News from the NTEN Connect Blog

A Beginner's Guide to Facebook

Submitted by Holly on Wed, 06/27/2007 - 10:25am

NTEN recently started a group on the FaceBook platform, so I've been doing a lot more thinking about how to integrate it into our overall programs. I haven't come up with any concrete answers yet, but I've had a good time exploring! Robin Good, one of my favorite blog reads, had an excellent post yesterday about FaceBook and why it's the platform du jour of the social networking scene. A great read, and a great example of how open technology makes good business sense too:

"The sudden sharp interest is directly indexed to the opening up of the Facebook Platform, which allows developers from around the world to create their own unique Facebook applications. This essentially opens up the entire world of online content for easy aggregation into the existing social networking functionality, so that users can create a profile and personal network of friends whilst taking advantage of all of their favorite online tools and services."

Google Earth Launches Nonprofit Outreach Program

Submitted by KatrinVerclas on Tue, 06/26/2007 - 1:12pm
Google officially launched its nonprofit outreach program today for its Google Earth product. I was at the launch party where nonprofit groups such as NTEN member Earthwatch Institute and the Goodall Institute (with Jane Goodall videoconferenced in from London) described how they use Google Earth. We already described how a small nonprofit, Appalachian Voices, uses the tool to fight against mountaintop removal for coal mining. Mary Ann Hitt, Appalachian Voices' Executive Director was there for the launch.

The new site launched by Google features case studies and tutorials on how to use KLM. There is an extensive community, including developers, available to assist nonprofits for pay or pro bono. Google also offers grants for the more powerful Google Earth Pro platform.

More Google Analytics, Now with Beth Kanter!

Submitted by Holly on Tue, 06/26/2007 - 10:16am

Last week's Google Analytics webinar with Avinash Kaushik was a masterpiece -- informative, fun, funny and useful! If you were not able to join us, you can now get the recording and a nice list of resources from Avinash himself.

If you WERE able to join us, then you definitely want to check out a couple of additional resources. First, Beth Kanter has put together a fantastic primer on Google Analytics screencast for NTEN. It's a nice companion piece to the webinar and a great way to share web analytics with the less tech savvy folks in your life.

Second, I have to plug Avinash's book again. Web Analytics: An Hour a Day is getting rave reviews! If you've already read the book, be sure to share your opinion over on the Amazon site. I know Avinash would appreciate it.

How To: Put Technology to Use

Submitted by Brett on Mon, 06/25/2007 - 11:46am
Your guide to resources that will help you put technology to work for your cause.

MANAGE YOUR DATA

> Having trouble integrating data from different sources? Read NTEN's Report on Open APIs to find out what APIs are and how they can help your data repositories talk to each other.

> Or you might want to create your very own data mash-up. ProgrammableWeb makes it seem almost too easy.

CHOOSE A CONTENT MANAGEMENT SYSTEM

> If you're looking for a new CMS, check out the Content Management Matrix, where you can compare and discuss your options.

USE A WIKI

> Wikis are "easy to use, but hard to describe". See Common Craft's video "Wikis in Plain English".

CREATE A PODCAST

> Scott Williams of Community IT Innovators has written a white paper on podcasts. The section on how to create podcasts is based on John Wall's NTC 2007 session. You can see the session materials here.

Data Shines Its Light on the Political Process: An Interview with Dan Newman, MAPLight.org

Submitted by Brett on Mon, 06/25/2007 - 11:34am

Briefly, what is MAPLight.org?

MAPLight.org is a groundbreaking web site that brings together all campaign contributions given to legislators with how every legislator votes on a given bill. We illuminate the connections between money and politics, providing unprecedented information to enable advocacy groups and citizens to hold legislators accountable. The “MAP” in MAPLight.org stands for “Money And Politics.” For a 6-minute overview of the site, see our Video Tour.

Where did the idea that became MAPLight.org originate?

As a political volunteer, I was frustrated with the uphill battle that issue-oriented nonprofits and community groups fight against big-money special-interests. I saw the tremendous influence of campaign contributions on government, but when I explained these connections to others who did not yet see them, the examples were not good enough and there was too much hand-waving. I decided to build a website that illuminates the specific connections between campaign money and the specific issues people care about.

The Problem with Data

Submitted by Brett on Mon, 06/25/2007 - 11:22am
Troy Anderson, Dataplace

Data doesn't kill people, people kill people. And yet, more lives are affected by data than guns: data determines how many Congress people represent you (unless you live in DC) and often how much money your state gets; data is one of the primary things (some say the only thing) that determines your mortgage interest rate; and data is often the last refuge of a specious argument.

With data so important these days, you'd better have some or you'll get left out, competed away, or find yourself unable to prove anything to anyone. Miss providing data and you'll miss out on money or opportunities for you, your organization, or your community.

The problem with data, as it currently exists in federal agencies and web sites, is that it's very difficult to use despite being very relevant, down to a neighborhood level. Interviewing people who try to make use of this data is sobering: "We used to spend a thousand hours a year processing HMDA data for our local community." "We have to pay through the nose to get good neighborhood level reports on data that's otherwise 'free'." "Why can't free data be free?"

As part of the Fannie Mae Foundation, we used to get many grant requests for data analysis equipment or services and for thousand dollar neighborhood market reports. Yet, often, what grantees really needed was free use of free data. Enter DataPlace. DataPlace makes understanding community statistics easy with tools such as rankings, charts, histograms, and maps that use the free federal statistics presented through an easy-to-use interface.

Appalachian Voices Fights for the Mountains

Submitted by Brett on Mon, 06/25/2007 - 9:51am
Mary Anne Hitt, Appalachian Voices

Anyone who has ever flown in a small aircraft over southern West Virginia or eastern Kentucky to view mountaintop removal coal mining first-hand can never forget the experience of seeing the massive scale of destruction—mountain after mountain blown up and dumped into valleys as far as the eye can see. People working to stop mountaintop removal have long dreamed of flying thousands of people over the Appalachian coal fields, but the logistics of that endeavor proved daunting.

As an alternative, Appalachian Voices turned to Google Earth. In the past, we took reporters and decision-makers on day-long tours, first flying over the coal fields and then driving through coal field communities to hear first-hand accounts from local residents. Today, a good approximation of that tour is accessible to anyone with a computer, a high-speed internet connection, and Google Earth, extending the reach of Appalachian Voices by millions of people.

Follow the Money: Data for Your Cause

Submitted by Brett on Mon, 06/25/2007 - 9:47am
Edwin Bender, National Institute on Money in State Politics

From immigration legislation to energy and environmental reforms, campaign finance data can provide unadulterated insight into the strategies of the forces behind legislation and electoral strategies. The examples of how data can be used to educate the public on important public-policy issues are numerous:

  • During the 2005 election season in Virginia, Dominion—a Virginia-based energy company—and its subsidiary, Dominion Virginia Power, gave campaign contributions to lawmakers who would later vote on a critical energy re-regulation bill that the company helped author. Since 1999, the company gave $2.2 million to state-level politics. The giving peaked in 2005 when state politicians and parties received nearly $707,000. The legislation sought by the company passed.

Still Searching for the Holy Grail of Data Integration

Submitted by Brett on Mon, 06/25/2007 - 9:24am
Michelle Murrain, The Nonprofit Open Source Initiative

Like many consultants, I deal with different kinds of data every day. These can be divided into four different types: data that needs analysis (income and expenses or web site hits, for example), data that is actionable (e-mail, to do lists, phone messages), data that needs to be accessible in a moment (client phone numbers, web site passwords), and data that can sit untouched until I need to find it.

Between my multiple computers, and my penchant for Web 2.0 applications, I have an unfortunate multiplicity of data locations, which I usually manage to back up, when I remember they exist. Of course, just about every single data type has its own interface: my address book holds addresses, a web application holds project management data, my hard drive is full of documents, and of course, my e-mail client is full of unanswered email.

I’m a science fiction fan. Science fiction lets us wish for all sorts of wonderful things. I remember a story where the protagonist had been out chasing aliens. He comes home, and a dulcet voice says something like, “You have 15 new messages. 10 are from colleagues, 3 are solicitations for products you are likely to be interested in, and 2 are from your mother. Which would you like to hear first?”

Things We Like

Submitted by Brett on Mon, 06/25/2007 - 9:07am

A monthly roundup of our favorite nonprofit tech resources.

1) Reactee's cotton-based text messaging platform. Wear your message, receive responses from strangers. This is so cool, we've signed up ourselves.

2) Swivel. So much data. Aren't you curious?

3) Marshall Kirkpatrick. Check out his latest tools and tips in our blog.

4) The Community Media Review. Read their new issue on Web 2.0. Then read their back issues.

5) Predictions of the Year 2000 from the Ladies' Home Journal in 1900. Hilarious, and at times, eerily prescient.  And who wouldn't want a strawberry the size of an apple?

6) The Buzz Monitor. Developed by the World Bank in collaboration with Development Seed (NTEN's Drupal developers) and the World Resources Institute to monitor what people were saying about the World Bank, Buzz Monitor lets you aggregate information on any topic, in multiple languages.