Category Archives: Web

Topics related to using and dealing with digital life.

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.

The Years Of The Kat

goodhunting

This is a memorial post for Krazy.com, a domain that I registered in February of 1995, back when Network Solutions was the only domain registrar and the annual registration fee was $0. I had recently closed my computer bulletin board system, which was called the Coconino County BBS, after the home of George Herriman‘s classic comic character, Krazy Kat. In it’s place, I put up a web site that grew to be the most complete and best known source of information on the now somewhat obscure, but dearly loved early 20th century newspaper strip about a Kat, named Krazy, who loved a Mouse, named Ignatz. This Ignatz found Krazy quite silly, and showed his disdain by throwing bricks at his/her head (Krazy’s gender was never identified). Offisa Pup, the local Kanine Konstable, who was in love with Krazy, arrested Ignatz every time he caught the mouse in the act. And all of this action took place against a surreally fluid landscape of mesas, monuments and moons inspired by Herriman’s love for eastern Arizona Navajo country, with it’s painted desert and monument valley.

pupslept
As my nptech crowd knows, I just got too busy over the years with other things to properly grow and manage this web site. As much as I love Krazy Kat (and my son’s middle name is Ignatz, no lie!), I have to prioritize my current pursuits. I am blessed with the opportunity to do meaningful work at Earthjustice, to blog, and to help out the nonprofit community where and when I can, as a board member at Idealware, a contributor to Techsoup, and a steadfast supporter of NTEN. There are only so many hours in a day.

Krazy.com had the distinction of being a short, catchy, .com domain name, which means that it’s sale value ain’t hay, and, while my life’s pursuits are pretty rich, I’m not. I got an offer that matched what the domain is professionally valued at, and I couldn’t afford to turn it down. It’s a melancholy moment — one of those decisions that isn’t difficult to make, but is sad all of the same, like trading in a beloved car that will cost too much to keep running.

In the more than 15 years that Krazy.com got steady traffic, from visitors that included Herriman’s great grand-daughter and Krazy Kat book cover artist Chris Ware, I built my career, got married, had a child, built a house, and lived a life that continues to be happy and rewarding. Krazy Kat is fond of singing “There is a heppy lend, fur, fur away”. My heppy lend is right here, and I’m sorry that I have to move away from my beloved Coconino County.

PLAQUE

Adventures In Web Site Migration

This post was first published on the Idealware Blog in April of 2010.

I recently took on the project of migrating the Idealware articles and blog from their old homes on Idealware’s prior web site and Google’s Blogger service to our shiny, new, Drupal-based home. This was an interesting data-migration challenge. The Idealware articles were static HTML web pages that needed to be put in Drupal’s content database. And there is no utility that imports Blogger blogs to Drupal. Both projects required research and creativity.

The first step in any data migration project is to determine if automating the task will be more work than just doing it by hand. Idealware has about 220 articles published; cutting and pasting the text into Drupal, and then cleaning up the formatting, would be a grueling project for someone. On the other hand, automating the process was not a slam dunk. Database data is easier to write conversion processes for than free form text. HTML is somewhere in the middle, with HTML codes that identify sections, but lots of free form data as well.

Converting HTML Articles with Regular Expressions

My toolkit (of choice) for this project was Sed, the Unix Stream Editor, and a generic installation of Drupal. Sed does regular expression searching and replacing. So I wrote a script that:

  1. Deleted lines with HTML tags that we didn’t need;
  2. stored data between title and body tags;
  3. and converted those items to SQL code that would insert the title and article text into my Drupal database.

This was the best I could do: other standardized information, such as author and publishing date, was not standardized in the text, so I left calling those out for a clean-up phase that the Idealware staff took on. The project was a success, in it that it took less than two days to complete the conversion. It was never going to be an easy one.

Without going too far, the sed command to delete, say, a “META” tag is:

/\<meta/d

That says to search for a literal “less than” bracket (the forward slash implies literal) and the text meta and delete any line that contains it. A tricky part of the cleanup was to make sure that my search phrases weren’t ones that might also match article text.

Once I’d stripped the file down to just the data between the “title” and “body” tags, I issued this command:

s/\<title\>(.*)\<\/title\>.*\<body\>(.*)\<\/body\>/insert into articles (title, body) values (‘\1’, ‘\2’);/

This searches for the text between HTML “title” tags, storing it in variable 1, then the text between “body” tags, storing it in variable 2, then substitutes the variable data into a simple SQL insert statement in the replacement string. Iterating a script with all of the clean-up commands, culminating in that last command, gave me a text file that could be imported into the Drupal database. The remaining cleanup was done in Drupal’s WYSIWYG interface.

Blog Conversion

As I said, there is no such thing as a program or module that converts a Blogger Blog into Drupal format. And our circumstance was further complicated by the fact that the Idealware Blog was in Blogger’s legacy “FTP” format, so the conversion options available were further limited.

There is an excellent module for converting WordPress blogs to Drupal, and there were options for converting a legacy Blogger blog to WordPress. So, then the question was, how well will the blog survive a double conversion? The answer was: very well! I challenge any of you to identify the one post that didn’t come through with every word and picture intact.

I had a good start for this, Matthew Saunders at the Nonprofits and Web 2.0 Blog posted this excellent guide. If you have a current Blogger blog to migrate, every step here will work. My problem was that the Idealware blog was in the old “FTP” format. Google has announced that blogs in their original publishing format must be converted by May 1st. While this fact had little or no relationship to the web site move to Drupal, it’s convenient that we made the move well in advance of that.

To prep, I installed current, vanilla copies of WordPress and Drupal at techcafeteria.com. I tracked down Google’s free blog converters. While there is no WP to Drupal converter, most other formats are covered, and I just used their web-based Blogger to WordPress tool to convert the exported Idealware blog to WP format. The conversion process prompted me to create accounts for each author.

To get from WordPress to Drupal, I installed above-mentioned WordPress-import module. As with the first import, this one also prompted me to create the authors’ Drupal accounts. It also had an option to store all images locally (which required rights to create a public-writeable folder on the Drupal server). Again, this worked very well.

With my test completed, I set about doing it all over again on the new Idealware blog. Here I had a little less flexibility. I had administrative rights in Drupal, but I didn’t have access to the server. Two challenges: The server’s file upload limit (set in both Drupal and PHP’s initialization file) was set to a smaller size than my WordPress import file. I got around this by importing it in by individual blogger, making sure to include all current and former Idealware bloggers. The second issue was in creating a folder for the images, which I asked our host and designer at Digital Loom.com to do for me.

Cleanup!

The final challenge was even stickier — the posts came across, but the URLs were in a different format than the old Blogger URLs This was a problem for the articles as well. How many sites do you think link to Idealware content out there? For this, I begged for enough server access to write and run a PHP script that renamed the current URLs to their former names — a half-successful effort, as Drupal had dramatically renamed a bunch of them. The remainder we manually altered.

All told, about two hours research time, three or four hours conversion (over a number of days) and more for the clean-up, as I wasted a lot of time trying to come up with a pure SQL command to do the URL renaming, only to eventually determine that it couldn’t be done without some scripting. A fun project, though, but I’d call it a success.

I hope this helps you out if you ever find yourself faced with a similar challenge.

NPO Evaluation, IE6, Still Waters for Wave

This post was first published on the Idealware blog in January of 2010.

Here are a few updates topics I’ve posted on in the last few months:

Nonprofit Assessment

The announcement that GuideStar, Charity Navigator and others would be moving away from the 990 form as their primary source for assessing nonprofit performance raised a lot of interesting questions, such as “How will assessments of outcomes be standardized in a way that is not too subjective?” and “What will be required of nonprofits in order to make those assessments?” We’ll have a chance to get some preliminary answers to those questions on February 4th, when NTEN will sponsor a phone-in panel discussion with representatives of GuideStar and Charity Navigator, as well as members of the nonprofit community. The panel will be hosted by Sean Stannard-Stockton of Tactical Philanthropy, and will include:

I’ll be participating as well. You can learn more and register for the free event with NTEN.

The Half-Life of Internet Explorer 6

It’s been quite a few weeks as far as headlines go, with a humanitarian crisis in haiti; a dramatic election in Massachusetts; A trial to determine if California gay marriage-banning proposition is, in fact, discriminatory; high profile shakeups in late night television and word of the Snuggie, version 2 all competing for our attention. An additional, fascinating story is unfolding with Google’s announcement that they might pull their business out of China in light of a massive cybercrime against critics of the Chinese regime that, from all appearances, was either performed or sanctioned by the Chinese government. There’s been a lot of speculation about Google’s motives for such a dramatic move, and I fall in the camp that says, whatever their motives, it’s refreshing to see a gigantic U.S. corporation factor ethics into a business decision, even if it’s unclear exactly what the complete motivations are.

As my colleague Steve Backman fully explains here, here’s been some fallout from this story for Microsoft. First, like Google and Yahoo!, Microsoft operates a search engine in China and submits to the Chinese governments censoring filters. They’ve kept mum on their feelings about the cyber-attack. Google’s analysis of that attack reveals that GMail accounts were hacked and other breaches occurred via security holes in Internet Explorer, versions six and up, that allow a hacker to upload programs and take control of a user’s PC. As this information came to light, France and Germany both issued advisories to their citizens that switching to a browser other than Internet Explorer would be prudent. In response, Microsoft has issued a statement recommending that everyone upgrade from Internet Explorer version 6 to version 8, the current release. What Microsoft doesn’t mention is that the security flaw exists in versions seven and eight as well as six, so upgrading won’t protect you from the threat, although they just released a patch that hopefully will.

So, while their reasoning is suspect, it’s nice to see that Microsoft has finally joined the campaign to remove this old, insecure and incompatible with web standards browser.

Google Wave: Still Waters

I have kept Google Wave open in a tab in my browser since the day my account was opened, subscribed to about 15 waves, some of them quite well populated. I haven’t seen an update to any of these waves since January 12th, and it was really only one wave that’s gotten any updates at all in the past month. I can’t give away the invites I have to offer. The conclusion I’m drawing is that, if Google doesn’t do something to make the Wave experience more compelling, it’s going to go the way of a Simply Red B-Side and fade from memory. As I’ve said, there is real potential here for something that puts telecommunication, document creation and data mining on a converged platform, and that would be new. But, in it’s current state, it’s a difficult to use substitute for a sophisticated Wiki. And, while Google was hyping this, Confluence released a new version of their excellent (free for nonprofits) enterprise Wiki that can incorporate (like Wave) Google gadgets. That makes me want to pack up my surfboard.

Why Google Buzz Should Be Your Blog

Buzzcafeteria
Now, you might think that’s a crazy idea, but  I think Buzz is about 80% of the way there. Last week, in my Google’s Creepy Profiles post, I made a suggestion (that someone at Google has hopefully already thought of) that it wouldn’t take much to turn a Profile into a full-fledged biography/lifestreaming site.  Just add some user-configurable tabs, that can contain HTML or RSS-fed content, and add some capability to customize the style of the profile.  Since I wrote that, I’ve been using Buzz quite a bit and I’ve really been appreciating the potential it has to deepen conversations around web-published materials.I think some of my appreciation for Buzz comes from frustration with Google’s previous, half-hearted attempts to make Google Reader more social. If you use Reader heavily, then you know that you can share items via a custom, personal page and the “People You Follow” tab in Reader. You also know that you can comment on items and read others comments in the “Comments View”.  But it’s far from convenient to work with either of these sharing methods.  But, once you link your reader shared items to Buzz, then you aren’t using Reader’s awkward interface to communicate; you’re using Buzzes.  And Buzz, for all of Google’s launch-time snafus, is an easy to use and powerful communications tool, merging some of the best things about Twitter and Facebook.

So, how is Buzz suitable for a blog?

  • It’s a rich editing environment with simple textile formatting and media embedding, just like a blog.
  • Commenting — way built-in.
  • RSS-capable – you can subscribe to anyone’s Buzz feed.
  • Your Google Profile makes for a decent public Blog homepage, with an “About the Author”, links and contact pages.
  • It’s pre-formatted for mobile viewing

What’s missing?

  • Better formatting options.  The textile commands available are minimal
  • XML-RPC remote publishing
  • Plug-ins for the Google Homepage
  • As mentioned, more customization and site-building tools for the Google Homepage.

Why is it compelling?

  • Because your blog posts are directly inserted into a social networking platform.  No need to post a link to it, hope people will follow, and then deal with whatever commenting system your blog has to respond.
  • Your blog’s community grows easily, again fueled by the integrated social network.
  • Managing comments – no longer a chore!

This is the inverse of adding Google or Facebook’s Friend Connect features to your blog.  it’s adding your blog to a social network, with far deeper integration that Twitter and Facebook currently provide. Once Google releases the promised API, much of what’s missing will start to become available.  At that point, I’ll have to think about whether I want to move this island of a blog to the mainland, where it will get a lot more traffic.  I’ll definitely be evaluating that possibility.

Dealing with Domains – Part 2

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in January of 2010.

Last week, we talked about domain registrar services and what to look for. In today’s followup, we’ll focus on how to transfer a domain and the accompanying security concerns, then talk a bit about registrars vis a vis hosting services.

Domain Transfers

Transferring domains is a somewhat complex process that has been designed to minimize the risk of domain hijacking. In order to insure that transfers are performed by the actual owner of the domain, a few important measures are in place:

  • Every domain has an authorization (a.k.a. EPP) code associated with it. Transfers can not occur without this code being submitted. If you don’t have this information, your current registrar does. Some registrars have automated functions that will deliver that information to the domain contact; others require that you ask for them via email to the registrar or their support ticket application. Registrars are required to provide you with these codes within five calendar days of your request. If they don’t, your best recourse is to determine who they get their domain authority from (there are only a handful of companies that resell registration services) and appeal to them for assistance.
  • Communication is strictly through the registered “whois” email address of the domain owner. You can determine what that is by doing a whois lookup on your domain.
    Tip: While most domains can be looked up at http://whois.net. However, whois.net has some trouble with .org domains, so the alternative http://www.pir.org/whois is a more reliable source for most non-profit domains.

    If the address that your domain is registered with is either non-functional or owned by someone other than you, then you need to update it, via your current registrar’s web interface, before you can successfully transfer the domain.

  • Domains can (and should) be locked to prohibit transfers before and after you switch registrars. Locking and unlocking your domains is usually done by you, from your registrar’s web site. If you don’t have options to do that when you log on to the web site, your registrar should do it for you upon request.

Transfer Procedures

To initiate the transfer, go to the web site of the registrar that you want to switch to and follow their instructions. They will have you submit a request and, upon receipt of your domain fees, issue an email to the email address associated with the domain containing a link to a form where you can confirm the request. That form will also ask for the authorization code. Subsequently – and this can take up to seven days – you’ll receive an email from your current registrar asking you to confirm the transfer request. Once that is submitted, the transfer should go through.

Detailed rules about how domains are transferred, as well as what the responsibilities of the registrars are in handling the transfers, are listed at http://www.icann.org/en/transfers/policy-en.htm.

Choosing Registrars

Registrars charge anywhere from $5.00 to $50 dollars for a year’s domain service. The two best known registrars are Network Solutions and GoDaddy. Many people go with Network Solutions because they’re the longest standing of the registrars (for many years, they were the only registrar). GoDaddy has become very popular by dramatically undercutting the cost. Note, though, that both of these registrars have been accused of questionable business practices:

  • Network Solutions has engaged in “Front Running“, a questionable practice of locking domains that a potential customer might search for in order to block competitors from making the sale. They will also use subdomains of your domain to advertise, a practice called subdomain hijacking. A decent registrar will not seek to make profits based on your intellectual property.
  • GoDaddy famously suspends accounts based on corporate requests. In 2007, they suspended seclists.org, a website that archives internet security mailing lists, per the request of MySpace, with no court order or valid complaint. MySpace was upset that content posted to one of the lists that Seclists archived was inappropriate. But, instead of contacting Seclists to deal with the content in question, GoDaddy closed the site and wouldn’t respond to desperate emails or phone calls regarding the sudden closure. Worse, after the fiasco was resolved, they were unrepentant, and reserve the right to shut down any site for any spurious reason. If your NPO does work that is in the least bit controversial, keep this in mind when considering GoDaddy.

Web Hosting and Registrars

Many registrars supplement their business by providing web hosting services as well. Some will even offered discounted or free domain registration with a hosting plan. While this simplifies things, it can also be a bit risky in the “eggs in one basket” sense. Having a separate registrar and control over your DNS service allows you to be more flexible with switching hosts, should your current host prove themselves unreliable or go out of business. And the web hosting industry is pretty volatile, with companies coming and going pretty quickly. I would suggest a best practice is to keep your host and registrar separate.

Dealing With Domains – Part 1

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in January of 2010.

.biz .com .edu .org .net .gov .info .mil

Domain Name Management: not a very sexy topic. This will be a rare post for me that won’t mention popular search engines, the latest “superphone“, content management or rumored tablets. But I hope I can provide a good glossary on a geeky subject that anyone with a web site sporting their organization’s name has to deal with.

You have a web site and you have a domain, and as long as the web site is up and running, everything is fine. But what happens if your domain is hijacked? What if you need to make changes to your domain registration, or register a new one, and your registrar is simply disinterested? What if they go out of business? Your domain name is a valuable property, and you should keep it in pro-active and trustworthy hands.

How Domain Registration Works

Domain registrars provide the service of keeping your domain name mapped with current information so that it can be found on the web. Domain names are meaningful aliases for numeric IP addresses, and aren’t technically required in order to host a web site. But, the internet would be hard to navigate if we could only find things by their numeric addresses.

The primary thing that a registrar does is to keep your contact (whois) data maintained; point your domain to the appropriate name servers; and allow you to move your domain to another registrar if you choose to.

Domain Services

In addition to domain registration, most registrars offer additional services, such as:

DNS Management (address mapping) for subdomains (which allows you to host your main domain on one server, but, perhaps, an online store called “store.yourdomain.com” on another server),Aliasing of Addresses (so that both http://yourdomain.com and http://www.yourdomain.com go to the same place),Backup Mail Handling, so, should your primary mail server go down, messages sent to you will be stored until they come back around;Web Forwarding, so you can, say, register yourdomain.org, yourdomain,.com and yourdomain.net, but forward all visitors to the .com and .net sites to your website at yourdomain.org.

SSL (Secure Socket Layer) Certificates, to encrypt sensitive data, like online donation forms.

Things to Look For in a New Registrar

  1. Are they accredited? ICANN, the organization that oversees domain management , accredits registrars. If they aren’t on ICANN’s list, they aren’t trustworthy.
  2. Do they add a year to the existing expiration date, or charge you for a full year as of engagement? They should do the former.
  3. Do they offer automated access to all functions (via web forms), including locking/unlocking domains, retrieval of authorization (EPP) codes, and modification of all whois records? (Some registrars prefer to list themselves as the technical contact. It should be up to you whether they can have an official name on your domain, not them).
  4. Do they list a telephone number, and is it promptly answered during business hours?
  5. Do they respond promptly to emails and support requests? The ability to communicate with your registrar is rarely needed, but, when it is, it’s critical – you don’t want them out of the loop if your domain is subject to an attempted hijack.
  6. Do they offer the ability to manage DNS for mail servers and subdomains? While this is an added feature, it’s common enough to be worth expecting.
  7. Do they have any additional services (examples above)? While these supplemental services are far from critical, they are convenient. More to the point, a company that is engaging in a robust suite of services is more likely to be focused on their business. The truth is that anyone can be a domain registrar, if they make the proper investment, but whether it’s a going concern or a neglected piece of extra income for them is a question you’ll want to ask.

Next week: Safely transferring domains and a word on web hosting completes the topic.

Things You Might Not Know About…

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in December of 2009.

…or you might. I find that, in a 25 year IT career that has always included a percentage of tech support, human nature is to use the features of an application that we know about, and only go looking for new features when a clearly defined need for one arises. In that scenario, some great functionality might be hiding in plain sight. Here are a few of my favorite “not very well-hidden” secrets. Share yours in the comments.

Google Search Filtering

google options 1.png
Have you ever clicked the google options 2.png “Show Options” link on your results page? Do a search for whatever interests you and try it (it’s located right under the Google logo). This will add a left navigation bar with some very useful filtering options. Of note, you can narrow to a trendy real-time search buy clicking on “Latest” under “Any Time”; choose a date range,filter out the pages that you’ve seen, or haven’t seen yet – how useful is that for finding that page that you googled last week but didn’t save? The funny thing is that Google has an “Advanced Search” screen, which, of course, can do many things that this bar can’t (such as searching for public domain media).

Microsoft Outlook Shortcuts

If you use Outlook, you know how simple it is to find your mail and calendar. Other common folders are conveniently placed in your default view. Outlook shortcuts 1.pngBut if you’re the slightest bit of a power user, or you work in an environment where users share mailbox folders or use Exchange’s Public Folders, than keeping track of all of those folders can get a bit tedious. Outlook Shortcuts 2.pngThat’s what the Shortcut view is for. Buried below the Mail, Calendar and Task buttons, you can move it up to the visible button list by right-clicking on the bar area (in the lower-left hand corner of Outlook 2003 or 2007’s screen) and choosing “Navigation Pane Options”. Highlight “Shortcuts” and then click “Move up” enough times to get it in one of the first four positions. Click OK, then click on the “Shortcuts” bar. From here, you can add new shortcuts and, optionally, arrange them in shortcut groups. You can rename the shortcuts with more meaningful titles, so that, if, say, you’re monitoring a norther user’s inbox, you can give it their name instead of having two folders named “Inbox”. One tip: to add shortcuts to a group, right-click on the group title and add from there.

Facebook Friend Lists

Nothing makes Facebook more manageable than Friends Lists, and, with the new security changes, this is more true than ever. If you’re like me, your connections on Facebook span every facet of your life, from family to childhood friends to co-workers. Wouldn’t it be useful to be able to send links and messages to all of your co-workers but not your friends, or vice-versa? Click on “Friends” from the Facebook menu, then all connections. If you’ve become a fan of a page or two, you’ll see that Facebook has already created two lists for you: Friends and Pages. To make more, scroll through your connection list and click to “Add to List” option to the right. You can create new lists from there, and add friends to multiple lists.

facebook friends.png

When you share a link, note, video or whatever, you can choose which list to send it to by clicking on the lock icon next to the “Share” button and choosing “Customize”.

There Are More

Did you know about these features? Are there other ones that you use that make your use of popular applications and web sites much more manageable? Leave a comment and let us know.

Wave Impressions

This post originally appeared on the Idealware Blog in November of 2009.

A few months ago, I blogged a bit about Google Wave, and how it might live up to the hype of being the successor to email.  Now that I’ve had a month or so to play with it, I wanted to share my initial reactions.  Short story: Google Wave is an odd duck, that takes getting used to. As it is today, it is not that revolutionary — in fact, it’s kind of redundant. The jury is still out.

Awkwardness

To put Wave in perspective, I clearly remember my first exposure to email.  I bought my first computer in 1987: a Compaq “portable”. The thing weighed about 60 pounds, sported a tiny green on black screen, and had two 5 and 1/4 inch floppy drives for applications and storage).  Along with the PC, I got a 1200 BPS modem, which allowed me o dial up local bulletin boards.  And, as I poked around, I discovered the 1987 version of email: the line editor.

On those early BBSes, emails were sent by typing one line (80 characters, max) of text and hitting “enter”.  Once “enter” was pressed, that line was sent to the BBS.  No correcting typos, no rewriting the sentence.  It was a lot like early typewriters, before they added the ability to strike out previously submitted text.

But, regardless of the primitive editing capabilities, email was a revelation.  It was a new medium; a form of communication that, while far more awkward than telephone communications, was much more immediate than postal mail.  And it wasn’t long before more sophisticated interfaces and editors made their way to the bulletin boards.

Google Wave is also, at this point, awkward. To use it, you have to be somewhat self-confident right from the start, as others are potentially watching every letter that you type.  And while it’s clear that the ability to co-edit and converse about a document in the same place is powerful, it’s messy.  Even if you get over the sprawling nature of the conversations, which are only minimally better than  what you would get with ten to twenty-five people all conversing in one Word document, the lack of navigational tools within each wave is a real weakness.

Redundant?

I’m particularly aware of these faults because I just installed and began using Confluence, a sophisticated, enterprise Wiki (free for nonprofits) at my organization. While we’ve been told that Wave is the successor to email, Google Docs and, possibly, Sharepoint, I have to say that Confluence does pretty much all of those things and is far more capable.  All wikis, at their heart, offer collaborative editing, but the good ones also allow for conversations, plug-ins and automation, just as Google Wave promises.  But with a wiki, the canvas is large enough and the tools are there to organize and manage the work and conversation.  With Wave, it’s awfully cramped, and somewhat primitive in comparison.

Too early to tell?

Of course, we’re looking at a preview.  The two things that possibly differentiate Wave from a solid wiki are the “inbox” metaphor and the automation capabilities. Waves can come to you, like email, and anyone who has tried to move a group from an email list to a web forum knows how powerful that can be. And Wave’s real potential is in how the “bots”, server-side components that can interact with the people communicating and collaborating, will integrate the development and conversation with existing data sources.  It’s still hard to see all of that in this nascent stage.  Until then, it’s a bit chicken and egg.

Wave starting points

There are lots of good Wave resources popping up, but the best, hands down, is Gina Trapini’s Complete Guide, available online for free and in book form soon. Gina’s blog is a must read for people who find the types of things I write about interesting.

Once you’re on wave, you’ll want to find Waves to join, and exactly how you do that is anything but obvious.  the trick is to search for a term “such as “nonprofit” or “fundraising” and add the phrase “with:public”. A good nonprofit wave to start with is titled, appropriately, “The Nonprofit Technology Wave”.

If you haven’t gotten a Wave invite and want to, now is the time to query your Twitter and Facebook friends, because invites are being offered and we’ve passed the initial “gimme” stage.  In fact, I have ten or more to share (I’m peterscampbell on most social networks and at Google’s email service).

Why Geeks (like Me) Promote Transparency

This post was originally published on the Idealware Blog in November of 2009.
Mizukurage.jpg
Public Domain image by Takada

Last week, I shared a lengthy piece that could be summed up as:

“in a world where everyone can broadcast anything, there is no privacy, so transparency is your best defense.”

(Mind you, we’d be dropping a number of nuanced points to do that!)

Transparency, it turns out, has been a bit of a meme in nonprofit blogging circles lately. I was particularly excited by this post by Marnie Webb, one of the many CEO’s at the uber-resource provider and support organization Techsoup Global.

Marnie makes a series of points:

Meaningful shared data, like the Miles Per Gallon ratings on new car stickers or the calorie counts on food packaging help us make better choices;But not all data is as easy to interpret;Nonprofits have continually been challenged to quantify the conditions that their missions address;

Shared knowledge and metrics will facilitate far better dialog and solutions than our individual efforts have;

The web is a great vehicle for sharing, analyzing and reporting on data;

Therefore, the nonprofit sector should start defining and adopting common data formats that support shared analysis and reporting.

I’ve made the case before for shared outcomes reporting, which is a big piece of this. Sharing and transparency aren’t traditional approaches to our work. Historically, we’ve siloed our efforts, even to the point where membership-based organizations are guarded about sharing with other members.

The reason that technologists like Marnie and I end up jumping on this bandwagon is that the tech industry has modeled the disfunction of a siloed approach better than most. early computing was an exercise in cognitive dissonance. If you regularly used Lotus 123, Wordperfect and dBase (three of the most popular business applications circa 1989) on your MS-DOS PC, then hitting “/“, F7 or “.” were the things you needed to know in order to close those applications respectively. For most of my career, I stuck with PCs for home use because I needed compatibility with work, and the Mac operating system, prior to OSX, just couldn’t easily provide that.

The tech industry has slowly and painfully progressed towards a model that competes on the sales and services level, but cooperates on the platform side. Applications, across manufacturers and computing platforms, function with similar menus and command sequences. Data formats are more commonly shared. Options are available for saving in popular, often competitive formats (as in Word’s “Save As” offering Wordperfect and Lotus formats). The underlying protocols that fuel modern operating systems and applications are far more standardized. Windows, Linux and MacOS all use the same technologies to manage users and directories, network systems and communicate with the world. Microsoft, Google, Apple and others in the software world are embracing open standards and interoperability. This makes me, the customer, much less of an innocent bystander who is constantly sniped by their competitive strategies.

So how does this translate to our social service, advocacy and educational organizations? Far too often, we frame cooperation as the antithesis to competition. That’s a common, but crippling mistake. The two can and do coexist in almost every corner of our lives. We need to adopt a “rising tide” philosophy that values the work that we can all do together over the work that we do alone, and have some faith that the sustainable model is an open, collaborative one. Looking at each opportunity to collaborate from the perspective of how it will enhance our ability to accomplish our public-serving goals. And trusting that this won’t result in the similarly-focused NGO down the street siphoning off our grants or constituents.

As Marnie is proposing, we need to start discussing and developing data standards that will enable us to interoperate on the level where we can articulate and quantify the needs that our mission-focused organizations address. By jointly assessing and learning from the wealth of information that we, as a community of practice collect, we can be far more effective. We need to use that data to determine our key strategies and best practices. And we have to understand that, as long as we’re treating information as competitive data; as long as we’re keeping it close to our vests and looking at our peers as strictly competitors, the fallout of this cold war is landing on the people that we’re trying to serve. We owe it to them to be better stewards of the information that lifts them out of their disadvantaged conditions.