Losing Facebook

Where do you live? Where do you hang out? Does your social life revolve around a particular location? Presumably, your social life is only as geographically restricted as your travel budget allows. You can meet your friends at a coffee shop, mall, park or home. You don’t always meet them at the same place; and you don’t go to that place to call them.. So why should your online social life be any different?

This week, Google announced that their internet portal page, iGoogle, would be incorporating widgets, or, as they call them, Gadgets that perform the type of social networking functions that online social networks like Facebook, LinkedIn and MySpace provide. This comes at a time when Twitter, the group chat/micro-blogging tool has been rising up the social staircase and getting a lot of new users and attention. Twitter, unlike the more established social networks, is more commonly accessed through third-party, desktop applications than the twitter.com web site.

I like this trend. My primary social networking site isn’t Facebook or LinkedIn — it’s GMail. Twitter is the first thing to challenge that. Because, for me, it’s not about the brand – it’s about communication. So Facebook has it’s ouvre, it’s demographic market, and, like everyone else, it’s mission to learn everything there is to learn about my network’s shopping preferences, and the slow website and constant “spam your friends” requirements of their tools really puts me off. LinkedIn has a cleaner, more professional aesthetic that I find a lot less annoying, but my favorite new feature of theirs is the ability to subscribe to the feed of my network updates in my RSS reader (something Facebook doesn’t provide). So I’m rooting for the destruction of the social networking brands, and the ultimate incorporation of powerful social tools into my my desktop, RSS Reader and email.

At that point, I’ll be able to take advantage of the powerful interpersonal tools that the web enables. I’ll still travel to my friends and associates web sites; and I’ll still visit the Ning and Drupal communities that matter to me. I won’t need a middle man like Facebook or MySpace. That will be a happy day!

Avalanche!

I took a trip up to Juneau, Alaska last week (April 16th, 2008). Didn’t get too many pictures, but the ones I did included an avalanche in motion – we had a foot of snow while I was there (very late in the season). So, here’s a good test of WordPress 2.5′s new Gallery feature. These shots were taken while driving around Juneau checking out potential office spaces for the Earthjustice office to relocate to during a potential renovation. The avalanche starts in the second row, coming down the mountain and then billowing up in a gray cloud over the building on the right. The second to last shot – the one with the colorful houses – is the view from outside of our office (which is in an old house). Beautiful place, Juneau!

Fair Pay

A sad, but all too common problem was presented on NTEN‘s main discussion forum yesterday:

An IT Director in New York City, working for a large nonprofit (650 people, multiple locations, full IT platform), got approval from his boss to hire in a Systems Administrator (punchline here) at $40,000 annually. Understand, System Administrators rarely make less than $75k a year at similarly sized for profits. The boss pulled that number out of a salary survey, but, given the quality of it, I say he might as well have pulled it out of a hat.

Determining what’s fair — or, as we call it “market” — pay is an art in itself, and good salary surveys, like the one NTEN produces, offer far more than suggested wages – they provide context, like location, industry standards; they discuss trends, and the best ones frame the survey results in what the numbers should mean to us.

So, when I read the NTEN survey, and saw what were still ridiculously low salaries in comparison to the for-profit pay scales, I didn’t read it as “these are good numbers”. I read it as “our industry doesn’t value technology.” Literally. If our salaries are at 50-75% of the rest of the world’s, how are we going to attract long-term, talented people? And if we have a revolving door of mediocre (or, more accurately, some stellar, some miserable) sysadmins running our critical systems, how much money, productivity, and plain competence at our important work are we going to sacrifice? What’s the cost of maintaining instability in order to save bucks on payroll?

So my pitch is that we have to stop thinking that there’s a metric called nonprofit wages. There are market rates for positions, and there is a value in serving a mission. So a nonprofit salary is a market salary (what a for profit would pay), less the monetary value of being able to serve the mission.

Nonprofits can’t keep thinking that they exist in some world within a world. They complete with all businesses for talent, and, in the IT realm, for profits not only offer better compensation, they offer more toys, bigger staffs (which translates to more techies to pal around with, something a lot of my staff have missed in nonprofit), and, often, newer technology to learn and deploy. In our field, it’s all about current skills.

So I feel for my compatriot in NYC, and hope that he can muster a case for his boss, for both his and his bosses sake. If NTEN is reading, a great accompanying metric for the salary survey would be IT turnover tracking, as well as interims when key poisitions (CIO, Sysadmin) are unfilled. Info on how that impacted business objectives. We need to do more than just report on the pay – we have to document the impacts.

Random Identity

I took a brief trip to Second Life the other night, yet another web 2.0 trend that, like Facebook, sends my normally open-minded and curious instincts running for shelter. I’ve never been into gaming, and I obviously don’t use the internet in order to do things anonymously – my username is based on my real name just about everywhere. But I’m looking for any means possible to improve communication at my geographically diverse company, and to do it while reducing our carbon footprint. So that’s quite a challenge – how do we improve communication while cutting down on flying, when we have offices in Honolulu, Juneau and D.C., among other places?

So it struck me that Second Life, as a virtual meeting place, has, at the very least, potential that should be vetted. I have yet to do that vetting – I plan to give it a shot tonight by attending a virtual meeting with the Techsoup virtual community. On Wednesday, I created an account and figured out just enough about how Second Life works in order to get to the meeting later. Reactions:

Good:

  • Second Life supports voice, if you have a microphone and stereo speakers, and does it well enough that, if you’re conversing with someone who is, in the Virtual Reality, standing to your left, their voice will come from the left speaker.
  • It was easier than I thought it would be to move around and figure it all out. Your mileage might vary. It is, necessarily, a somewhat busy interface.

Bad:

  • You are not only advised to not use your real name, you can’t. The account creation process lets you create a first name (text input box) ad select a last name from about 25 in a drop down list. After being advised to “pick my name carefuly, it’s permanent, and can’t be changed”, I had little option to actually pick a name that I identified with or took seriously.
  • Big roots in the gaming community, obviously. The account creation process offers you ten avatars to choose from (avatars being the cartoon images that will represent you in the virtual world). Five female, five male – I was not going for the female impersonation thing, so that left me five. Of those, one (“Boy Next Door”) was fairly innocuous, although it looked about as much like me as Fred from “Scooby Doo” does. If I didn’t want to be Fred, my choices ranged from anthropomorphic fox people to what must be villains from the old “He-man, Master of the Universe” Saturday morning cartoon. Mind you, I was able to customize Fred’s appearance, and while I was shooting to make him look like me (I know, completely unclear on the concept here), as close as I could get resembled my punk rock days in the late seventies.

So, I’ll do a follow up post after I get to do what I set out to do, and evaluate Second Life as a virtual meeting place. But, already, I’m trying to imagine how I explain to the eighty or so Earthjustice Attorneys that step one is to pick a name like “John Vigaromney” that you’ll be known as, and step two is to decide whether you want to look like a furry animal or a grim reaper. Then determine whether the avatars will reduce any serious meeting on global warming or mountaintop protection strategies to jokes and hysterical laughter.

I’m really not looking for Second Life, but there’s a huge — and maybe critical — application for Supplemental Life, which lets online collaboration more intuitively replace travel.