December 26 2010

Delicious Memories

This article was originally published on the Idealware Blog in December of 2010.

Like many of my NPTECH peers, I was dismayed to learn yesterday that Delicious, the social bookmarking service, was being put to pasture by Yahoo!, the big company that purchased the startup five years ago.  Marshall Kirkpatrick of ReadWriteWeb has written the best memorial,  But the demise of Delicious marks a passing of significant note to our community of nonprofit staff that seek innovative uses of technology.  So let me talk quickly about how Delicious brought me into this community, and, along the way, a bit about what it meant to all of us.

In 2002, I was wrapped up in my job as VP of Information Technology at San Franciscco Goodwill.  At that time, the buzz term was “Web 2.0″, and it was all over the tech press with about a thousand definitions.  We all knew that “Web 2.0″ meant the evolution of the web from a straight publisher to consumer distribution medium to something more interactive, but nobody knew exactly what. Around that time, I started reading columns by Jon Udell about RSS, technology that would, as a simpler, subset of XML, helps us share web-based information the way that newspapers share syndicated content, such as comic strips and columns.  I was really intrigued.  The early adopters of RSS were bloggers, and what I think was very cool about this is that RSS was free technology that, like the web, advanced the opportunities of penniless mortals to become global publishers.  People who couldn’t tell an XML feed from an XL T-Shirt were championing an open standard, because it served as the megaphone in front of their soapboxes.

I kept my eye out for innovative uses of RSS,a nd quickly discovered Joshua Schacter’s del.icio.us website.  This was a social bookmarking service where, by adding a little javascript link to your web browsers bookmark bar (or quick links, or whatever), you could quickly save any web page you enjoyed to an online repository for later retrieval.  That repository was public, so others could see what you found valuable as well.  But this is where Schacter jumped the gun, and championed two information technology strategies that have, since that time, significantly changed the web: tagging and rss.

Tagging

In addition to the link and a brief description, you could add keywords to each bookmark, and then later find related bookmarks by that keyword.  You could just find the bookmarks that you tagged with a word, or you could find the tags that anyone using Delicious tagged with that word.  So, if you were studying the russian revolution, you could search Delicious for russia+revolution and find every bookmark that anyone had saved,   This was different than searching for the same terms in Google or yahoo, because the results weren’t just the most read; they were the sites that were meaningful enough to people to actually be saved.  Delicious became, as Kirkpatrick points out,  a mass-curated collection of valuable information, more like wikipedia than, say, Yahoo Directory.  Delicious was the lending library of the web.

RSS

In addition to searching the site for tags by keyword and/or user, any results your searching found could be subscribed to via RSS.  This was crazy powerful! Not only could you follow topics of interest, but, using PHP add-ons like MagpieRSS or aggregation functions like those built into Drupal, Joomla, and pretty much any major Content Management System, you could quickly incorporate valuable, easily updated content into your website.  I immediately replaced my static “Links” page on my website to one that grabbed items witha  particular keyword from Delicious, so that updating that Links page was as easy as bookmarking a site that I wanted listed there.

NPTECH

I wasn’t the only nonprofit strategist taking note of these developments.  One day, while browsing items that Delicious termed Popular (e.g., bookmarks that multiple people had saved to the site), I noted a blog entry titled “The Ten Reasons Nonprofits Should Use RSS“.  The article was written by one Marnie Webb of CompuMentor (now better known as TechSoup, where she is one of the CEOs).  A week or so later, while following the office email mailing lis for Delicious, I encountered Marnie again, and, this time, emailed her and suggested that we meet for lunch, based on our clearly common interest in nonprofits and RSS.  Marnie told me about the NPTech Tagging Project, and effort she started by simply telling her friends to tag websites related to nonprofit technology with the tag “nptech” on Delicious, so that we could all subscribe to that tag in our RSS readers.

Marnie and I believe that what we started was the first mass information referral system of this type.  In 2005 we took it up a level by creating the nptech.info website, which aggregates items tagged with nptech from Delicious, Twitter, Flicker and numerous other sources across the web. Nptech.info is now more widely read via it’s Twitter feed, @nptechinfo.

I think it’s safe to say that the nptech tagging project grew from a cool and useful idea and practice into a community, and a way that many of us identify who we are to the world.  I’m a lot of things, but nptechie sums most of them up into one simple word.  I know that many of you identify yourselves that way as well.

An offshoot of meeting Marnie on the Delicious mailing list was that she introduced me to NTEN, and brought me into the broad community of nptech, and my current status as a blogger, writer, presenter, Idealware board member and happy member of this broad community ties directly back to the Delicious website.  I stopped using the site as a bookmarking service some time ago, as efforts that it inspired (like Google Reader sharing)  became more convenient.  But I still subscribe to Delicious feeds and use it in websites.  It’s demise will likely be the the end of nptech,info.  Efforts are underway to save it, so we’ll see.  But even if this article is the first you’ve heard of Delicious, it’s important to know that it played a role in the evolution of nonprofit technology as the arbiter of all things nptech.  It’s ingenuity and utility will be sorely missed.

Category: NPTech, Technology, Web | Comments Off
December 2 2010

Why the TSA Groping is a Big, Big Problem

tsa_before-after

Photo by Raymond Mendosa

I’ve been pretty horrified by the new TSA security procedures since I first caught wind of them.  The Boing Boing blog has been doing excellent coverage of the fiasco, providing the best examples of how damaging these new exposing and groping procedures can be to innocent Americans, and why crossing over from threat detection to threat assumption policies is bad, bad, bad for our democracy.

I’ve also been hearing the backlash against the complaints.  A number of people had relatively painless holiday travel experiences last week and are now saying it was all a lot of hype.  But I continue to consider a level of terrorist prevention this extreme to be more likely to traumatize more Americans than the threat they’re protecting us from will.  It’s not about the 95% of the population who, like me, can pretty much shrug and say “I don’t care that much if you photograph me semi-nude” or, “I can tolerate a little more radiation — it’s not like this is the only place I’m exposed to it” or, even, “I get that you’re going to touch my private parts and that this isn’t molestation, you’re not enjoying it either”.  It’s about the rape and molestation victims, past and future, as well as the people who, for personal or religious reasons, can’t minimize the trauma of being exposed to or groped by strangers.  Not the majority of us, but a very significant minority,

So then I see an article like this, which has the top TSA official basically saying to parents (like me), “don’t explain to your children that what the TSA agent is about to do to you is necessary, but should never, ever be tolerated by strangers when Mommy and/or Daddy aren’t right here with you and it isn’t absolutely required for security reasons”, but, instead saying, “tell your kid that the TSA agent is just playing a harmless game that involves touching you”.  Because strangers touching children’s genitalia is, of course, no big deal and the priority here is to make sure everyone is calm and smiling as they submit to these procedures.  Months later, when lecherous Uncle Eddie wants to play the same game, well, Mommy and Daddy know about this game and said it was okay for the TSA agent to play, so they’re not going to consider this a problem…

Security at the cost of the humiliation of abused adults and government approved molesting of children terrorizes citizens.  It doesn’t make us more secure, even if it’s not a “big deal” for most of us.  This is a government-sanctioned human rights violation, and we really shouldn’t tolerate it.

Category: Politics | 1 Comment