Thursday, January 29, 2009

Detente 2.0

Who is Google's Katie Stanton, the person named today to be White House Director of Citizen Engagement, a new job on Barack Obama's social media team? Here are some bits to add to the emerging picture on the blogosphere: she told attendees at last month's Alliance of Youth Movements Summit at Columbia University, co-sponsored by Google, the U.S. Department of State, Howcast, Facebook, and Access 360 Media that "the Internet is potent fuel for democracy, more than any war or troop surge or invasion." [The summit was organized to respond to the recent, sharp rise in the number of Facebook-organized political protests and mass demonstrations around the world.]

Watch this summit video, below, of Stanton and others discussing how new digital media platforms can be leveraged to affect social change. Stanton [in red] didn't say much, but called the attending youth activists—each of whom had used some form of social media to help bring about social and political reforms in their home countries— "the new United Nations."

For more on Stanton, see Nancy Scola's report on techPresident and Peter Kafka's piece on Mediamemo.

(Photograph, West Virginia Series 4, by James Pauls for

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Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Davos Daze

The World Economic Forum got under way today in Davos, Switzerland. The theme this year is, fittingly, the global economic crisis. "The level of global wealth has changed," Kofi Annan, the Secretary-General of the United Nations from 1997 through 2006, told an opening press conference kicking off the conference. "The question is, are we capable of changing or adapting fast enough to save our planet? That is the challenge."

For the first time—perhaps to ease public ire over this year's sinking global economy—Davos organizers have agreed to let bloggers and other social media types tweet and blog the otherwise venerable proceedings. Among them will be 24-year-old Pablo Camacho, of Bogota, Colombia, who competed against 250 other YouTube devotees for the honor of covering it all for the video-sharing site. Here's his first dispatch, about philanthropist George Soros' remarks to a luncheon that weren't part of the mainstream fare:

Click here to view WEF's Facebook page. And see below, BuzzMachine blogger Jeff Jarvis' invitation to have your say at Davos from the comfort of your own home. The conference ends Sunday.

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Monday, January 26, 2009

From Blue to Green

I just finished reading an advance copy of The Blue Sweater: Bridging the Gap Between Rich and Poor in an Interconnected World, Jacqueline Novogratz' book on social enterprise that's due out in March—and it's terrific, an unusually candid and highly personal memoir about the deep and often painful complexities of trying to make lasting change in the world.

Novogratz, the CEO and founder of The Acumen Fund, which invests money in companies run by and for the developing world, is also generous with her storytelling: Early in the book, she shares the memory of first landing in Africa some 22 years ago, at the Abidjan airport on a sweaty, Ivory Coast morning. She had just left Wall Street, had cut her hair (“to the point of resembling Margaret Mead,” she told Cause Global) and gave away most everything she’d owned, arriving with “all the essentials, from poetry to new clothes to, of course, a guitar. I was 25 and I was going to save the world—and I thought I would just start with the African continent.” Yet within days of arriving, she was told—and in no uncertain terms by a group of West African women—that “‘Africans didn’t want saving, thank you very much’—and least of all, not by me.” Recalls Novogratz: “I was too young, unmarried, had no children, didn’t really know Africa and my French was pitiful. It was an incredibly painful time of my life and yet it gave me enough humility to start listening.”

And learning: To this day, Novogratz—cited last fall by Portfolio magazine as one of the "73-Biggest Brains in Business"—has let her experiences as a pioneer in the still-evolving field of social enterprise continuously shape and check her unique blend of idealism and flat-out pragmatism; her Acumen Fund, founded in 2001, remains passionately focused on “changing the way the world sees the poor” by alleviating poverty in ways that make the poor the customers of—and workers at—self-sustaining businesses seeded by donors but run locally, over time, without hand-outs. From her experiences running a bakery in Kigali, Rwanda in 1986 with 20 unwed mothers to starting the first microfinance institution in Kenya, Novogratz has seen first-hand “the power of markets to end poverty, the discipline that running a business provides, and the pride that results from ownership”—in other words, an end to charity. She has also seen what doesn't work, and retells the story of revisiting Kigali a few months after the 1994 Rwandan genocide there.

Of all the inspiring stories in her memoir—[the blue sweater in the title comes from Novogratz' experience of spotting her favorite childhood sweater, given 11 years earlier to Goodwill, being worn by a child in Kigali, with Novogratz' name still visible inside the collar]—one of my favorites is her hard-won lesson in the importance of listening, closely, to those in need. "...I could have listened better," she says about the women she met in and around the markets of Kigali while helping them to create a "blue bakery" to sell samosas and doughnuts as a local enterprise, even painting the walls blue until one of the women dared to speak the truth to their enthusiastic benefactor. ["Our color," one of them finally told Novogratz, "really is green."] "...Listening is not just having the patience to wait," Novogratz writes, "but is also about learning how to better ask the questions." Her efforts eventually transformed the bakery, which had been run as a charity when she got there, into an enterprise that earned $2 a day for each of the women. "When you've lived on charity and been dependent your whole life long, it's really hard to say what you mean," Novogratz says. "The poor often think no one really wants to hear the truth."

But perhaps the biggest lesson, both from the book and the life it profiles, is that investing in businesses run by and for the people they're intended to serve can actually work, grow, and create change across a neighborhood or a region or a country. For those looking for the "ROI" of social enterprise, it doesn't get much better than that.

(Photo of book jacket with permission of Rodale Books)

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Saturday, January 24, 2009


Change, Obama-style—the social media/open White House stuff—hit a bit of a brick wall this week, but it was mostly silly stuff. [See Jeff Zeleny's piece in The New York Times about Obama's hard-won fight to keep his Blackberry and see Tom Watson's grumbling over the sluggish postings and flat content he found on the site that debuted Tuesday.]

The irony wasn't lost on anyone: Obama's tech team pretty much wrote the book on how to use social media to drum up and engage supporters, build a movement, and raise a lot of money online to challenge the Establishment. That this same team—now itself the Establishment—would diss the computers, networks, and software it inherited at 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue was mostly to be expected. [Obama spokesman Bill Burton told Washington Post reporter Anne Kornblut Thursday that going from the working conditions of the campaign to the working conditions of the White House has been "kind of like going from Xbox to Atari."] How cool is that, right? [We got it.]

Ultimately, of course, it's not about the equipment. The much harder bit will be figuring out how to manage [and effectively lead] the crowds that Obama's social media brought to the party—namely, millions of cause-wired constituents impatient for 24/7 information-sharing and input on everything from the economy to the names of the inevitable First Dogs. How best to keep feeding these newly cause-wired constituents ever-newer things to share-hear-diss-do? How best for anyone to lead in an era of ever-higher demands for participation spawned by wider use of social media? Nonprofits are being pressed to do no less than reinvent their role as charity middlemen, thanks to social networks that can [and are] creating new causes, with or without established nonprofits to support or guide them. What follows is an edited transcript of a conversation I had recently with new media expert and Here Comes Everybody author Clay Shirky on the need for new forms of leadership to manage in this new climate. [Watch this space: a podcast version will air here next month as part of Cause Global's new Cause Radio series.]

Do social media require us to invent new ways to manage organizations?

They absolutely do. I don’t think traditional management is something that can control this. Organizations everywhere are essentially wrestling with how do we hybridize with these newly capable, self-organized groups that use social media to come together around a cause—or, in Obama's case, around a candidate.
It's really that kind of Vatican II sensibility—Vatican II being the 1960s doctrine from the Catholic Church that said the people are the church, a fairly radical move; and yet, compared to what's happening in the organizational world and in politics—the idea that the government is the people—the Vatican was actually 40 years ahead of its time.

There's a temptation among most managers to view social media tools and crowdsourcing as simply a sort of novel set of instruments, kind of like, "Oh, here are some new tools for us to get our job done." But this isn't just about laying our hands on some new tools. These crowds are people. It’s really an organizational shift. People managing these newly interactive organizations need to start explaining why it is that what they're doing and asking is important. They need to start articulating how, say, your input is helping the organization and its cause. It really does involve a degree of openness on the part of existing organizations that we haven't seen before. In fact, if you're a manager of a traditional organization looking for control, you will have trouble in this Web 2.0 environment. There's an analogy here. It's the relationship between the structure an organization can provide and what eventually grows up among the people who come there. It's a little bit like the relationship between a trellis and a vine. You can shape it, but the organic growth and the ultimate structure is really going to be produced by the people who come there.

Is there someone or some new organization doing this well?

Boing Boing, one of the well-trafficked Web blogs, has a brilliant community manager named Theresa Nielsen Hayden, whose principal MO is to sit back and watch. She is in charge of one of the Internet’s real hot spots, an incredible amount of conversational energy forming around the various things that Boing Boing posts on its Web log; and yet, she doesn't go in and try and set the tone. She simply tries to set outer boundaries for the conversation, like, this is name-calling and it's off the rails, or, this is a person riding their hobbyhorse. And so she's not trying to guide the community so much as keep it from going into a rat hole where the conversation will collapse. It’s the opposite of the traditional managerial style. When she got to Boing Boing, she did almost nothing for three months except watch. And everybody was like, "What are you doing? Aren't you supposed to be going in and managing the comments?" She was like, "Hang on a minute. Let's just see what happens."

Occasionally, she would step in when she had to. And what she was waiting for is to identify who in the community would come forward and start essentially taking on the community as a whole, shepherding it, the natural leaders emerging from in the community base. And then once she identified them, she hired them to keep doing it. That kind of managerial style is not the 30,000-foot visionary and it's not the micro-manager. It's in this middle zone where there's a high degree of facilitation, but there's also just a high degree of observation—
What is going to happen next?—because in these kind of new open environments, there's a good chance that what happens next organically will be more interesting, more effective, and more important than something you could decide in a morning meeting.

So it's a kind of natural selection: if left alone, the group will choose its own leaders?

Yes. There's a lot of rhetoric around about self-organized and bottom-up and so forth. And it is very possible to overstate the case, to take the illusion that if you just dump a million people together, somehow Wikipedia emerges as a side effect. But I think, critically, for these large-scale, long-term management efforts [of newly interactive organizations and institutions], there is a profound need for [a new type of] leadership. It's not that, you know, somehow social media and crowdsourcing lead to mob rule. Rather, those most interested and able in a crowd tend to identify themselves and emerge to step up to the plate.

When you look at, say, Wikipedia—2 million articles in the English language contributed by over 3 million users—you see that there's a core group of people who care much more than the average person in that crowd about the success of the project as a whole. The kinds of leadership that make those core groups work is very different than, "Well, I'm the CEO, and you're the CFO, and you're the COO, and we have this org chart." It's much subtler and more flexible than that. But just because the structure doesn't look like what we're used to doesn't mean there's no structure. This isn't a choice between structure and no structure. It's more of a choice between a more rigid and a more flexible structure.

We've all seen those orchestra conductors who walk off stage and, of course, the orchestra keeps playing brilliantly. Is the type of leadership required here more comparable to that of an orchestra conductor, or is there a need for a new kind of leadership that we've not yet invented?

There is an Israeli conductor, Itay Talgam, who gives a talk on leadership styles using orchestra conductors as the example. And the critical thing that a conductor does is synchronize the orchestra because the complexity of self-synchronization is hard at that scale. Critically, string quartets have no conductor. The first violin is essentially providing the synchronization. But the need for the kind of management that the conductor provides really only comes with scale.

So if you've got a small-scale group, you can actually get away with much lighter management styles than if you have a large-scale group. It's when you grow that you need a heavier style. The other question about the new type of leadership is how to get a group of people to all agree that a shared vision is something they'll pursue even if they don't agree with every particular. Some of this is ancient stuff—you can go back to Plato and Aristotle and the argument about how to form an ideal republic. Today, what we're dealing with is essentially a new mix, precisely because of the new technology capabilities. Every political norm is really a bargain with the current environment. When the environment changes, the political norms can change, as well.

One of the political norms has been that it takes a large institution to accomplish large-scale, long-term tasks. But that's no longer true anymore. You can write a complicated piece of software or create an encyclopedia without needing the kind of institutional and managerial frame you needed before. What I think is coming is a new type of leadership style that will expand into other kinds of collective action—in particular, real-world collective action. And so, for a traditional institution, this is really a moment where, if the organizational structure doesn't change, then the institution is essentially going to find itself working at cross-purposes with many of its members. This is a challenge that people in the Obama administration are facing; that people in nonprofits are facing; that people in many institutions are facing: how to change the organizational structure enough to accommodate Web-enabled, ground-up, collective action—self-organized groups of members or supporters or constituents that, because they're using new technology tools, are demanding interaction at far higher levels than before. This is something that really is unprecedented. Those organizations which fail to exert new leadership will risk losing support.

(Illustration by Miroslaw Pieprzyk)

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Thursday, January 22, 2009

Back to the Future

MobileDevicesToday reminds the world that it was 25 years ago today that this iconic TV commercial was broadcast—once, and only once [and never again on TV]. Ironically, it lives on—on YouTube. Some consider it the best TV ad ever made, then or now. Here it is again:.

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Social Actions Roundup 4

The use of social media for social change is proliferating rapidly. In that vein, we at Cause Global have started sharing this weekly round-up of social action links and varied tech news bits from Social Actions and its passionate, cause-wired team—Joe Solomon, Christine Egger and Peter Deitz.

Here's Social Actions' most recent round-up, a special MLK Day/Obama Inauguration wrap:

CauseGlobal posted a guide to participating in the Obama inauguration using social media.

Seth Godin reflected on the National Day of Service.

Winners of Houston's MLK Oratory Competition were selected.

Britt Bravo shared Five ways to participate on the MLK Day of Service.

Social Actions branded its search engine with the MLK silhouette and launched MLKActions on Twitter.

Zazengo launched its MLK Impact Challenge on Facebook. covered's Ideas for Change in America Competition and Obama's Citizen Briefing Book.

I voted for the black half t-shirts and blog

Regular News Roundup

NTEN and TechSoup Global announced their free webinar series on Storytelling & Social Media.

Firstgiving surpassed $80 million raised for nonprofits since its inception in 2003. announced the winners of its Ideas for Change in America Competition. posted an interview with Beth Kanter about offline and online organizing.

Amazee launched a Facebook application.

CauseGlobal reported on the role of Twitter in covering the US Airways crash landing.

Alan Wolk asked, Will Facebook Be The Death of Twitter?

PolicyPitch asked visitors for feedback on a Web site redesign.

MicroPlace asked, Where's the innovation in micro-finance?.

Tom Watson talked about CauseWired and online social activism on the podcast, 501c3cast.

Gabriel Kasper of the Monitor Institute shared his thoughts on what online giving marketplaces might mean for philanthropy.

Jean Butzen posted on the SSIR site an example of making nonprofit collaboration a foundation strategy.

Carl Bialik of The Wall Street Journal critiqued charity evaluators (hat-tip Tactical Philanthropy).

Wikipedia reported that it raised $6.2 million from 125,000 donors over the holidays.

Beth Kanter explained what she thinks the State of the Twitterspace report means for nonprofits.

The Extraordinaries covered the Met Council program of volunteer phone calls to senior citizens.

FastCompany shared a list of the Most Influential Women in Technology (including Beth Kanter, Gina Bianchini, and Kaliya Hamlin)

GeniusRocket previewed its new Web site.

Care2's Frogloop blog shared 10 fast tips to boost your e-newsletter performance.

Ashoka and We Media launched The Power of Us - Re-Imagine Media competition (hat-tip Ideablob).

Nathaniel Whittemore reflected on charities' existential dilemma.

Sasha Dichter offered a theory about why overhead ratios are meaningless for Kiva and Acumen Fund.

Kiva shared a video called, The Story of a Kiva Loan.

Recent Discoveries

Fiscal Sponsorship Directory (hit-tip 501c3cast)

Building a Regional Entrepreneurship Network: A Guide to Action

Resist Network - Your ideas for social change

The Peace, Justice, and Environment Project (PJEP)

Small Hands Fund's guide to Strategic Planning

Twestival - Tweet. Meet. Give.

Challenge Your World

People Helping People Network

Social Actions hosted a Q&A conference call about its upcoming Change the Web Challenge. SA also is asking for nominations of judges for its upcoming Change the Web Challenge.

Social Actions launched its revamped social network, My Social Actions.

What are Social Actions Round-Ups?

Each week, Social Actions community members post links and news about online social action applications and nonprofit activism. This round-up is a summary of just some of the links that surfaced in the last week, through January 21. You can share links and news for future Social Actions round-ups in the Peer-to-Peer Social Change FriendFeed Room. You can also check out past round-ups here and can tag your delicious bookmarks with "p2pchange" or include "#p2pchange" in your tweets; Social Actions will scoop them up and review them.

Social Actions round-ups are syndicated on CauseWired, CauseGlobal, TakePart, and NetSquared.

(Photoillustration, Mouse, by

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Wednesday, January 21, 2009


Some social media factoids from Inauguration Day yesterday:

* More than 1 million status updates were posted on Facebook, averaging some 4,000 per hour for the day.

* An average of 8,500 status updates were posted on Facebook per minute druing Barack Obama's speech.

* Obama's Facebook Fan Page had more than 4 million fans and more than 500,000 wall posts.

* By noon yesterday, CNN had surpassed its all-time total daily streaming record of 5.3 million live streams: between 6a and 3:30p EST yesterday, it had served 21.3 million live video streams globally, nearly four times its previous record

* Twitter reported a surge of five times the normal tweets per second, and experienced some outages due to the rapid rise in traffic.

* ABC News Digital had a record 8.3 million views on and across partner sites including Yahoo! and Verizon VCast.

Also, if you haven't already, check out the new site. Click here to see ReadWriteWeb's comparison of this new site with the Web sites of Obama's White House predecessors—the Presidents, of course, who had a Web site at all.

Here's the Photosynth, 3-D image that CNN collected in its The Moment project. It pieces together photos sent to CNN's site the instant Obama put his hand to the Bible and includes images from hundreds of different vantage points around the Capitol steps.

To learn about YouTube's move to make Inauguration Day videos downloadable for free, click here to read Jimmy Orr's post on the Christian Science Monitor's Vote blog.

(Illustration, Number Brain, by Prawny for

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Tuesday, January 20, 2009

Ready to Launch

Watch the Inauguration live, on Ustream (below):

All politics is personal: that's been the claim of the Obama social media team from the start of their man's bid for the White House. "No president has ever entered office with an organized social movement at his side, with the ability to reach millions of his supporters instantaneously and in as targeted a way as he wants," says Micah L. Sifry of techPresident, whose site was founded to cover the fledgling use of Web 2.0 technology in politics. "Nor have we ever been as networked to each other, with the ability to connect laterally by our own interests as we are today."

It will be fascinating, then, to watch how the nation's first wired presidency uses social media to shape policy and target public discourse. How well the Obama Administration uses social media will largely influence how these new Web tools will be used throughout society, in advocacy to commerce to education. We here at Cause Global will be keeping tabs on some of the key issues over transparency and social capital that will arise from this grand new experiment in the coming weeks and months.

For starters, here are some recent issues already on the radar:

*For the buzz over a new partnership between the new Congress and YouTube, check out this piece on nextgov

*Click here to see a video introducing people to the new administration's Technology Innovation and Government Reform group. Jump into the discussion about the group's mission in The Open House Project Google group here.

* How much transparency can work in politics? Check out this piece from earlier this week in the National Journal. And, if you haven't seen it yet, check out the new platform—, unveiled after Barack Obama officially took over as President of the United States at noon today. Propaganda? Transparency? One of the boldest experiments in citizen engagement of our time, or one of the most sophisticated public relations machines in history? Let's watch and see, together.

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Monday, January 19, 2009


Here are just some ways to use social media today and tomorrow to share your Inauguration Day experiences:

*Participate in "The Moment" project by, which will use Microsoft's photosynth technology to create a massive, 3-D photo compilation of the precise moment Obama takes his oath of office. Email your photo of that moment to and then, later, head to to see the results.

*See Link Live's Inauguration tweetstream at

*Go to CNN's political ticker,, for the network's tweet coverage

* National Public Radio has set up a way for people going to the Inaugural to tweet their experiences and impressions by using the hashtag #dctrip09 to describe their travel to Washington and #inaug09 on Inauguration Day to weigh in on what it's like to be in the middle of it all. Follow for the latest tweets.

*Current and Twitter are teaming up again to broadcast as many tweets as possible over the inauguration ceremony and also will be streaming the event live.

*Check out, a joint project of NPR, CBS, American University, and others. The site compiles input from on-the-street citizen reporters through Flickr, YouTube, Twitter and other mobile applications.

*For a similarly condensed view of online inaugural-mania, do a Big Buzz search on Icerocket. This search site gives near real-time results from the Web, blogs, Twitter, video sites, news sites, and other Web 2.0 tools and mashes it all onto one page.

(Illustration, Swiss Army Phone, by Russell Tate for

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Sunday, January 18, 2009

Mo' Real

A small group of social activists, journalists, and filmmakers has begun using Second Life to start covering the news. Leading the charge is Draxtor Despres [aka Bernhard Drax, a 38-year-old, Munich-born machinima hobbyist living in Pacific Grove, California]. Drax recently posted a report on YouTube telling how the incoming Obama Administration will use Second Life to help engage the public over health care reform. Here's that report, virtual video-style, below. [NOTE: Draxtor is the suited avatar with headphones.]

Drax, who has been experimenting with Second Life as a medium for news for nearly the past year, received international recognition in mid-December for his efforts [and recognition for Second Life as a new information medium] during the Paris celebration of the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. There, Drax was awarded an "Every Human Has Rights" media award for his SL report, "Virtual Guantanamo," a feature story on the "virtual Gitmo" built in Second Life by filmmaker Nonny del la Pena and Peggy Weil, a professor at the University of Southern California. Their work, "Gone Gitmo," offers viewers an immersive experience about what it's like (no, really) to be a prisoner at Gitmo. See Drax's award-winning report, below:

Drax uses screen capture software to film events and gather interviews. Douglas Thomas, the director of USC's Network Culture Project, predicts an expansion this year in the use of the medium in education, journalism, and social advocacy, saying many nonprofits and social advocates also might start using Second Life as a new storytelling medium for encouraging public engagement in their causes. Says Drax: "How can we improve the real world? That's what I'm trying to focus on in Second Life." Drax will start filing reports next month from this virutal world for PBS's Frontline World. Said Drax, in accepting the award in Paris: "I'm proud I've gotten this award but it's a signal that this is viable, that this is legitimate, that this [SL] is not a game."

For more on the development of virtual worlds for social change, check out Games for Change co-founder Suzanne Seggerman and her work by clicking here to see her talk at the recent Pop!Tech 2008. Also check out Contribute Magazine's special report, The Cause Web, [September/October 2007], chiefly the story, Pixelanthropy, about the trend toward nonprofit activism in Second Life.

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Friday, January 16, 2009

Do Nothing?

Hey, all of you newly jobless corporate types, listen up: the nonprofit sector might not want you, either—or so says Nancy Lublin, the CEO of the nonprofit Do Something and founder of Dress for Success. In No Vacancy, a column she wrote in the current issue of Fast Company [February 2009], Lublin takes issue with people deluging her with resumes who have no nonprofit experience. Writes Lublin:

"Please stop thinking 'we'd be lucky to have you' when you have no experience in our world. I had braces, I brush my teeth every day, and (sometimes) I floss. This doesn't mean I can perform root canals. (That analogy assumes you've even spent time doing work related to our space. I'm shocked by how many people wanting to 'make the switch' [from the for-profit to the nonprofit world] have never even volunteered anywhere.)...Working in the not-for-profit sector is a career. It isn't a sabbatical from your 'real' job. We have skills. We require training. (There are master's-degree programs dedicated to this work.) We know how to scrimp, land barter deals, and cut waste. Plus, we're used to being paid less than we're worth."

To read more, click here. What do you think?

(Photo of crash test dummies, In Line, by Max Pometun for

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Thursday, January 15, 2009


Twitter has broken news—first—yet again, in a potent reminder that microblogging content may not always be so emphemeral [nor widely unimportant], after all. [Social activists, listen up.] Minutes after U.S. Airways flight 1549 crash-landed in the Hudson River earlier today, 23-year-old Janis Krums, a resident of Sarasota, Florida [who was on a river ferry that was among the first to get diverted to the scene], used his iPhone to snap this photo, above, of the downed plane and post it on Twitter. The photo apparently was the first in the overall news coverage of the event today and immediately went hyper-viral: 34 minutes after Janis posted his photo, MSNBC interviewed him live on TV as a witness; by this evening, thousands of people online had seen it and the New York Daily News is reporting that the surge of interest in Krums' photo has caused TwitPic to crash. Citizen journalists, many of them using Twitter, also played a role in the coverage of the Mumbai terror attacks in November and the U.S. presidential election in November.

Look for more ordinary people, as well as social activists, to get more proactive in using their social media this way—to bear witness as things are happening rather than further after the fact. We're all first-responders now; social media and the immediacy they offer to our knowledge of the unfolding events around us are redefining what is meant by "breaking news."

Krums' tweet and photo, posted on TwitPic at 12:36 pm today, read as follows: - There's a plane in the Hudson. I'm on the ferry going to pick up the people. Crazy."

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Tuesday, January 13, 2009

Future Imperfect

A new survey of Internet experts—the third in a series by the Pew Internet & American Life Project and Elon University—has triggered a lot of debate among social media thought leaders since it was released less than a month ago. Most of the 1,200 respondents surveyed for this latest report, called The Future of the Internet III, said they expect major advances in information technology by 2020, as voice recognition improves and as the mobile phone becomes a primary device for online access and social problem-solving. But many of these same thought leaders—from the scientists and engineers who created the first Internet architecture to social commentators and advocates, corporate technology leaders, government policy strategists, and tech experts in higher education—also disagree sharply over whether the Net will, in fact, build a better world.

To get a better sense of the fault lines, Cause Global Publisher Marcia Stepanek caught up last week with survey co-author and Pew project director Lee Rainie, who also co-wrote Up for Grabs: The Future of the Internet, based on much of the center's research. What follows is an edited transcript of that conversation:

Who and what inspired you to conduct these ongoing surveys about the Internet?
Back in the late 90s, I came across a wonderful piece of scholarship by a guy named Ithiel de Sola Pool, who wrote a book called Forecasting the Telephone. Fifty years after the telephone became mass-introduced into the culture, Pool and a team of students at MIT looked at the things that were predicted about what was going to happen when the phone became widely diffused, and then at what actually happened. We’re in a position to look at the dawn of a new technology, the Internet, and to measure its social impact in real-time, as it is evolving.

What are the big themes that emerge from your latest findings?
Technologists are now very convinced that the technology, itself, will continue to improve. It’s going to get faster, better, smaller, more convenient, and more plugged into people’s everyday lives in very powerful ways. At the same time, though, they are not at all convinced that human beings will improve along with the technology. Some people think an improved Internet will encourage better human behaviors, better social interactions, and better political discourse, but there are a lot of people who now are pushing back against that, saying that even if the technology gets better, people will use it in ways that will reinforce some of the worst tendencies of human beings: they will use these new tools to act tribally and in nasty ways towards each other. There are very ambivalent feelings about whether the species is going to progress when it uses these new tools.

Many of those same experts that you interviewed also predict that the transparency the Net creates won't necessarily yield more personal integrity, social tolerance, or forgiveness. Some 56% said the potential for bigotry, hate, and other forms of intolerance may expand.
What’s very clear in the minds of a lot of these respondents is that people are good and kind to the fellow members of their tribes—but they are not good and not kind to those people who are not in the charmed circle. Respondents were making the point in their answers that human tendencies are embedded in us; they’re not going to change. Technologies, they said, can facilitate some of the darkest sides of human nature, whether it is about hate, harm and fraud, people exploiting each other, or simply just not paying a lot of attention to people who aren’t like them. In bygone days, of course, people who were not like me were people who were not of my race, or weren’t of my physical community or didn’t share my language. Now, though, the possible number of tribes to which one can belong extends well beyond classic demographics. What these experts worry about is that when we break ourselves into niches that are formed around our specific, varied interests, we have less time for other people, and less chance of discovering experiences but more opportunities for our views to be reinforced and affirmed, even if they may not be right.

Another survey finding—but one on which most respondents agreed—is that mobile devices will be the primary way people will connect to the Internet by 2020.
Wireless connectivity—mobility—is going to be much more important in the future to our online experiences than it currently is and the environment itself will become networked as objects become networked. We will be operating in a very different kind of information sphere than the one in which we now live and work. Certainly, the introduction of the iPhone and all the other companion phones now on the market have given people a taste of what the future might look like already. Bandwidth will improve, our capacity to boost stuff through the electromagnetic spectrum will get better and better. The devices that we carry around now which we now call cell phones are going to be cell phones and computers and life managers in ways that we don’t quite yet employ them—and that in less-developed parts of the world, mobile phones will offer most people a much less expensive, more efficient way to connect to the Internet. People won’t have to buy laptops or desktop computers in order to have access to all the other people and all the information that people who now have a computer now have access to. So the hope is that the rise of mobility will help a whole new cohort of people to have access to the things that people in the developed world have had for 10-15 years.

There’s been a lot of talk – particularly in the wake of Barack Obama’s effective use of social networking—that one's social capital will continue to become more critical to one's success in society and could one day become even more influential than wealth.
The experts are very interested in the subject of social capital and in the survey, they broke off into several strains on how the concept may evolve. Some experts absolutely think that the capacity of the Net to bring new people and experiences into our lives means that the volume of social capital is going to grow. There are others–guys like Barry Wellman, a sociologist at University of Toronto—who says the idea of social capital is sort of transformed by the Internet. It’s not necessarily taking place in traditional, tight-knit groups like the family or the neighborhood or even the workplace, he says. Rather, it’s more of a networked phenomenon. People can segment their lives based on their interests. I might, therefore, have one group of buddies online who share my passion for my favorite baseball team, and I might have another set of buddies online who share my passion for the dog that I own and another set of buddies who can help me with financial information, especially in hard economic times. So we’re acting like networkers now. [Wellman and I are writing a book that says just that.] Another group of respondents thinks people aren’t necessarily building extra social capital online and certainly are not reaching out to others who are not like them. In fact, many think that online, people will ever more tightly close into smaller information worlds, where the only people and information they will encounter will perfectly match up with what these people already think and believe.

And transparency will become even more uncomfortable for some?
There’s a very strong feeling of concern that this new world we’re entering is not necessarily going to be one in which people are going to have better experiences. One of the big dimensions of that dark side is that, of course, as we expose ourselves to more—and as more is known about us in this new online environment—traditional notions of reputation, power, and privacy are going to change; a lot of experts think we are not yet socially equipped to deal with that. We haven’t figured out the new norms and the new etiquette and the rules of the road for how to behave responsibly in a world where anybody who wants can ask you to be their friend and follow your profile and your comings and goings in ways they couldn’t before, when they didn’t have physical access to you. The experts we surveyed are very anxious about the ways that governments and big corporations may be able to exploit the new vulnerabilities that may be part of this new world.

(Illustration by frenta -

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Monday, January 12, 2009

Social Actions Roundup 3

The use of social media for social change is proliferating rapidly. In that vein, we at Cause Global are starting to share this weekly round-up of social action links and varied tech news bits from Social Actions and its passionate, cause-wired team—Joe Solomon, Christine Egger and Peter Deitz.

Here is Social Actions' second round-up of the new year, covering January 3-10:

SocialEdge is taking applications for its annual Global Social Benefit Incubator Competition; RisingVoices is taking applications for its annual new media outreach micro-grants of $5k; Nabuur is accepting applications for volunteer online project managers, and ModestNeeds invited the newly unemployed to apply for bridge grants.

TakingItGlobal launched a personal fundraising campaign to support its work in 2009.

Kiva announced plans to launch an open API for its micro-lending platform.

PolicyPitch became a December 2008 Ideablob finalist.

Stephen Colbert joined the board of directors of

Convio asked nonprofits for their 2009 technology resolutions.

Gina Bianchini of Ning shared her company's three-month roadmap.

Leslie Poston wrote on Mashable a guest post, Give Back With Social MicroFunding in 2009.

Rachel Cunliffe wrote on Mashable a guest post, 10 Ways Twitter Will Change Blog Design in 2009.

Firstgiving shared three online fundraising resolutions.

Beth Kanter recapped her social media birthday fundraiser on behalf of the Sharing Foundation.

Kimberly Brock wrote about how one can protect consumer rights by becoming a citizen blogger.

Christine Prefontaine wrote about the importance of investing in a community facilitator.

Paul Lamb, writing on mySociety, discussed the value of creating a social credit card (from 2006).

Peter Deitz announced that Convio, NTEN and CauseWired Communications will co-sponsor Social Actions' Change the Web Challenge, and Social Actions won Reddit's FeedANeed contest.

Recent Discoveries

2009 National Conference on Volunteering and Service

GivingGame - Do good. Pass it on.

Service-learning - Using structured reflection to enhance learning from service

Ignite format presentations

Inviting Change consulting

John Haydon's social media coaching

Economic Xchange - how the current economy impacts philanthropy

Eric Cooper explains how to build a Social Actions powered application.

What are Social Actions Round-Ups?

Each week, Social Actions community members post links and news about online social action applications and nonprofit activism. This round-up is a summary of just some of the links that surfaced in the last week, through January 10. You can share links and news for future Social Actions round-ups in the Peer-to-Peer Social Change FriendFeed Room. You can also check out past round-ups here and can tag your delicious bookmarks with "p2pchange" or include "#p2pchange" in your tweets; Social Actions will scoop them up and review them.

Social Actions round-ups are syndicated on CauseWired, CauseGlobal, TakePart, and NetSquared.

(Illustration © KonstantinosKokkinis -

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Sunday, January 11, 2009

Playing it Forward

Thanks to social media, it's never been easier to share both misery and optimism. Check out JobeeHive's new user-generated Layoff Counter, one of the latest examples of how self-organized groups in the philanthropy, for-profit, and social advocacy sectors [among others] are popping up this recession. But optimism, too, appears to be going viral. See cellist Benjamin Zander's talk about possibility and abundance (below) at last fall's Pop!Tech conference. It's making the rounds of some nonprofit blogs and social networking sites [again]—as more social advocates and nonprofit workers of all stripes continue to face unwanted changes.

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Thursday, January 8, 2009

Flash Causes

Earlier this week, something happened involving Twitter that has convinced me and a lot of other social media watchers that on-the-fly “flash” advocacy—rapidly, self-assembled groups formed to instantly solve a problem—has already arrived, big-time.

On Tuesday, a Chicago design executive, David Armano, posted an emotional tweet on his Twitter feed to request help for Daniela, an acquaintance facing urgent family and economic problems. We’ve all heard about social media appeals but this one turned into a genuine flash cause, as Armano’s online social network of more than 8,000 followers galvanized into action. Within a few hours on Tuesday, Armano’s appeal had raised more than $5,000. By Wednesday, thousands of sympathetic tweets had poured into his Twitter feed along with donations topping $11,000. By noon today, the cash raised had exceeded $15,000—and growing. “OK friends,” Daniela tweeted this morning, "thank-you for an unforgettable day and a half [sic]. I’m cooked. Really am so proud at how you came through.” [One of the people who donated to Daniela called the flash group, in a tweet, “the social media compassion mafia” and congratulated it for its generous and rapid response.]

The significance here is that Daniela’s digital rescue isn’t an isolated phenomenon. For months now, people in social networks have begun to self-organize into flash causes using Twitter—as well as other forms of social media. [Much has already been written about’s recent Tweetsgiving campaign, which raised $10,000 in the 48 hours before Thanksgiving to build a classroom in Tanzania.] Earlier this fall, techPresident blogger Nancy Scola and colleague Alison Fine organized the Twitter Vote Report, which began as an effort on election day to create a real-time citizen-watch campaign to guard against voter intimidation—but also ended up providing a popular way for mostly first-time voters to share their personal experiences voting in a presidential election.

So what does all of this mean for social action? Can people like Dave Armano or EpicChange organizers Stacey Monk and Avi Kaplan be as successful a second time—if, say, they tried mobilizing their networks again, but this time on behalf of someone or something else? What makes people more prone to staging a successful flash cause than others? Are flash causes a temporary phenomenon fueled by the novelty of the technology, itself, or yet another powerful example of how one’s social capital online can be more powerful, in some ways, than personal wealth in fighting social ills?

There’s no science yet on the subject, of course, but there seems to be many things that flash campaigns have in common so far—a social network of highly motivated people who want to do something autonomously of any established group; the belief that no other group can help as quickly or as effectively; the shared desire to help create something new and unique, and the inspiration of an influential, highly engaged catalyst [or pair of them] with an already-large online social network poised to make a difference.

Still skeptical? HubSpot’s recent State of the Twittersphere Report estimates there are some 5 million people in the Twitter community and that it's growing by some 10,000 new accounts per day. Key to more growth will be the types of conversations the community will have; many social media watchers [myself included] believe Twitter use will become more cause-focused as it integrates a search function—and as more sophisticated mobile phone technology becomes ubiquitous this year. Watch for more efforts using Twitter as a “citizen watch” or flash-cause organizer locally and abroad.

For more on David Armano’s campaign for Daniela, go to Armano’s blog, here, and his Twitter page, here. For more on the rise of self-organized, online cause groups, see this video clip (below) of Clay Shirky addressing the recent Pop!Tech 2008 conference. Social media, Shirky says, are encouraging people to “design [new groups] for generosity” and are—in the process—“reversing everything we’re used to” about traditional philanthropy.

(Illustration, above, by Miroslaw Pieprzyk for

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Tuesday, January 6, 2009

After Bernie

Some nonprofits facing closure from heavy losses tied to the recent Bernard Madoff investment scandal are getting some bailouts of their own—but not from Capitol Hill. Groups such as and George Soros' Open Society Institute, among others, are stepping in to give [or raise] money—online and off—for some organizations hit especially hard by Madoff's alleged $50 billion Ponzi scheme.

In a report today, The Associated Press said that used social networking and other forms of social media to help raise more than $635,000 online in three days for The Brennan Center for Justice, Human Rights Watch, Advancement Project, and The Center for Constitutional Rights. The Atlantic Philanthropies also is considering how best to help those in need of emergency funding to stay open.

For more on the rescue, see Lucy Bernholz's recent take by clicking HERE.

(Illustration by Elise Beaudry)

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Social Actions Roundup 2

The use of social media for social change is proliferating rapidly. In that vein, we at Cause Global will start sharing this weekly round-up of social action links and varied news bits from Social Actions and its passionate, cause-wired team—Joe Solomon, Christine Egger and Peter Deitz.

Here is Social Actions' first round-up of the new year from the period December 21 through January 3:

The Case Foundation launched its Change Begins With Me campaign, a contest that will send one winner to President-elect Obama's inauguration on January 20. launched 7 new blogs and made predictions for 2009.

Tom Watson formally launched CauseWired Communications and led a discussion about online social activism for The Chronicle of Philanthropy.

Beth Kanter wrote about the Facebook Causes birthday application and was cited by Fast Company for effective Twitter fundraising.

Paul Lamb wrote about the Cool & Conscientious Ning network about Living Givingly. wrote about best practices for finding the lastest nonprofit news.

Amazee linked to a new paper on the growing influence of social networks.

Razoo published a list of what it considers the 100 best charities.

Jim Moss argued that Pointing and Clicking is Not Activism.

Qui Diaz published [on Mashable] a blog post detailing 50 ways to get your 'give' on.

Ning Network Creators featured a post on building the perfect social network.

Peter Deitz posted on Pop!Tech a review of David Peat's latest book, Gentle Action and was interviewed by Radio-Canada in a segment on Les miarcles miicrophilanthropique (en francais).

Marcia Odell of Pact's WORTH program received the Vision Award for her work in savings-based micro-finance.

Social Actions launched a new initiative, for which it released the press release, Online Competition Aims to Change the World by Changing the Web. The organization also is preparing to launch; Peter Deitz asked Social Actions' supporters to help make 2009 all about taking action.

Recent Discoveries

Active Neighboring

The Chicago Tribune's DoGood Channel

Everyday Democracy -- Ideas & Tools for Community Change

Diddit -- Check off adventures you've had and find stuff to do

Facilitating Change

What are Social Actions Round-Ups?

Each week, Social Actions community members post links and news about online social activism. This round-up is a summary of some of the links that surfaced in the last 14 days, through January 3. You can share links and news for future Social Actions round-ups in the Peer-to-Peer Social Change FriendFeed Room. You can also check out past round-ups here. You also can tag your delicious bookmarks with "p2pchange" or include "#p2pchange" in your tweets; Social Actions will scoop them up and review them.

Social Actions round-ups are syndicated on CauseWired, CauseGlobal, TakePart, and NetSquared.

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Monday, January 5, 2009

The Year Ahead

We know we're a bit late making our predictions for 2009; more than ever, it seems, people are divided over how they think social media will be used differently this year to make change in the world. We at Cause Global know it's going to be a tough year for many social advocacy groups; we're hopeful that widespread cost-cutting will help clarify what works [and what doesn't]. At the very least, results will be more critical than ever. Impact will be measured more harshly (no more anecdotes allowed) and low-cost social media will be used more widely by businesses and nonprofits, alike, to find new levels of support.

Here's some of what we forecast:

* Managing transparency will get harder. As more cash-strapped nonprofits and social change organizations use social media—successfully—to drum up new supporters and re-engage existing ones, they'll find themselves facing larger workloads amid growing demands by new members for more individualized attention and more frequent interaction. Look for new "donor relationship management" strategies and software—along with an array of new job titles [donor relationship manager, anyone?] all aimed at better handling the roars of the crowd.

* Smaller will mean better. Many more social networks will start closing their doors to the general public, opting instead to become smaller, invitation-only groups based on members' influence and thought leadership—what Chris Brogan of New Marketing Labs calls a trend towards "velvet ropes." Look for leaner and meaner social action networks—action-oriented, semi-gated communities organized around specific projects. Members will, increasingly, be recruited based on the skill-sets the group needs to become more effective. Think grassroots re-organization, online, of what had been brick-and-mortar—sans the top-down, hierarchical org charts of older groups that tended to hinder teamwork, rapid response, and innovation.

* De-friending will become de rigueur. The social graph—not just who you know but who you're connected to based on your interests, location, your favorite causes, your profession, and so on—will shrink. Look for people to start dropping out of online social networks or becoming more selective about who they invite into their own. Increasingly, it's not how many people you can recruit to the cause. Now it's more about who can be effective that matters. Social capital—one's individual networking clout or a group's cache among thought leaders and coolhunters—will become as (or even more) important as fundraising savvy when it comes to effective social problem-solving. In the early days of e-commerce, companies began using the power of the Web to learn which customers cost them the most, then "fired" the most expensive. As social networks continue to reshape the philanthropy space, also look for more cause groups to start proactively shedding supporters who no longer participate with their dollars, time, or connections—or who fail to get results or become too demanding online. We also predict a surge in online services aimed at helping groups and individuals update, downsize, and more effectively manage their "friends" lists.

*Flash causes will proliferate. The convergence of mobile and social media will play an increasingly important role in social problem-solving, making it possible, instantly, (read cheaply) to organize, raise money, or gather attention online. Look for more on-the-fly, online "swarms" to be organized at home and abroad this year to express rapid dissent or support, or drum up volunteer aid to individuals or organizations in a heartbeat—depending on what's happening now.

* Twitter will emerge as a top new tool for social change—that is, of course, if it can tackle a series of security issues that hit the free social messaging service again today. [For more about today's Twitter hackers, see this post on the PC World blog.] HubSpot's recent State of the Twittersphere Report estimates that there are some 5 million people in the Twitter community, and that it is growing by some 10,000 new accounts per day. Key to more growth will be the types of conversations the community will have; we believe more of the tweet-stream will become cause-focused as Twitter integrates a search function—and as mobile, cause-action groups wrack up more successes using Twitter as a "citizen watch" or group-protection device in dangerous geographical and political areas. [Check out HarassMap, which enables women in the Dar El Salaam neighborhood of Cairo to anonymously report incidences of sexual harassment as soon as they happen, using a simple text message from their mobile phones. Look for Twitterized versions in China, Japan, and the United States in 2009.] Twitter also will help more groups pass or tank controversial legislation, educate citizens on the fly against public health dangers, and raise fast cash for the needy. [For more on this, check out's recent Tweetsgiving campaign, which raised $10,000 in 48 hours to build a classroom in Tanzania.] We also see Twitter becoming an even more popular tool for citizen-whistleblowers and journalists of all stripes.

* More companies will get social. The sputtering economy will push more companies and business interests bent on social purpose into the social media space. Blogger Ann Handley says "dwindling budgets (will) suddenly make low-cost social media look like the pretty girl at the ball." We also predict more CEOs will attempt to harness the social Web to promote themselves and their company's brand values online—as well as push for increasingly sophisticated communications strategies to keep some things out of the digital fishbowl, but successful implementation of either will be spotty.

*Impact-measurement will go micro. Cause-wired activists will devise new ways to micro-measure donor impact to keep supporters feeling more continuously engaged, online and off. A new survey from the Pew Internet & American Life project shows people expect the level of online engagement they experienced with President-elect Obama during the campaign to continue; since the election, social media experts agree that cause-wired donors and supporters of all social initiatives need now to be continuously reassured by the organizations and people they patronize that they are making a difference. While it's somewhat easier to measure progress in a political campaign by a candidate's standing in the polls or how many primaries he or she has won, it's harder to measure donor impact on, say, the alleviation of poverty. Look for major new ways by those in hard-hit social sectors to measure small [or minor] progress. We also predict an increase in the use of rapid-response teams by social action organizations expanding their activities online. Watch for nonprofit fundraising executives to start de-emphasizing traditional solicitation strategies in favor of impact measurement marketing and community organizing.

*Video games will find broader acceptance as social problem-solving tools. The serious games movement will make major strides this year using game technology to raise awareness of social problems, from the Israeli-Palestinian conflict, poverty, global warming, and the genocide in Darfur. Still skeptical? Know that Food Force, a game that teaches children about hunger, has been downloaded more than 4 million times; Darfur is Dying has been played by some 3 million people and has generated what GamesforChange founder Suzanne Seggerman says are 50,000 real-world actions [including letters to members of Congress]; Ayiti: The Cost of Life, a game about poverty in Haiti created with inner-city youth in New York, is being played by more than 2 million young people around the world. Look for newer games and wider use of them in the classroom and by more causes to reach new supporters, at home and abroad.

And that's just for starters. For JD Lasica's annual list of the coming year's top social media events, click HERE. And elsewhere on the Web, here's one of our favorite musings about the year ahead, from Sean Stannard-Stockton. His recent New Year's Resolution post on his terrific blog, Tactical Philanthropy, urges those in the philanthropy field using social media this year to "make better mistakes tomorrow." Stannard-Stockton writes:

"The field of philanthropy is a bit like an uncharted wilderness...As a field, we still have an aversion to admitting that philanthropy ever fails at anything. But as everyone knows, admitting a problem is the first step to fixing it...Rather than resolve that next year we will do more, do better, do faster, let us humbly resolve that in 2009 we will make better mistakes than we did in 2008, mistakes that are a result of daring, well-informed risks—mistakes that demonstrate our willingness to embrace the unknown and try things that other people tell us can't be done. Let's make mistakes that we can be proud of..."

What are some of your predictions for the year ahead? Go ahead, tell us what we missed.

(Illustration by Miroslaw Pieprzyk for

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