are easy to navigate, with appropriately-sized thumbnails and then really large downloadables. Suitable for framing. And repurposing with overlaid data. Here's a bit from their intro: Maps made in the past remain the backbone for present and future studies. ... Less and less new, fundamental soil data are being produced these days; the older data and information are being pumped around more and more. Therefore it is vital to preserve the older data (in this case maps) as they are building blocks of most current soil information. The user of present-day, derived information should have easy access to the source material, if only to assess the reliability of the derived material. But, in many countries, soil maps are being lost because of lack of proper attention to storage and retrieval ... This problem is acute in developing and transitional countries where valuable data, currently only available on paper, must be digitized before they…

Mobile Web Design: Tips & Techniques (Technical)

December 20, 2005

Web Designers everywhere are taking a break. Sometime about 5 years ago people began to realize the frustrating limits of web development because the existing standards were so poorly followed by existing browsers. It was something like what Frost said about "poetry without rhyme is like playing tennis without a net." Which is to say, no fun at all. Online communication has progressed steadily since then, and now we have wonderful fruits like "AJAXy goodness" and other Web 2.0 technologies to reap. So take a break from griping about Netscape vs. Internet Explorer. But Google Maps (etc.) being accomplished, we're looking for ever greater technologies. The next frontier of web development is the mobile browser — the web in a cell phone. The concept of the mobile web has been huge this year, and it is now taken as a fact that most internet users in the next 5 years will be getting online for the first time through their cell phones. And so, with that in mind, here's a great series of articles from designer Cameron Moll that looks at the background of the mobile web and explores the specifics of developing +designing reliable, readable sites for really, really small screens. Mobile Web Design: Tips & Techniques ~ Authentic…

Updated Tactics for Making Your Information Findable

December 20, 2005

This kind of stuff is (Search Engine Optimization, or SEO) is relevant to every website, but I think that nonprofits and do-gooders can use it the most. Here's a chance to brush-up, as the rules change slightly every day. The point is this: Via: 8 essential search engine marketing techniques | 456 Berea Street

Evaluating ICT Impact With An Eye on Gender

December 20, 2005

Last week a 2004 article turned up on Eldis: a consideration of how to measure the impact of ICTs in women's lives. The article begins with a great discussion of what a gender perspective means for people working with technologies of communication. (It cites the United Nations as finding that ICT access is the third most important issue facing women, after violence and poverty.) The conclusion of the study is essentially that those who implement ICTs must take into consideration the real lives and conditions of women, else they are liable to perpetuate inequaliy. I found it especially important that they emphasize the necessity of involving women (indeed all stakeholders in the program equally) in the design and implementation process. This connects fundamentally with a participatory evaluation approach, the concept that you have to (in the author's words): Via Eldis .

The Digital Dashboard: Graphing ICT Change

December 19, 2005

Here's an interesting feature from a nonprofit organization called the gov3 Network , which appears to be a kind of ICT government consultancy. They have a interesting feature on their website that dynamically draws data comparing a country (of your choice) to other countries with regard to their ICT-sector growth. Put a country and comparison region into this Digital Dashboard , and the result is a data-dense graph that is intended to give governments a sense of how quickly they are moving in the right (or wrong) direction for growing their tech sector. I think this could be a useful tool, but I'm wary of private organizations seeking (lobbying?) for "more proper" regulation of the ICT sector as being a thin veil for simply giving opportunity to industry, not people. That said, they have a stated interest in promoting "a people-centred, inclusive and development-oriented Information Society.Also, they've recently won an award at WSIS for DirectGov , a website that brings together a mess of information about UK government services.

Web Design: Learning to Problem Solve with Mezzoblue's CSS Crib Sheet

December 16, 2005

Learning to use CSS can make you insane if you don't have a good instructor. And who does? Some of the best advice I've ever gotten about web communication relates to debugging your code: you have to learn to problem solve efficiently. Enter Mezzoblue's CSS Crib Sheet , may it's url never expire. I also recommend the attendant conversation , which has whole shmear of mostly excellent advice (I don't recommend removing your DOCTYPE permanently, as one contributor recommends. Everything else is golden advice on this page.)

Beautiful Packaging, Ugly Statistics

December 16, 2005

Recently in my commutes to work I've been using these incredible flash-based, interactive representations of development statistics. (Don't worry, I ride the bus.) These modules, created by a Swedish group called Gapminder, are attractively designed and highly educational. I have long been a great fan of sharp design in the interest of development. These are as great a communication tool as I have ever seen. From the Gapminder website:

Cheap groupware for web-based project managment

December 15, 2005

Basecamp , a lovely organizational tool for groups that are working together on the web, now offers and ftp service for its paid plans, which I think makes it much more useful (you don't need your own ftp server). New to Basecamp? In short: it's a great way to work together with a team of people on a projects that have lots of little deadlines. It's also nice for keeping track of personal projects. Great for freelancers and nonprofits for use as a private just-add-water network. It's not open source, and only the single-project plan is free, but it sure is easy to use. Go get some good done.

Combatting Poverty (and ICT fads)

December 15, 2005

I've been reading an excellent report from Eldis (an incredible clearinghouse of development information) about the implementation of ICT programs in developing countries. In part the report seeks to question some conventional wisdom about the necessity of trendy technologies. On the whole it is a great synopsis of practical research with a clearheaded focus on poverty elimination. I recommend the full text pdf , and here's a bit from the executive report: This report reviews the evidence on how (or if) ICTs should be used in support of poverty reduction exercises. There is one characteristic that is common to most of the ICT-related poverty alleviation programs. It finds that the most effective ICTs used are typically basic ones‚ telephone and radio are most common, and when computers or the Internet are involved, they are for restricted, targeted uses. It finds several common characteristics of successful projects: View the original page: Eldis - ICT for Development

Developments - The International Development Magazine - Only connect

December 13, 2005

I've just been getting into a magazine called "Developments: The International Development Magazine." It features respectable journalists writing informed pieces about new issues in international development. The most recent issue is a great bit about Open Source Software and the impact of free programs in the developing world. I appreciate the E.M. Forester reference in the title of this editorial note, "Only Connect," which is from Howard's End. The full text is: "Only connect! That was the whole of her sermon. Only connect the prose and the passion, and both will be exalted, and human love will be seen at its height. Live in fragments no longer. " Another favorite Forester truism, from Passage to India, is that "Ideas are fatal to caste." But there is some irony I think in sticking Forester in here, considering his great distopian story "The Machine Stops," ( full text ) in which human progress has "come to mean the progress of the Machine," and everyone has thousands of meaningless, connections with friends they have never met. Sidney Perkowitz has an excellent discussion of Forester's views of technology and "The Machine Stops;" here's a bit (via American Prospect): And so, with some appreciation of situational humor and…

PodcasterCon.org is coming up

December 08, 2005

Brian Russell of Audio Activism is putting together (along with a bunch of help, I'm sure he would modestly point out) the next Podcaster Conference in NC. I missed it last year, but I love the idea of a unconference: "The event will not have traditional speakers, commercial product pitches, or bags full of conference swag. The event will have free food and drink, pre-organized sessions, and will be conducted in an unconference style." If you want to learn about the wonderful world of grassroots audio production and how it's getting along, then check it out and come un-network. Where: 116 Murphey Hall, UNC, Chapel Hill, NC When: Saturday, January 7, 2006 11am - 4pm Register/Info: PodcasterCon.org

Digital Libraries for Education

November 28, 2005

The Digital Library for Earth Systems Education is a good example of the potential for using the web as a community repository of educational resources. Unlike some of the other educational websites I've seen (which typically distribute prepackaged course materials), the DLESE has a strong emphasis on community input. Having been around since 2001, it has a pretty extensive selection of resources, most of them related to the natural sciences (from the Mars rover to tsunamis). I have seen some discussion recently about the value of this type of resource in areas like New Orleans, where entire libraries have been lost. It's not difficult to extend this logic to the context of Liberia or Pakistan, though we have a little way to go before this type of resource is widely multilingual and accessible to teachers worldwide. Have a visit: Digital Library for Earth System Education

ICT4D Africa Scan: An Inventory of ICT Activity in Africa

November 23, 2005

The ICT4D (Informaiton and Communication Technology for Development) Africa Scan is a serious undertaking that seeks to provide a reference of the major ICT development activities in Africa. This is a useful place for researchers to begin when attempting to understand the current pace and direction of technology development work on the continent. The result is currently not a comprehensive inventory, but an illustration of the potential of using geographic, thematic and partnership information to not only provide an inventory or a snapshot of ICT4D activity in Africa, but to begin to see trends in terms of emerging themes, in terms of countries and regions of specialisation, in terms of partnerships, etc.

eRiders Are Taking Off, I Hope

November 18, 2005

Initially, an eRider ' s focus will be on smoothening normal operational activities within an organisation. As the relationship develops, the eRider will encourage a more strategic approach to technology, and new program delivery innovations may become available through technology. Internet & ICTs for Social Justice and Development News - APC

Windmills for Wi-Fi

November 17, 2005

Free Nonprofit Webhosting

November 17, 2005

If you need a free place to host your website, make sure you check out AmbitiousLemon . They look very good at what they do; they at least have a very capable open source software setup on their server, with Ruby On Rails, PHP, Perl, Apache etc. : If you are a nonprofit that needs discounted web design, then visit, nonprofitdesign.org (which I run, in addition to this site.)

Open Source Software in the Developing World

November 17, 2005

(Via infoDev: http://www.infodev.org/content/library/detail/837 )

The Evolution of the Library: a Tool of Development

November 12, 2005

... " The digitizing of books is a tremendously important public policy discussion. In the future, most research and learning is going to take place in a digital world. Material that does not exist in digital form will effectively disappear . We need to decide whether we are going to allow the development of new technology to be used as a tool to restrict the public's access to knowledge, or if we are going to ensure that people can find these works and that they will be preserved for future generations." If digitizing books is becoming essential to preserving them, then we are getting that much closer to a world where the highest quality information (as opposed to the internet, which is a at best a chaotic database), is reproducible for free: what a wonderful thing. Now we just have to get over out 200-year-old copyright model and recognize a broader, public use for information. The library-building tycoons of the 19th century did it, so why can't we? Library Thing, a new bit of software, for example, allows users to easily catalogue their books like so:

People Tagging with Tagalag

November 12, 2005

See also the recent surge of interest in Facebook, which about 80 percent of college kids are using. (No, really, 80 percent — I've seen other numbers that confirm this phenomenon.): Facebook Users sure are Passionate

Location-aware en masse

November 12, 2005

Google Earmarks $265 Million for Charity and Social Causes

November 12, 2005

Ok, now who can write grant proposals? From today's NYT:

Study Says Software Makers Supply Tools to Censor Web

November 12, 2005

The misuse of good technology. Or perhaps just the use of bad technology.

Five fun facts from Broadband Wiki

November 12, 2005

Did you know that Iceland is only behind South Korea, Netherlands and Denmark in Internet penetration, and 84% of its households have Internet connection? Australia adds 40,000 broadband connections every month. In Spain, you can get a 20 megabit/second connection for $36 a month and that includes free phone service and a wifi router from a company called Jazztel. Nearly 60% of Indians get their broadband at cyber cafes that dot the country? Uruguay ’ s telecom monopoly sells a 512/256 kbps connection for $190 a month." Read it: Five fun facts from Broadband Wiki (Found on: Om Malik's Broadband Blog .)

Computers Twice Wasted

November 12, 2005

A recent article in the New York Times discusses a report that computers are being "improperly recycled" (read: dumped) on developing countries as a way to avoid the expense of refurbishing them before redistribution. "Too often, justifications of 'building bridges over the digital divide' are used as excuses to obscure and ignore the fact that these bridges double as toxic waste pipelines," says the report. As a result, Nigeria and other developing nations are carrying a disproportionate burden of the world's toxic waste from technology products, according to Jim Puckett, coordinator of the group. According to the National Safety Council, more than 63 million computers in the United States will become obsolete in 2005. An average computer monitor can contain as much as eight pounds of lead, along with plastics laden with flame retardants and cadmium, all of which can be harmful to the environment and to humans." This is an obvious insult to those who end up with the broken computers — which are presumably also an environmental hazard because of the heavy metals in a monitors and chassis. But this issue has a more important point in the discussions of the "$100 Laptop" prototype being developed at MIT, one major criticism has…

More accounts of the 1-Laptop-Per-Child Laptop at MIT

November 12, 2005

Here's another update on the laptop debate/idea from Ethan Zuckerman, the ICT-blogger-fellow at Harvard. He usefully recounts the point of the new prototypical $100 laptop as being a radical step toward computer-aided learning in developing countries. I appreciate his skepticism about the project, especially his explicit reference to the late, not-so-great simputer idea, which bombed because of economics. You know, that pesky money thing. Always a problem when dealing with poverty. here's a bit: "

Welcome Back to WordPress

November 10, 2005

Things are back in order here. Again, WordPress rocks. Thanks to all the good people there who work on this project and make a wholly excellent open source blogging platform.

Technical Difficulties

November 05, 2005

Sorry for the lack of post in the last month. We've had several large projects at Nonprofitdesign.org, and (more relevantly) I've had a major database snafu. I'm switching to WordPress , an elegant, open source platform based on php. I should've done it a long time ago.

Participatory Design

October 03, 2005

I am currently researching a field of design known as "Participatory Design" that has a fascinating history (dealing with Scandinavian labor unions) and a very promising future. In short, PD is about incorporating the user in the design process from day one. The resulting ideas and workflows are, in my mind, incredibly powerful tools for working on any project. My focus is web development. Most of my interest in this concept comes from my day job at a nonprofit evaluation firm — we do "collaborative evaluation" to help programs develop. The concepts are largely the same, and I'm just trying to apply them to web design and the development of usable, useful online tools. This process is intimately involved with many of the same user-centered concerns that preoccupy other ICT-development folks, such as the advocates of free and open-source software. The center of the world for PD is the organization Computer Professionals for Social Responsibility . They have a site dedicated to PD resources .

ICT in Education

September 25, 2005

The Scottish government has an excellent collection of resources regarding the use of Information Communication Technology in classrooms. They have multi-part articles grouped by subject (Biology, Drama, Physics), and examples of how, for example, you can show students living cells using microscope and digital camera, or how to use the internet to teach French. Most of it is not Scotland-specific, though they do feature Scottish schools. My major criticism of the site is that it doesn't explore low-cost options (such as using open source software). Correspondingly, this site won't be as useful in less-developed countries. That said, it is a great example of free, user-friendly tutorials for "best practices" education. Here's the site: www.ltscotland.org.uk - Secondary

Blogger Handbook Chat

September 23, 2005

As a follow up to the previous post (see just below this one) please be 'ware that Global Voices is hosting an online (IRC) discussion of the handbook on Tuesday at 15:00 GMT (that's 11:00 AM, New York time). New to IRC chatting? It's simple. Here's instructions from the ground up: Connect to irc.freenode.net. How exactly you do this will depend on which client you install, but you should be able to find support pages online for any good client program. (In Chatzilla, all you do is type irc://irc.freenode.net into your Firefox browswer window - but this only works after you ’ ve downloaded the Chatzilla plugin.)

The "Dissident" Blogger Handbook

September 22, 2005

Reporters Without Borders has today released a wonderful handbook of international blogging. The 84-page guide includes sections that discuss the basics of blogs and blogging terminology, and it moves quickly into a serious how-to guide for blogging anonymously and blogging successfully. This is a first for the international blogging community, and I am certain that it will receive an extremely warm welcome. The guide begins with general discussion of the role of blogs and basic blogging terminology. This is hardly revolutionary coverage, but the writing is solid, with sections from very reputable sources in the international online media scene. There is also a good section on choosing the right blogging platform, getting things setup to make the search engines happy, and a lot of serious advice on "making your blog shine." There are a few problems in the text, notably the failure to mention several key blogging platforms available for international use. (They mention MSN but not Typepad??) Also, I think there is not adequate description of the differences between a hosted blog service (Like Blogger) and a blogging platform that you have to install on your server (Like Movable Type.) But by far the most inspiring part of the…

Yahoo Participates in Chinese Censorship

September 19, 2005

Recently, the mega search engine Yahoo! collaborated with Chinese authorities in jailing Chinese journalist Shi Tao for allegedly distributing state secrets. Apparently Yahoo has taken the initiative to provide the journalist's email address and IP address in order to link him to posts and emails that he was making while distributing information. Why is Yahoo participating in the Chinese censorship program? Because it's good business. Yesterday Rebecca MacKinnon took the time to illustrate exactly what it's like to search for "Tiananmen Massacre" on the Chinese Yahoo.

Raising International Awareness Through Innovative Cartography

September 14, 2005

Being a great way to communicate quickly, maps can also be incredibly dense with information. When they are put to a wholesome use, maps, like apple pie and puppies, deserve to have a special place in every home. Take, for example, the incredible work coming out of the Dutch group Mapping Worlds . They've beautifully mapped global poverty, international migration, and civil conflict. They even have a special section of maps for Millennium Development Goals! These Nederlanders have their act together. This is their fabulous map of the failed funding effort being undertaken by the developed world for poverty relief. (You can find a larger one on their site . You know you want to.) It's shameful, really. If you enjoy this and have a second or two, be sure to toy with their animated, more robust version at the Center For Global Development, where they have mapped an index of international commitment to the Development Goals. No really, check that last link, it's fantastic. Here's what they say about this project: The Commitment to Development Index reminds the world that reducing poverty in developing countries is about far more than giving money. Trade, investment, migration, security, environment, and technology policies…

Geeks Responding to Katrina: Relief 2.0

September 14, 2005

Ethan Zuckerman is one of the best bloggers in the world; he must get paid by Harvard to do it, or something. (He does.) His musing last week on the ICT/geek community's response to the Katrina relief effort is a fascinating look at how we can potentially respond with the full weight of technology's resources. Most notably, Ethan has been recently instrumental in organizing and developing the Katrina Peoplefinder database (in record time, no less), which exceeded 100,000 entries in the first week of September. I think that this is, for once, an example of how activism in a purely digital sense can in fact be utterly essential, not a trival, isolated indulgence. What is amazing is that this activism has been the work of a very loosely organized group of more than 2,000 people all over the world. The work done by organizers was largely administrative - they assigned various "chunks" of data from fragmented bulletin boards to volunteers who put standardized information into a central database. This I think, was impressively smart, and it needs to be replicated in many other contexts, present and future. And I believe that the folks involved in the development of the project are acutely aware of this need, and they are taking…

What if the Flood Was in Washington?

September 10, 2005

Andy Carvin, director of the Digital Divide Network, recently posted a fascinating, heartbreaking perspective just how much damage has been done. He found the images at a strange condo site, condobuzz.com . The images are overlays of the flooding with other metropolitan areas. (Note this is just the flooding . The hurricane damages, if in the midwest, would reach from Detroit to Chicago.) Andy's excellent, popular, collaborative Katrina blog is here: http://katrina05.blogspot.com/ Below are Washington and Winston-Salem, NC. (My native state.) Click to enlarge.

Google Maps: Is My House Underwater?

September 06, 2005

Kathyn Cramer, based in New York, is doing great work with Google maps. The following information is quoted from her blog . If the address you are checking is fairly centrally located, you can also check your address image against the DigitalGlobe satellite picture of the flooding. For more detailed instructions, visit her blog .

GIS and Humanitarian Crisis

September 02, 2005

With a nod to International Blogging for Disaster Relief Day (Friday, Sept. 2). ... Crossposted on the DDN list. I am beginning research into ways in which mapping technologies like GIS ( wikipedia: GIS ) are being used (and can potentially be used) to help avert or cope with humanitarian disasters. The tragedy of New Orleans has given me some insight into the potential and limitations for this use of geospatial technologies. Thanks to Andy Carvin for applying his blogging/networking skills to this problem and prompting this line of thinking ( The Katrina Aftermath Blog ) . Recent discussion on the Digital Divide List of geocoded pictures has also been stimulating. GIS is a sophisticated, robust technology that is being used to map and analyze data in numerous fields, especially environmental studies and public health. One of the most compelling features of GIS research is that it takes advantage of the contemporary wealth of data that is collected by all kinds of environmental monitors. (eg: weather is monitored constantly, and thus existing weather datasets can be mapped geospatially to discover, for example, patterns in flooding or to predict the best time to plant crops.) New Orleans has for some time been the subject of…

Godcasting

August 29, 2005

Ever since the first Vatican broadcast of a sermon on the radio in 1931, there has been little doubt about the power of broadcast media as a part of religious practice. Contemporary "church-theatres" (typically the kind with the lights and music shows) are taking the role of media much more seriously, and it appears that they're adapting to some of the most advanced uses of ICT in the world. In an article in today's New York Times , it's noted that individual podcasts from sites like theatrechurch.com and godcast.com are attracting thousands of subscribers worldwide. That's a number that's relatively unheard of at this point in the podcasting evolution. What is happening is that these communities, already acclimated to the idea of technology-aided practices, are becoming heavily invested in using everything at their disposal to achieve their mission. But I think the point in all this is more than just an impressive development in the religious sector. The willingness of religious groups to adapt to podcasting and other ICT-based forms of community practice means that this is viable — that this really works. Podcasting and blogging's implications have thus far been clear to a few geeks and technologists, but there is, at…

Cellphones in Africa

August 25, 2005

Today's New York Times carries a front-page article about the growth of the cell phone industry in Africa. The article is as well-written a summary of the communications crisis in Africa as I have ever read — though it is an undeniably, perhaps inexplicably, upbeat assessment of the curent growth trend in cell phone use. The article begins by describing the difficulties faced by a rural farmer in Johnanesburg: Fetching water from the river takes four hours a day. To cook, she gathers sticks and musters a fire. Light comes from candles. But when Ms. Skhakhane wants to talk to her husband, who works in a steel factory 250 miles away in Johannesburg, she does what many in more developed regions do: she takes out her mobile phone. Author Shanon LaFranierie did a great job of putting this together, I think, but again the upbeat assessment tends to make the issue more of a spectacle than an outrage. Which it is. Take, for example, the fact that the woman described in the lead actually has the money for only five minutes of calls per month — a pretty slim communication system indeed. There is also the fact that while Africa now has the highest percentage of cell phone users relative to land lines, that doesn't mean much when…

This Island Blog. (Or, What the Hell is a Blog?)

August 05, 2005

Your dear author recently posted about the ambivalence and misunderstanding that abounds with regard to the concept of RSS. Based on this weeks hilarious (in a laughing-at-you, not-with-you way) usability survey of blogging from Catalyst Group Design, blogging (yes, the entire concept) is about a mainstream as the Kabbalah. The people they interviewed (about 25 of them) were smart folks in a wealthy, highly industrialized country. They used the internet all the time. But when they came to a normal blog, they were stumped. They asked: What kind of a website is this? What are these categories? Are they organized chronologically? These are not stupid questions — they just sound stupid to folks who work with blog publishing software. The point is this, geeks: people don't understand what blogs are. They don't know how to use them effectively and, often, they don't know how to read them. They certainly don't know how to subscribe to them via RSS. If you are a blogger, this may be a difficult concept for you to accept. It was for me. But ask around. Ask your friends who aren't geeks. Ask the people at work. I'll bet you a dollar they don't know what a blog is. I'll bet five they don't read them, and I'll bet you ten they would…

Measuring ICT Literacy

August 03, 2005

Educational Testing Services — they're the folks that make the SAT and GRE — has a new test for ICT literacy. Despite a humorously useless Flash intro, the test appears to be fully baked. The sample questions on the ETS website look at the ways a test-taker would represent and evaluate information in an online context. Test taking is boring. It's a boring subject. But you can't direct change in any environment without having some feedback. So this investment in ICT literacy evaluation is good to see. Give them a visit: ETS ICT Literacy Assessment Tests Information and Communication Technology Proficiency and Computer Skills

Online Resources for Evaluation Nonprofit Programs

August 03, 2005

Here's a link to a nice comparison of Google Scholar and Scrius. It points out that Google Scholar has become neglected and is no longer updated regularly. This is a super-unfortunate development; Google is the web's best hope for easy, inexpensive archiving of scholarly research. (In other news, however, Amazon is now offering scholarly articles for a fee. It's easy — they're delivered electronically, but they aren't cheap — about $5.00 per article.) Here's the link to the Google article: Scholarly Web Searching: Google Scholar and Scirus

Online Resources for Evaluation Nonprofit Programs

July 29, 2005

Evaluation is an important, albeit rarefied, science of promoting nonprofit organizations. Do you need to measure the effectiveness of a specific program — or your entire organization? Well, there's an entire discipline devoted to helping you do just that. Unfortunately, as with most rarefied, important sciences, the "discipline" part tends to mean something more like "punishment," rather than "a codified mode of study." At any rate, doing a real, formal evaluation of a program is still better than wasting your time doing something that's useless, fruitless, a waste of energy or just a sham. So here's a buch of resources from the internet to help you get going for free. Thanks for this post go to Joyce B. Morris and David Colton, Ph.D., from the EvalTALK Listserv. Taking Stock: A Practical Guide to Evaluating Your Own Programs The 2002 User-Friendly Handbook for Project Evaluation Tools for Planning, Implementation, and Evaluation "Also, there are some good, free resources on the Internet and from state and federal government agencies. For example, you can order "Introduction to Program Evaluation for Comprehensive Tobacco Control Programs" (2001) from the CDC (www.cdc.gov/tobacco). Don't be turned off by the reference to…

Qualitative Analysis Software Reviews

July 29, 2005

Perhaps not what you've been waiting for all year — an extensive resource for researching various qualitative data analysis programs — but if you're in a research environment, this is actually extremely helpful. This page is from a university in the U.K., and would be useful if you're about to sink a few hundred dollars in some software (which will in turn play an important part in your research, of course.) Research it: CAQDAS (New Media Methods @ Loughborough University)

A New Online Journal

July 29, 2005

As of April, there is a new journal devoted to researching the (primarily sociological) aspects of Technology's influence. It's free, how lovely: Human Technology: An interdisciplinary Journal on Humans in ICT Environments

Only 2% of Developers are Women

July 27, 2005

A Major O'Reilly Open Source Convention next week in Portland (OR) is hosting a panel of women developers (Update- It's even worse; women's representation in IT generally has gone down 20% since 1994. )

Databases with Purpose

July 25, 2005

This post from Tech Soup is a good, brief introduction to the use of databases in your organization. The author of this article (a nice techie from ONE/Northwest) finds that you should really call in the professional to get things set up — I would agree, but don't let that keep you from learning how to use it. A database is an investment of time that can really pay off, especially if you have been managing your donor lists, inventory, etc. by hand. But that means you need to know how to use it. Make sure to check the entire selection of articles about nonprofit databases at Tech Soup. Here's a bit from the overview: While it's no simple task, developing a basic Web site made up of pages of text and images is usually a job that can be taken on by the staff of a nonprofit organization, hopefully with a little help from a professional designer who can aid in the development of the site's look and feel. Implementing advanced features on your site, however, will most likely require a level of expertise that doesn't make sense for your organization to internalize. The goal of this article is to explain the benefits of database-driven Web pages as well as the possibilities and vocabulary involved to help you make informed decisions…

Exporting Technology, Exporting Ideas

July 21, 2005

Summary: There is a new, exciting model for programs exporting technology to the developing world. But the real issue is about education, not just setting up a rural network. Here's an example: Geekcorps , founded by techie Ethan Zuckerman with his cash-out-quick money from now-defunct Tripod.com (remember them?), is sending folks to Africa, Eastern Europe and Latin America to live out a kind of Peace Corps for nerds. It's ... exactly like that, actually, so much so that the Peace Corp reportedly has plans to create a nerd project sounding very similar to Geekcorps. Likewise, Carnegie Mellon University is starting a Technology Peace Corps , and so is the UN, which has a three-year-old ICT (Information Communication Technology) Task Force . Contemporary communications technology is central to the process of international development because it is effective — and damn efficient. Communication systems can organize political movements, prevent humanitarian disasters, strengthen communities, streamline markets and enrich education. In fact, they will do these things. Here's the point : These new groups are doing good work. Technology can work for people. It can work wonders for really poor people. Communications…

Technology for the Poor

July 14, 2005

A technology conference yesterday in England was host to a speaker Iqbal Quadir, who has sold about 100,000 cell phones to poor folks in Bangladesh. These are people who otherwise would have no digital communications, and Quadir feels that their new phones are empowering them more than the development strategies of the last 60 years. The approach is eloquently summed up on Ethan Zuckerman's blog as a bottom-up approach to economic development. Here's a bit from his recent post : I love it. But I always find it disturbing that his bottom line is productivity — the extent to which their communication means that they are participating in the market. I write this in spite of,the obvious fact that the real goal of progressive ICT is the empowerment of people, ie, the elimination of poverty. So there is always an element of market-think undergirding the need for communication. But by understanding people's lives in terms of an economic equation, there's some unquantifiable (romantic, perhaps) aspect of communications-based development that is lost. Because, after all, if we were all well fed and clothed, we'd still be suffering without the ability to communicate.

Researching Flies, and Colorblindness 101

July 13, 2005

Drosphilia researchers have a leg up on web designers. Well, at least they've got a decent explanation of colorblindness. A short paper on colorblind audiences was written a few years ago for researchers presenting their findings on the very latest in the world of flies. The guidelines are easy to understand, and the changes are easy to incorporate. Here's a bit: I would also recommend a quick look at the Ishihara test for colorblindness for a shot-in-the arm understanding. And while you're on a colorblindness kick, you'll lose blogger points if you don't read at least Day 12 of the Dive Into Accessibility website, which is the best online introduction to making your website+blog readable by everyone, except illiterates, period.

Branding Advocacy

July 11, 2005

Here's an interesting article from an old Harvard Business School Working Knowledge series. It's about branding, which from my perspective is a very diffucult thing to incorporate in online communications. Websites and emails, for example, need to reflect some kind of graphical relationship with the rest of your organization. But I think they should also reflect a "tone" of your organization and its role in the world. This article deals with these concerns in a broader sense. Here's a bit: You can read the whole thing here: HBS Working Knowledge: Social Enterprise: The Tricky Business of Nonprofit Brands

An Authoritarian "Third Way" on the Internet

July 09, 2005

There's an old dream held by certain Englishmen of the Enlightenment: the perfect prison, the panopticon. In the panopticon, every cell can be seen into by a single guard standing in the center tower. But the prisoners can't see into the guard tower. The prisoners begin to monitor themselves; they must assume that they are always being watched. The regulation of the internet has become just such a panopticon in China, where about 100 million regular internet users are dealing with an extremely sophisticated network of monitors and police-state software that regulates their activity. Worse, it appears that a rather large industry has grown up around the censorship, because all businesses realize they've got a lot to lose if their employees get busted for reading about human rights at work. So corporations, like individuals, are participating in their own punishment. It was interesting to note that this is all wholly different from (and much more successful than) other authoritarian countries, which regulate by simply restricting access. Here's a bit form the article: China's rulers foster the impression of an all-encompassing ability to monitor Internet usage. Arrests of Internet "subversives" are widely reported. And no one…

The Law and Blogging

June 28, 2005

The Electronic Frontier Foundation has just released a great "Legal Guide For Bloggers," which goes into some of the concepts that you might not be familiar with. If your organization is getting into blogging as a way to advocate your cause (and give honest PR, retain donors, keep employees up-to-date, keep volunteers enthused etc. ...), this is something to keep around the office, preferably near the water cooler, coffee pot or toilet, where it might actually get read. Those of us who did the journalism school thing can tell you: media law ain't that much fun. But it is good to know, for example, that if you quote someone saying something slanderous, you can be legally tried for libel, which is, in fact, worse. (Libel is printed, slander spoken.) As they are quick to point out: "None of this should stop you from blogging. Freedom of speech is the foundation of a functioning democracy ..." (I would also point out that it is a good thing to have in a poorly functioning democracy.) Get it: EFF: Legal Guide for Bloggers

How "Marketing" Can Help Eliminate Extreme Poverty

June 25, 2005

When Nonprofit X goes to county Y and begins handing out seeds and fertilizer to farmers as part of an agricultural intervention during a famine, how does Nonprofit X know that they aren't causing a greater problem or ignoring a better solution? Perhaps it turns out the fertilizer is more valuable when it is sold on the nearby market than it is in the ground. Perhaps microloans or digging new wells are better solutions that the population is looking for. At any rate, even in this very simple hypothetical situation, it is clear that you have to go there . You have to ask and investigate. You should, in short, behave in a manner very similar to that of a market researcher. In fact, if we undertook all of our development decisions with a rigorous marketing mindset, we'd be going in far fewer circles with misused money. This is the gist of a thought-provoking article from the Harvard Business School on the concept of marketing being used in human development situations involving poverty. I think it is especially pertinent for folks involved with technology and communications because of the heavy (though often overlooked) influence of advertising and marketing in all media. I would call this a process of evaluation, but the "marketing…

Community Informatics

June 01, 2005

The Journal of Community Informatics, a new, academic approach to community technology, is now in its third issue. It has an informative, though often long-winded, selection of peer-reviewed articles. The field is new and often misunderstood or poorly defined — which makes it much more interesting to read the various perspectives that the researcher-authors bring. Community Informatics (CI) is the study and the practice of enabling communities with Information and Communications Technologies (ICTs). CI seeks to work with communities towards the effective use of ICTs to improve their processes, achieve their objectives, overcome the "digital divides" that exist both within and between communities, and empower communities and citizens in the range of areas of ICT application including for health, cultural production, civic management, e-governance among others. The Journal of Community Informatics brings together a global range of academics, CI practitioners and national and multi-lateral policy makers. Each issue of the Journal of Community Informatics will contain double blind peer-reviewed research articles as well as commentaries by leading CI practitioners and policy makers.

(Nearly) Free Software for 501(c)3's

May 28, 2005

Techsoup just announced that they have Symantec Antivirus with multiple user licenses for under $100. (Single user licenses start at $100.) If you haven't priced antivirus software, well, that's a bad sign. Unless your'e on a Mac, but that's a different post. Bottom line is that you shouldn't be paying anything near full price for software if you have 501(c)3 status to flash. Check out the other stuff they have, most notably Alpha 5 (PC Magazines "best database" of the year), Macromedia Contribute 3 (excellent cheap way to run your website) and Dreamweaver (great web development environment). They also have Microsoft and Cisco software for a pittance. Check it out under the Techsoup Stock tab at the top of their page: TechSoup - The Technology Place for Nonprofits : "

Audio Activism

May 18, 2005

After getting back from a lecture at the most recent N-TEN Tech club meeting, I found myself enlightend as to the way of the podcast. Brian Russell is a stand-up guy doing a lot of grunt work with the development of podcasting as a tool of activist. His website does a great job of explaining the current state of the field, and of course his podcast is great: www.audioactivism.com If you are completely new to podcasting, a quick shot in the arm: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Podcasting

What The Hell Is RSS?

May 05, 2005

There's a good discussion going on now at TechSoup about how you can use technology to increase capacity of your nonprofit. Their latest focus is on RSS, which is one of the more amazing technical innovations of modern communications. If you don't know what RSS is, you're not in the loop. Most notably, you are missing two things. 1.) The ability to prrocess inhuman amounts of information on a regular basis. RSS is used by many sites to create "digests" of (a.k.a. "syndicate") their content. News sites, for example, offer these RSS "feeds" to sections of their newspaper. Once you subscribe to one, it appears in your RSS reader of choice. In the end, it's a lot like having a TiVO for your favorite sites — every time you sit down and you want to read, you have a list of updated articles in front of you. No wasting your life poking around the less glamorous parts of a newspaper page. 2.) If you have a website that is updated regularly, you can create a RSS feed so that others can subscribe to your page. This may seem a little superfluous if you don't even know what a RSS feed is. "Who would use it?" Plenty of folks will, especially over the next year or two. So start writing some engaging articles for your site. Here's a bit…

Ranking Charities = Bad Science

May 04, 2005

There is an interesting discussion going on (for some time now) over at the Stanford Social Innovation Review forum about charitable donations and the new "ranking systems" that have emerged to help the public find the most best organizations to give to. The rankings are extremely flawed in the eyes of many, and may be shaping the public valuation of the nonprofit sector in a truly unhealthy, bottom-line-obsessed manner. Here's an excerpt: Read the conversation: Stanford Social Innovation Review: Forum: The Ratings Game

Let's Send More Emails!

May 03, 2005

Here's a great resource for getting your email campaigns in a row: white papers from a consulting group that does email campaigns for a living. They're free; how nice. Download them here: Return Path Solutions for Increased Email Delivery, Performance

Email Works. It Even Has A Manifesto.

May 03, 2005

If you are investing money in a website with a social justice purpose (do, please), you of course need to be thinking about getting people to your site. Have you read The Gilbert Center's "Email Manifesto"? It is absolutely the best crystallization of the shape your online strategy should take: make your web presence personal + active. Specifically, spend some time and money on an email strategy. If you really have something that you want to get done with the web, you've got to digest this short essay. Read it: Nonprofit Online News: The Gilbert Email Manifesto (GEM)</

For-Profit NTEN?

May 03, 2005

It's rare that you see much criticism of nonprofit organizations. People are getting something done, after all, no matter what particulars you may take affront to their modus operandi. But we should all be wary of the thought-stifling, fuzzy-feeling environment that lets fundamental missions go unexamined. And it's in that spirit I that I so much appreciate David Geilhufe's recent frustrations with the increasingly for-profit nature of N-TEN's national conference. You can find his post here: Social Source Software: Where Have The Values Gone?

A Bug's-Eye View

April 25, 2005

From Digital Web Magazine (a reliable regular read), this article discusses the thought process behind designing a website. Written from the perspective of the web developer, it's also a good introduction for clients. This is a good article for nonprofit-type folks who are thinking about getting a website. Here's a bit: Read the article: Digital Web Magazine - Creating a Site Design Plan

Ivory Tower Blogs

April 23, 2005

Here's a neat article on scholarly blogs from 2003 in the Chronicle of Higher Education. It's outdated but excellent, framing the issue in real-world concerns of "academic posturing" vs. "realtime idea exchanges." Here's what I mean:

Your Nonprofit Needs A Blog

April 22, 2005

Mission-Driven nonprofits have, I think, the most to gain from blogging than any other organization or type of individual. If your organization has a site, I think you really should have a blog. There are a number of clear reasons. Seriously. The reasons to maintain a blog are all about education — which is at the center of most nonprofits' agendas. How many ways can you raise awareness and make changes in people's lives? Blogs offer a number of advantages over newspapers, magazines and flyers as mediums: They are free to print, they are easy to update and they are easily targeted to your base of stakeholders. Here's an extract from an article published for a 2004 seminar on blogging and Public Relations: Yes, they are certainly cheaper than print — you already have the web space and need only pay for the time it takes to post. If you already have regular emails that you are sending out to a list of subscribers, then you already have the content. By posting them to the web, you can memorialize your communication, keeping your activities transparent and engaging others. By posting something to the web you are making it public and, even if it is only your staff reading it at first, this can really have a strong mobilizing…

The Wonder That is Script.aculo.us

April 14, 2005

An excellent new collection of advanced javascript for putting that new car smell back in your site. Enjoy it here: script.aculo.us - web 2.0 javascript Easy to misuse (1997, anyone?) but a wonderful way to add some useful usability features to your site if you are up to it.

A Few Words Against Drivel and Detritus

April 14, 2005

Create usable content? It doesn't sound like a difficult goal. But upon reconsideration, it is clear that the web (in particular) has become a waste of your time. The visual aspects of the internet are all distractions without quality content. And that means content that is useful and clear. Is your website full of unclear, inconsistent, out-of-date, unrevised content? It's out of style; let's all move on together now as one happy sector. So three cheers for web designer Keith Robinson's focus this week on content. Here's a great sample from his post today: What Usable Content Is Not

Stock Photos Anyone?

March 30, 2005

Stock photography is pretty essential for web developers and designers. If your organization doesn't have a large budget for that kind of thing (stock photos are $50-$250, usually), there are a few alternatives with a decent selection — and the pictures are only a few bucks, if not free. The best of these new, inexpensive resources is called iStock Photo. Prices are about $2, depending on the resolution you need. They have the best selection of people-pics, which are more expensive because of the model releases required. Their photos come in three sizes: those that are suitable for the web, those for small print, and high-resolution images for large-format printing jobs. www.istock.com Another good one is the Stock Exchange, which is actually free. They have fewer pictures of people, fewer high-quality pictures and no ability to choose lower resolution. But it's free, so start your search there. http://www.sxc.hu Another free one is the Morgue File, a "public image reference archive." Lots of old newspaper pictures that have entered the public domain. Occasionally you will find what you need here, but it doesn't have a great selection. www.morguefile.com For more interesting backgrounds and textures and artsy work, visit: http…

RTPNet Conference in NC, USA

March 30, 2005

Registration is now open for the RTPnet Conference , North Carolina's only annual statewide conference that focuses specifically on nonprofit technology. The conference mission is to help nonprofits use technology more effectively. It's May 20th. Conference subjects this year will focus on: Technology Volunteerism, Technology Infrastructure and Technology Innovation. More than 100 people are expected to attend the conference. RTPnet is a volunteer-driven, 501 (c)(3) nonprofit corporation dedicated to helping North Carolina nonprofit organizations leverage Internet tools to promote and support their missions. RTPnet has hosted the conference for five straight years around the theme of "Bridging North Carolina's Human/Digital Divide." RTPnet offers annual fee-based memberships to North Carolina nonprofits and community technology centers in the Southeast. Member benefits include Internet services and discounts to RTPnet-sponsored events. Nonprofit professionals Technology providers Government officials School administrators and teachers Anyone interested in technology issues affecting the nonprofit sector

Some Web Design Books Are Dangerous

March 29, 2005

I recently picked up a copy of the "for Dummies" CSS tutorial book and was disappointed to find the following in a section about using named vs. hex color values (like cornflowerblue instead of #6495ED): Thankfully, our dear author is misinformed, or simply addled. Unfortunately, the sentiment that "only Internet Explorer matters" is a popular one still. New webmasters please be 'ware: there are alternatives to Microsoft IE, most notably Firefox which has more than 25 million downloads and is now reported by the W3C to have nearly 20% usage on the internet. That's a lot of people who will be seeing a screwed up page if you only test your work in IE. Apparently, people want to test and develop in IE because it simplifies life. "Your job is much easier," writes the Dummies author, if you only design for IE6. Indeed, browser conflicts are tough to deal with as a web developer. But let's get things straight: Internet Explorer doesn't follow standard CSS rules, which makes everyone's life much more complicated. Read all about the problems (and yes, the necessary workarounds) at www.positioniseverything.net .

Hey Buddy, Can You Spare A Secure Socket Layer?

March 17, 2005

There's always a lot of curiosity about online fundraising among organizations that are new to the web. Rightly so. Having a "donate now" link could be, by itself, a reason to have a nonprofit website. You can give out the address of your site with all correspondence and know that you're getting the plate passed at the same time, for much less money than a direct mailing or phone solicitation. But what's the best way to do it? You could take credit cards on your site, but generally the trend for mid-to-small organizations is to outsource the process entirely. By far it appears the most common technique is to register with a service such as groundspring.org or networkforgood.org , which take the security issue of processing credit cards out of your hands. Either of these sites provide simple setp-by-step directions and are quite reliable in our judgment. But they take at least a 3% cut of a few percent for each donation. Groundspring take 3% plus a set up fee and a recurring bill of about $15 - $30 month. Groundspring's fees come with added services: a "tell a friend" button for donators, the ability to give rewards for certain levels of giving, extra security and automated chariable giving receipts. I'd stick with one of those…

Learning internet-think in Uzbekistan

March 13, 2005

The Digital Divide Network has a wonderful, thoughtful article on the use of the internet and computers in Uzbekistan, where students and teachers face both poverty and technological illiteracy. A recurring question in international technology development is the relevance and local meaning of the technology — what if I have never used a computer? Does getting one really do anything without education behind it? More accurately, I think: How useful is my new laptop if it is the only source of light in my home? (That's a real example , I'm afraid.) Technology is a tool and a process. The use of technology requires learning a skillset. This article provides an incisive look at just how hard this education can be in the real world. The Soviet system — which did install equipment in many schools long ago — saw computers as an end to themselves. Students were taught basic programming in "informatics" classes. Given their primitive state, the concept of using the computers for lessons other than those specifically about computers was never offered nor supported. For most of the day, computers remained untouched — gathering dust in a locked classroom, or occasionally displayed to visiting delegations as evidence of progress…

Growing Your Nonprofit: and Alternative Model

February 25, 2005

How do nonprofits grow? That's a much discussed — and much answered question. There are thousands of books, articles, consultants even entire schools devoted to the subject of growing your nonprofit. But there's not much to growth if you don't have a similar rise in creating change. And growth doesn't necessarily make an organization stronger in the nonprofit world. That's the idea of Jane Wei-Skillern, at least, and she has the research to back it up. Her investigation into several national nonprofits has led her to appreciate the "networked" model of development over one of scale. It's about who you know, basically — and not being afraid to actually stop doing some services that other organizations might do better if they had your help and guidance. Here's a bit: "What Wei-Skillern and her research colleagues found, however, was that growth did not always lead to the benefits the organizations had anticipated. For example, many organizations anticipated that fundraising would be easier once they were larger. In fact, fundraising did not necessarily become easier with organizational growth, yet significant new costs were created as the organization needed to now manage and coordinate operations across multiple locations…

Add A Simple Slideshow To Your Webpage

February 17, 2005

If you need to easily display slideshows online, there are a couple of options that I have recently run across. The simplest, though not as sophisticated, process is to use a site called Flickr , which was recently acquired by Yahoo! and can be a lot of fun. You just upload your pictures and folks can link to them to form online picture-sharing communities. The best feature is that it can export to your blog or website, though the format is not as customizable as I'd like. The second, more complicated, option, is to go with javascript. For our purposes here, we'll assume you don't want to write a bunch of javascript yourself. Instead, BarleyFitz studio will take care of that. Just go there and upload your pictures on their site, and you'll get very straightforward instructions for inserting the resulting code in your site. Customization can make it look especially good (here's a fantastic example posted to a recent css forum. The fade in is especially nice). I have used BarleyFitz's javascript in some forprofit work with greta success, but is rather convoluted javascript in use, so be ready to sit down with it for a while if you want it to look really nice. This type of slideshow would be good for nonprofits that need a way…

Evaluation Software

February 13, 2005

Here's a chart of evaluation software packages form the Evaluator's exchange. The list is untested by yours truly, but the Evaluation Exchange (From the Harvard Family Research Project ) is an excellent resource for folks working with children. Here's a bit from the article, the chart is about a 60K PDF. A wide variety of software packages are available to help nonprofit organizations track program management data and outcome measures for evaluation. One advantage of an "off-the-shelf" package is that these packages are often "tried and true." Another is that the software makers often supply training and technical assistance to users. On the other hand, organizations should carefully consider whether the available packages are appropriate for their needs. In some cases, organizations may find it more useful to design their own tracking systems, although the process can be time-consuming and may require extensive technical training. The Evaluation Exchange Harnessing Technology for Evaluation: Promising Practices - at the Harvard Family Research Project (HFRP)

Stop Making Crappy Ads

February 04, 2005

Stephen Pinker writes in his book How Minds Work that "the emotions are mechanisms that set the brains highest-level goals." This, it seems, is a good description of why small, mission-driven nonprofits exist despite the innumerable difficulties of keeping such an operation afloat. It's also an essential idea to consider when advertising your organization. People are drawn to imagery and emotions that inspire them to work for a cause. If you have ever been saddled with the task of creating ads or promotional material for your organization, you would do well to keep these emotions — not facts about your job or accomplishments — at the front of your mind. This concept is just one idea among many in an immensely useful e-book published a couple of years ago by Cause Communications called Why Bad Ads Happen to Good Causes . It should be in every nonprofit office (unless you have the luxury of an ad department to think about such things). It covers broad ideas like the above, but it also goes into detail about using layout and text to keep people reading and engaged in your message. And it has great reviews of nonprofit ads over the last 10 years. It is, in short, an eminently readable advertising textbook for nonprofits; check it…

NetCorps

January 23, 2005

NetCorps is now providing the "technology of list enhancement" for nonprofits in NC. I have't worked directly with them but they do good work (in Durham, NC and in Oregon). They have worked with folks at Volunteers for Youth that we are beginning a project with. If you are interested in nonprofit technology, check out NetCorps LEAP — netcorps.org From their site, about one of their services:

JavaScript Goodies

January 17, 2005

Even if you're new to web design and Javascript spooks you, you'd do well to look into some of the techniques that are described in the attached article. My Favorite Javascripts for Designers: Blakems.com Here's a bit of the article:

Using Del.icio.us

January 13, 2005

The Linc project (based in NY) has an interesting article on their use of del.icio.us (a web service that maintains lists of links for you.) I really appreciated their technical description of everything they're doing with it, but it isn't a beach read. LINC Support Grab Bag Archive: Are you del.icio.us? Here's a bit: You might consider taking a look at del.icio.us, a free service that will allow you to aggregate links on their system, tag them with category names of your own choosing and then display them in other forums.

The Google Game

January 13, 2005

There is no shortage of webmasters desperate to get their hard-won site noticed. After spending many sleepless nights coding and debugging a site for a nonprofit, it only makes sense that you would want it to actually show up when someone is searching for your organization's keywords. But, like much of the web-authoring career, you won't find a perfectly simple solution. The science and art of ranking highly on Google has become a major industry, populated (not surprisingly) by some folks willing to do some very unsavory things to get your site listed. Here's how it works: you make the site and want to see it ranking higher; you pay a "Search Engine Optimization" company to get you listed on the first page of Google for certain keywords. What happens after this point will either 1.) entail rewriting most of your content and all of your title/meta/alt tags or 2.) entail the SEO company setting up false domains that feed into your site (or a number of other dirty tricks). Both will get you higher listings, but only rewriting your content (a major project in most cases) will keep you there. Some unsavory SEO techniques will actually get you banned from Google et al, making your site effectively useless. This was a major point of…

Accessibility Is Important

January 10, 2005

If you or your nonprofit is concerned about your pages being readable to people with limited sight or non-graphical browsers, you should check out this classic book on accessibility. Building Accessible Websites explains in clear, detailed steps how to get your site up to speed. And it doesn't have to mean a major foray into tangled html. Just add some alt tags and title tags, and you've cleared the first hurdle. From Chapter 6: Unfortunately, hundreds of major sites have not caught on to this and persist in using images for navigation without providing alt text or title text. It's obviously not good business to turn away disabled customers, and in some cases (as in web sites made by the government) it may be illegal. And besides, it is always good for search engines to have your images described in the text.

Branding a Nonprofit

January 09, 2005

If you like to think about branding (not a really pleasant idea, I think), you'd do well to visit the wealth of information at the PND Nonprofits By Design Column. Read it: PND Nonprofits By Design

What is ICT?

January 06, 2005

ICT is Information Communication Technology, literally. More generally, ICT is at the core of a movement that seeks to provide access to technology for people who would normally not have access to it. This, in turn, is part of a larger movement against poverty and inequality. A great introduction comes from the (via the Digital Divide network); here's a bit: The uneven availability of access to information and communication technologies among the world's population has great importance to public policy and the well being of nations and individuals worldwide. Of particular importance, from a global "public welfare" perspective, is unrealized potential economic and human development that could be achieved through information communication technologies. On an individual basis, this forgone development activity translates into higher rates of poverty, poorer health, lower literacy and quality of life than is necessary. Read the entire article: Washington State Center to Bridge the Digital Divide

Is Open Source Software Ready?

December 21, 2004

Yes, it is. Open source software is free. It is supported by communities of developers, not corporations. And it is ready. Sure, sometimes, it doesn't work. Development can stop abruptly on a project, and support can be limited — because it's free. But often, open source software is better than the overloaded, buggy programs put out by the big guys (Intel, Microsoft, Cisco, etc.). With a little bit of online research, there is often an open-source alternative to expensive programs that are needed for programs in rural/poor/developing areas. What open source gives you (besides a free or cheap program) is a connection with software develpers that are, typically, committed to a cause that appears to be very much in line with the general philosophies underlying ICT and development work. Power to the people. Here's a bit from recent BBC article describing the use of open source software in Manchester schools, and the government research that supports its use. (Hard not to like thousands of Pounds in savings, right?) I say, if it's good enough for Manchester, it's good enough for the world. Now if only there were open source programs comparable to Intel's Teach to the Future Program, which claims to have trained 2 million…

ONE/NW on Using Bloglines and del.icio.us

December 20, 2004

There are some very sophisticated techniques emerging into the semi-mainstream this year. You may not have noticed, and you may not care. But if you can get the hang of it managing the blogosphere, there's a lot to be learned. Rediscover your interests and your profession with the new tools of online networking: Blogs, tags and syndication. Even if you don't have a blog and don't want to publish content, this stuff is for you. ONE/Northwest has a good tutorial on a couple of the most important tools. Check it out: Environmental technology, services, software for Northwest conservation groups - ONE/Northwest

Hacking Internet Explorer, the Definitive Guide

July 13, 2004

Well, this is perhaps not a definitive guide, but a good one nonetheless. I like his method of including the CSS link in the commented rule, and I appreciate his concern that IE7 (the next release of IE) will have bugs resolved — making the hacks a problem. Read on: maratz.com archive Essentials of CSS Hacking For Internet Explorer

The United Nations Report on Technology And Human Development

July 06, 2004

Here's a great PDF version of a slightly dated — but far-seeing — report from the UN on the uses of emerging technologies in human development. It's optimism is tempered with a good deal of experience — it is clear that there is no single, technological solution to the problems of extreme poverty and inequality. Rather, technology is presented as being a key aspect of contemporary international development scholarship and praxis. This perspective, combined with their appreciation of the multitude of ways that technology is manifest, makes it an extremely worthwhile read. Human Development Reports : " Human Development Report 2001 Making new technologies work for human development Technology networks are transforming the traditional map of development, expanding people's horizons and creating the potential to realize in a decade progress that required generations in the past."

Atlas.Ti: Four Star Research Software

May 21, 2004

Do you work with interviews or documents in which you have to make meaningful correlations between themes? Perhaps you have a lot of data from interviews and you want to know what your respondents associate with a problem. Atlas.Ti isn't new, but you may have missed the boat. It provides a visual way of organizing and coding data for this type of research projects, especially those involving qualitative data, or data that can't be understood using traditional statistical methods. All the best research, right? It's relatively easy to learn, fun to use, and incredibly powerful in the right context. For a few years now, it has had increasingly powerful support for video and audio coding, which means that you can analyze data from almost any source imaginable. Here's a blurb: Visit the atlas website .

Paul Farmer: A (Deserving) Nonprofit Celebrity

February 20, 2004

Paul Farmer is an amazing member of the "nonprofit community," famous in his own circles of public health and international development. The Stanford Social Innovation Review, (an excellent magazine) has a lovely extended interview with him about his work and his perspective. If you have not read about his work, this is a good introduction. What makes his vision so wonderful, I think, is his ability to keep the big picture right in front of him. He does not let his job come in the way of his purpose. As a public health practicioner, he says this means 2 things: 1.) Remaining a practitioner (and not becoming a more profitable, detached, consultant. ) and 2.) "doing what it takes" to make sure that health needs are being met in communities in need. For him this mean the "controversial" practice of monitoring patient's perscription drug use. By being more in the post-treatment phase of his patients lives, he has forced himself into a nontraditional role that works. The article touches briefly on this point, but it is captured much better in his book "Pathologies of Power: Health, Human Rights, and the New War on the Poor." If you have any interest in international health and development, this is a great read. Here's a bit from…

Some Rights Reserved: A Guide to the Creative Commons License

February 13, 2004

If you're putting content on the web, you may want to look into the idea of creative commons licensing. It's a bit like copyrighting (obviously), and yet it is totally different. It's essentially used to promote, rather than restrict, the flow of information. Here's a bit on a recent post at the Digital Divide Network : Creative Commons Comics The Creative Commons initiative has come up with a set of copyright licenses that allow you to say to the world, "Some rights reserved." Check out the Article: DDN Articles - A Quick and Easy Guide to Creative Commons Licenses