Social Source Commotion

I was happy to be invited to participate on the advisory board for Social Source Commons, a project of Aspiration Tech‘s that collects, catalogs and distributes feeds of software tools useful in the non-profit community. The social designation is no accident – anyone can sign up and contribute. The newly formed advisory committee met today, with five of us on the call – two from Aspiration (Tim, who runs SSC, and Gunner) and three community advisors – one working with an org that does poverty outreach and two community consultants: Dan, Zac and I. Our sixth member, Sharon, who works with a non-profit that provides tech solutions for the disabled, couldn’t make it.

The conversation really focused on two very different questions, and what was interesting was seeing where they might connect.

As it stands, SSC is a user-developed online database of software applications. A new feature allows users to make “community toolboxes”, so that you can design a list of, say, your favorite fund-raising apps; all the text editors for the Mac; or hosted software with the best Ajaxy interfaces. But the feature isn’t fully implemented. It’s easy to make the lists, but a bit of a challenge to find the lists that others have made. So my critique is that what is missing was context. I don’t want to just list my favorite Mac text editors – I want to discuss the pros and cons. If you program in Ruby, you might prefer Textmate to BBEdit – there’s no place in the database for that kind of nuanced information. SSC provides the tools, but not the context, except in a limited fashion with the partially-deployed Community Toolboxes.

Dan had a completely different question. Given that the tiny non-profits and the communities they work with tend to be lacking in technical expertise, how can they use a very Web 2.0 interface to help themselves out? Is SSC designed to help those in the most need of software and advice, or those who are already well-resourced and conversant? (And I’m paraphrasing intensely here – Dan should comment if I’ve really missed his point!)

I think the answer to that either/or question is mostly yes. SSC is an interface for the geeks. Even if the user interface were customized for non-technical users, they would likely still be overwhelmed by the software data itself. This is a tool for the people who are tech-savvy and work in those communities to use in their research. So, getting back to the context question — which is huge, because it’s just not enough to have the data without the wisdom of the community — who can provide that?

And here’s what excites me about where Social Source Commons might be going. We can. NPTech bloggers. Non-Profits doing digital divide work. Community activists. If SSC develops middleware – widgets and APIs that allow us to interact more meaningfully with those feeds and toolboxes – the blogging community can provide the context. SSC moves into a more del.icio.us role, as a data intermediary.

Say you’re doing a project that involves using media players in low income communities to support education and communication, and you’ve built a good list of podcasting tools and mobile rss readers art SSC. You’ll be able to link to it from your website or blog, and write the how-to’s with detailed application data provided by SSC. This is useful.

These tools are under development – I’ll be beta-testing them at techcafeteria. Stay tuned.

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3 thoughts on “Social Source Commotion

  1. gunner

    Peter,

    Thanks for such an insightful summary of our call, and your reflections on the evolution of SSC.

    We’re absolutely committed to creating the middleware you describe, and I look forward to working with you and the rest of the advisory group to author and animate those.

    Also, as mentioned in our discussion, the other place we’re looking for use case is ideas is how layer “collaborative” features on top of the existing data grid, a la flickr mail and LinkedIn.com’s “ask a question” feature. While that won’t directly address all the context issues you describe, it will certainly create substantial value-add (and hopefully community :^) on top of the data grid.

    How valuable do you think bookmarklets would be in our offering, “Send to SSC” akin to “Sub to bloglines”? Another place we’re trying to generate collaboration is on the contribution front (more good stuff going in = more value for middleware), so I’m curious if you think that’s the path, or not.

    Oh, and on the “nit” front, we go by “Aspiration” rather than “Aspiration Tech” in spite of what our domain name says :^)

    thanks & peace
    gunner

  2. Beth

    I had a chance to beta test the tool remotely and screencasted my test
    http://video.google.com/videoplay?docid=-8523551201046500012

    Your question re: audience is a good one. I wonder if the technique of pivot browsing – which ssc uses – will become more mainstreamed in nonprofits as more and more tag based systems become more mainstreamed?

    And, if the interface is for the geeks – how does the translation happen.

  3. Peter Campbell Post author

    Gunner – I think bookmarklets are always handy. But something else to think about is trackbacks — assuming we build a context community around SSC, and remove the need for SSC to build, market and moderate it’s own community, it could centralize and facilitate the discussion by adding links to discussion pieces to the software entry at SSC. I don’t know if there’s a way to automate this. I mean, there are ways, but I haven’t thought them out all that well — certainly having an SSC convention for tagging blog entries could work the same way that the nptech tag is now a linkable research point, as I do with nptech.info. More food for thought.

    Aspiration’s name is now indelibly noted. 🙂

    Beth – I am now looking at nptech.info and wondering if it can be positioned as middleware. Since Drupal only offers rss feeds to contributed content, I hacked it and set up my own rss feeds for the three aggregator categories for community blogs, tagged information, and general tech news — http://nptech.info/nptech_blogs.xml, http://nptech.info/nptech_tagged.xml and http://nptech.info/nptech_general.xml, respectively. To see how this works, just look at my home page. this is pretty cool – an enhanced blogroll. Instead of linking to beth.typepad.com, I link directly to your latest entries.

    So, since I have this database of strategic non-profit technology thoughts and info, how can the world use it, and how should I deliver it? RSS is a no-brainer. What else could we do?

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