So far we've really been pushing the underlying concepts, with a few tips to actual websites, examples, and tools. Without further ado, I'd now like to jump in to a snapshot of the current cloudscape of tools. As I mentioned in my first post in this series, I want to be an almanac giving general advice on weather patterns more than a tour guide pointing out landscape features. The landscape changes so rapidly in the world of web 2.0 technologies that describing the landscape might as well be seeing shapes in clouds, the fickle winds of funding and popularity changes the scenery just too rapidly.
That caveat being beaten to a pulp, here's a quick list of popular websites providing web 2.0 features and tools. This is as close to a "dummies' guide" as you'll get.
- Does your cause have a page on Wikipedia? If not, create one (check out the editing guidelines and play in the "sandbox" if you're new to Wikipedia). If it does, who's maintaining it? Is there anything you can contribute? Remember that Wikipedia is an informational resource, not an advertising media.
- Blogger / blogspot...
- These (and other) sites provide an easy on-ramp to creating a blog. They can be hosted at these sites or embedded into your own website with a little elbow-grease. They're a great starting place to see if your organization has the bandwidth to write blog entries at a reasonable rate.
- Flickr / Picasa Web
- Flickr is a hugely popular tool to upload and share photos. It integrates with popular blog software, provides RSS streams of your latest photos, and much more. Picasa is a Google-supported site which is connected to their photo management tool by the same name. You can encourage your contacts to upload their photos of your events to create a community around the event, which creates a living advertisement for the quality and interesting aspects for future events.
- Youtube is like Flickr for videos, with many of the same features and promises. You can even send videos from your mobile phone straight to YouTube, which you could use to report human rights abuses, protest events, or share your service project in almost real time with viewers from around the world without setting up fancy video-conferencing and high-speed Internet access. YouTube gives you a free and easy way to have streamnig videos of up to 10 minutes appear in your blog on on your website -- no need to pay for expensive media streaming servers, even if you're expecting thousands of users viewing your video simultaneously.
- Social Networking sites - Facebook, MySpace, LinkedIn...
- The popularity of social networking sites is in constant flux. A few years ago, Friendster and Orkut were all the rage. Today, MySpace has the largest active following, with Facebook in a rapidly rising trajectory now that they've opened up their membership beyond the education crowds. LinkedIn is a business networking site that focuses more on resumes and job recommendations. Having a presence on these sites is important to be connected with their users, and can be a key part of your strategy. Facebook has a Causes app which allows you to create a donation funnel to any 501c3 organization in minutes, as well as providing great group communication tools focused around causes and issues.
- Twitter is "micro blogging" -- messages you can get down to 160 letters, spaces, and punctuation or less. It's integrated with mobile phones and Facebook's status updates, and has the ability to be a great communications tool, as I discussed in a previous post
- Google Maps / Documents / Calendar / iCalShare
- Google provides an amazing toolkit available to you a la carte or as a complete suite of web-hosted programs available to non-profits and similar small organizations free of charge, called "Google Apps". Google Apps as a suite can be a virtual office for small or geographically disconnected groups, providing real-time collaborative word processing, spreadsheets, presentations, email and calendaring, all connected with Google's amazing search and information management tools. You can also pick and choose, using just their online word processing program (which automatically and smoothly tracks changes, allows reversion to earlier copies, and lets multiple users edit the same document at the same time (you can even chat on the side about the document using Google Chat). Google Calendar offers a great way to create a central calendar where you can permit users to view free/busy times, event details, and even create and edit events on a shared calendar. These calendars can then be embedded in web pages, streamed through RSS, imported into Outlook, or syncronized with other more flexible calendar programs such as Mozilla's Sunbird project or Apple's iCal software. Just as a footnote, iCalShare is a website where you can upload a calendar of popular events, such as a collection of US Holidays or a list of service and volunteer events throughout the year. You can naturally import and export calendars between all these systems using the iCal and vCal standards, and in some cases even synchronize them such that updates to one calendar automatically spreads to the synchronized ones.
- del.icio.us / mag.nolia, and digg / reddit
- These are "social bookmarking" systems. Instead of having a list of favorites at home, one at work, one on your travel laptop, and so on; you store all your bookmarks (and protect some as private) at these websites and organize them using tags, so you can search your favorites on any browser, anywhere. Further, you can see what other users are bookmarking and reading, and easily forward links to friends with accounts. In terms of its use in non-profit organizations, again you can focus on using a tag (servicelearning, fairtrade, socialjustice, and so on) to create a network of sites your organization recommends and focuses on to help promote these causes. As with all web 2.0, you can receive a constant feed of new links tagged with your favorite keywords, see a "tag cloud" of popular terms, and so on. Digg and reddit are more focused sites that track more active events; blog entries and news stories more than static websites. It can be really hard to break in to digg, reddit, and similar sites, so watch them and save up your efforts to use those for when you have a huge, widely-appealing news story. Also, be prepared for the consequences of getting popular - a huge surge of website hits can drag your website down to a standstill with the so-called "slashdot effect" (named for a popular geek news site with a history of bogging down and crashing sites)
This is naturally an incomplete list. Even if I included every single web 2.0-ish site available today, there'd be a new one tomorrow. Worse, the tidal changes from day to day in web 2.0 websites can be vast, and it's really difficult to guess what'll be big tomorrow. One great way to keep up with technology is to create (if you don't already have one) and work with, listen to, and give ownership to a youth council for your organization, no matter how big or small you are.
The next post will take this to the next step, looking at what tools are driving these websites, and how you can place them on your own website and/or your personal computer, and a discussion of something exciting called Open Source.