Best of 2012: Nonprofit Technology Grows Up

Submitted on Tue, 12/11/2012 - 9:18am
I think that the best thing that happened in 2012 was that some of the 2010-2011 "bleeding edge" conceptual technologies stood up and proved they weren't fads.

When NTEN asked me to write a "best tech of 2012" post, I struggled a bit. I could tell you about the great new iPads and Nexus tablets; the rise of the really big phones; the ascendency of Salesforce; and the boundary-breaking, non-gaming uses of MicroSoft's Kinect. These are all significant product developments, but I think that the David Pogues and Walter Mossberg's out there will have them covered.

I think that the best thing that happened in 2012 was that some of the 2010-2011 "bleeding edge" conceptual technologies stood up and proved they weren't fads. These aren't new topics for NTEN readers, but they're significant.

Cloud computing is no longer as nebulous a thing as, say, an actual cloud. The question has moved somewhat soundly from "Should I move to the cloud?" to "Which cloud should I move to and when?" Between Microsoft's Cloud ServicesGoogle Apps, and a host of additional online suites, there's a lot to choose from.

Similarly, virtualization is now the norm for server rooms, and the new frontier for desktops. The ultimate merger of business and cloud computing will be having your desktop in the cloud, loadable on your PC, laptop, tablet or smartphone, from anywhere that you have an internet connection. Key improvements in Microsoft's latest server platforms support these technologies, and Citrix and VMWare ars still growing and innovating, as Amazon, Google, Rackspace and others improve the net storage systems where our desktops can be housed.

Social networks aren't the primary fodder for late night comedians anymore. Maybe there are still people ridiculing Twitter, but they aren't funny, particularly when every product and place on earth now has it's own Facebook page and hashtag. I mean, hashtags were created by geeks like us and now you see one superimposed on every TV show! I remember joining Facebook in 2007 and calling it "The Great Trivializer", because the bulk of what I saw was my smart, committed NPTech friends asking me which five albums I would bring with me to a deserted island. Today, Facebook is a place where we communicate and plan. Its's grown in ways that make it a far more serious and useful tool. Mind you, some of that growth was spurred by adding Google+ features, which are more geared toward real conversation.

But the big winner in 2012 was data. It was the year of Nate Silver and the Infographic. Nate (as countless post-election pundits have pointed out), via his fivethirtyeight blog at the New York Times, proved that data can be analyzed properly and predict the future. This is the power of aggregation: his perfect electoral college score was built on an aggregated analysis of multiple individual polls. I think this presents a clear challenge to nonprofits: You should keep doing your surveying, but for useful data on the demographics that fuel your mission, you need to partner with similar orgs and aggregate those results for more accurate analysis.

Infographics make data poignant and digestible. They tell the stories behind the data in picture book format. Innovative storytellers have used videos, cartoons and comic books to make their points, but nothing is as succinct at telling a data-based story as an infographic. There should be one or more in your next annual report.

Peter starts as Chief Information Officer at Legal Services Corporation in January.