March 2007

New Idealware Article: An Introduction to Screencasting

We have another great feature article this month, from the incomparable Beth Kanter. As many of you likely know, Beth has been doing a number of screencasts of late – for instance, on Tagging and on Widgets. These screencasts show video of her screen, along with her voice, as a way to demonstrate complex computer tasks or processes. She’s been learning a lot, and as Beth is prone to do, she’s written an article to share those learnings with the rest of us.

Her article, An Introduction to Screencasting, covers a lot of ground: the many purposes with which screencasts can help, how to go about planning and “filming” your screencast, posting and distributing it, and the software that can help in all of it.

Revisiting Old Ground

We’ve now done our first round of updates to old articles – we’ve updated our A Few Good Email Newsletter Tools and A Few Good Low-Cost Databases articles. Both were completely reviewed and have new tools, considerations and more.

I’m thrilled to be updating stuff – it’s great to have been around long enough that our articles have gone a bit out of date, and I know it’s really important to what we’re doing to make sure our resources remain a reliable and up-to-date source of information. So hopefully it’s the first of many updates.

Including the Online Donation Report, as many of you have asked? Yeah, I’d desperately like to update that one. It’s just not so nice and short and straightforward to update, so we’re still working on funding for that one.

Resource Roundup 3/24

Co-Browsing Tools And Technology: A Mini-Guide (Kollabora)
Another great guide from Kollabora, on software that allows you to co-navigate the web with other people at-a-distance.

Donation Processing and Renewing Donors Process Maps (GoKubi)
Steve, if you keep creating these awesome process maps, you're going to overwhelm the Idealware roundup with all your great content. But wait, what am I saying? Keep going!

Factoring Passion Into the "Best tool for the job" (Creating Passionate Users)
A compelling argument that one's love for a tool ought to be an important consideration in choosing software.

A Network of Networks: Email Lists and Other Communities (Water Words That Work)
Terrific, research driven look at best practices for email discussion lists, and how they overlap with new community networks like blogs, Digg, and others. (tip of the hat to Network Centric Advocacy for the link)

Our new sponsor: Community IT Innovators!

We're thrilled to annouce our first Idealware sponsor: Community IT Innovators!

Community IT Innovators (CITI) is an employee-owned company committed to helping socially responsible organizations. They provide objective consulting for software selection and offer end-to-end implementation services, develop online communication strategies, design websites and develop databases, and provide relationship-driven technology support.

Interested in sponsoring Idealware? Take a look at our Sponsorship Opportunities packet. Note that we're only able to accept sponsorships from organizations that do not sell or distribute software.

Resource Roundup 3/22

It's been a good week for great software resources!

How to Sell Downloadable Products Online (Web Marketing Today)
A quick but very useful look at some practical techniques and software packages to sell downloadable items (like reports or software) online.

ICT tools to support collaborative working
(ICT Hub)
A fabulous guide to different software tools for collaboration and their pros and cons in various environments.

Screencasting Primer (Beth's Blog)
How much great stuff can one person produce? Proving that there may in fact be no limit, Beth gives us a fabulous overview of screencasting techniques and tools

Using Google Earth as an Advocacy Tool (Green Media Toolshed)
A mini-case-study of an interesting use of Google Earth: Appalachian Voices has teamed up with Google to to highlight the destruction of mountains through mountain top removal on Google Earth.

Newbie's Guide to Twitter (Webware)
To add to the bazillion Twitter resources this month: a great overview and beginner's guide to Twitter

Comparing Web Office Products - Two Part Series (ICT Hub Knowledgebase)
A fabulous overview of hosted, web based office software, like email, calendaring, word processing tools, and more. It's a two part series - in Part 1, they discuss the pros and cons of web-based tools for these applications, while in Part 2 they discuss a number of specific products, including Gmail, Google Calendar, Plaxo, ThinkFree, Zoho, Google Docs, and Google Spreadsheet.

Wiki roundup: Great examples of user-generated content (Community Bandwidth)
As the title implies, a useful look at a number of good public collaborative wikis in the nonprofit and politics areas.

Why We Chose Our Blogging Tools (World Grows Wide)
A very detailed and useful look as to why one organization chose to setup a blogging system, what software they chose and why, and how they're using it

A First-Time CRM Buyer's Guide (DemocracyInAction)
A useful overview of what to consider when looking for a constituent relationship management tool, though it's strongly weighed towards tracking online rather than offline interactions. This isn't shocking, as it was written by DemocracyInAction, an organization that sells an online CRM tool

Using Widgets to Build Community on Blogs (Beth's Blog)
Another fabulous screencast, courtesy of Beth Kanter and NTEN - this time on how to use widgets to build community on your website and across the blogosphere

Integrating Fundraising Databases with Accounting – or Not

On the Information Systems Forum – a great email discussion list about IT for nonprofits - there’s been some interesting discussion about integrating the software that tracks your fundraising program with your accounting software. And it turns out that detailed integration may not be desirable.

The question posed to the list was, in summary, what accounting software packages work well with the fundraising software Raiser's Edge?

Tim Mills-Groninger, Associate Executive Director of Lumity (formerly the IT Resource Center) and a guru of nonprofit database topics, had this to say:
The overlap between fundraising and accounting is actually quite small; the dollars raised are a tiny part of the whole development machinery and the allocation of gifts within the accounting system can be in many cases quite trivial. Of course with many nonprofit activities the simple and trivial can be made complex and cumbersome - I'm just saying that it doesn't have to be.

In our practice at Lumity we tend to look at the fundraising and accounting problems separately. General vs. Fund Accounting? Not a development problem at all. Talk to your auditor and funders and look at the kind of encumbrances and cross period reporting you need to do. If you're spending a lot of time in Excel to explain and report on restricted financial activity you have the wrong accounting software. Kevin Hite at Deltek even gave it a name: the Excel Monster.

Since you've already selected a fundraising package I'll assume that you have an advancement services plan that supports the development plan. What we look for are indications of volume and complexity of gifts, and volume is the least important. Significant processes are going to include the extent of donor restrictions, quid pro quo issues, and the pledge write off procedures. If you're getting 1,000 gifts a day (as some higher ed offices do), but they're all unrestricted annual fund contributions, then life is pretty sweet. Conversely, if you have donors making gifts all designated to replacing lost left mittens of needy children your gift/accounts problems just got a little bigger. Quid pro quo considerations can transform a gift into a purchase pretty quickly, and rise of Donor Advised Funds have made pledge management a nightmare for some organizations.

Once classification and work flow considerations have been established it's pretty easy to decide on the best method to get gift and payment information from Raiser's Edge to any number of accounting programs. RE gives you any number of export options that most accounting packages will accept. I strongly advise that you post gifts prior to export - I don't know why so many development shops decline to do this important step - and that you only import aggregate data by deposit and fund into the accounting system. RE is for gift detail, the accounting system is for summary by batch, and the batch or deposit number is where the two meet.

The key to a successful accounting/fundraising software relationship is the congruence of funds and restrictions, and there are dozens of ways to solve that puzzle that allow you to pick the best of breed accounting solutions that meets all of your agency's management and accounting needs.

Intranet Tool Must Haves

The always valuable CMSWatch has a very interesting new article itemizing in detail the features that are "universally essential" to successful intranet and collaboration tools. As these folks study the content management market for a living, their thoughts are well worth noting.

The lingo is a bit distractingly business focused, but the principles are just as valid for an organization looking to deploy what they call an an "Enterprise Portal" - a sophisticated intranet and internal collaboration tool (things like Sharepoint, WebLogic Portal, SAP Enterprise Portal, Plone for internal collaboration, etc).

Their list of must-haves at a high level is:

  • Generate short, meaningful, and permanent URLs
  • Replace select portal functionality with third-party services
  • Natively provide lightweight collaboration services
  • Easily support arbitrary content and data models
  • Navigation controlled by business users
  • Search all of different content types within the portal repository
  • Integrate with third-party Single Sign-On solutions

  • Application Server freedom
  • IDE of choice
  • Fast installation
  • Control configuration management and deployment
  • Easily expose application data
  • Better than linear scaling

  • Community rating of portlets (i..e. the small modular applications, like widgets, that are used in portals)
  • Widely available community support
They provide a lot more detail - read the whole article.

Resource Roundup 3/14

Continuing to dig out. But I'm now almost caught up - woohoo!

An Introduction to Effective Use of Video on the Web (ICT Hub Knowledgebase)
A great introduction to, well, effectively using video on the web - including production, distribution, accessibility, and more.

MyTheater, Seeking Friends (NYTimes)
An overview of how arts organizations are successfully using MySpace to reach out to young audiences.

Upgrading to MS's New Office Suite (Small Business Computing)
Have you upgraded to Vista? Now consider whether you want to update your office applications as well.

Capture a Screencast with a Mac (Digital Web Magazine)
A great roundup of tools to capture static screenshots and screencasts on a Mac, with a lot of details as to how and why to use them.

Using RSS - Four Screencasts
(K-12 Online)
Very well done instructional screencasts on what RSS is, and then step-by-step instruction on how to use Bloglines, Netvibes/ PageFlakes, and social bookmarking tools.

Choosing Among Different Types of Online Collaboration Tools (ONE/Northwest)
A friendly and useful guide to thinking through what collaboration tool would make sense for you, from email discussion lists to IM to screencasting to collaborative writing software. This has been a popular topic of late - also take a look at the detailed discussions of the pros and cons of blogs vs listserves on the Bamboo Project Blog, Designing for Civil Society, and DoWire.Org

Collaborative Writing Tools And Technology: A Mini-Guide (Kollabora)
Kollabora continues their great mini-guide series - this time covering collaborative writing platforms (like Google Docs and Zoho), with an overview of the topic and mini-reviews of twelve different online tools.

What I've learned about donor management
(gokubi blog)
Steve Andersen from ONE/Northwest shares some of the steps involved in donor management, as a map to help create software to support them

Three Web-Based Mind Mapping Tools Reviewed (Web Worker Daily)
A review of, well, three mind mapping tools

Tracking the DIY phenomenon Part 1: Widgets, badges, and gadgets (ZDNet)
An in-depth look at the world of widgets - tiny web applications that distributed users can install on their own sites - and why it might make sense to offer them to your own users. For a more nonprofit specific look, check out TechSoup's article
Charity Badges: Turn Your Supporters into Fundraisers

Chatter about Twitter
There's been a lot of buzz in the community of late about Twitter, an easy text messaging service that's designed to allow group members to communicate "what are you doing now" messages via phone, IM or the web. Michael Gilber gives some detailed thoughts on what it's good for, Ian Wilker talks about the tribal aspects of the tool, Beth Kanter rounds up the comments and provides a screencast, while Andy Carvin muses that Twitter might be useful in disaster response circumstances.

7 Things You Should Know About Open Journaling (EduCause)
An overview of open journaling tools - software that allows you to manage publishing peer-reviewed journals online

E-mail Archiving For Small Firms
A useful and practical guide to software that will help you archive your email

Resource Roundup 3/12

Some new, some a few weeks old now - just cleaning out the queue

The Great Web Office Experiment (London ICT Champion)
A detailed look at online document, spreadsheet, and presentation tools - why you'd want to use them, and then thumbnail reviews of ThinkFree and Zoho

Your Guide to Podcasts (PBS MediaShift)
A great introductory guide to podcasting - what they are, where they've come from, how to find podcasts, how to become a podcaster, and a long list of other resources.

Nonprofit and Flickr Resource List
(Beth's Blog)
Flickr goddess Beth Kanter gives us a detailed list of articles and resources for why and how nonprofits should work with Flickr, as a teaser to the Flickr affinity group at NTC

Online Video Industry Index (Read/Write Web)
The list of online video sites to rule them all, including links and short descriptions of dozens of sites to help those working with online videos - sharing, editing, streaming, searching and more.

The Basics of Email Marketing for Nonprofits (Convio)
A solid overview of the basics of email marketing, from building a list to creating effective emails to keeping them out of spam filters, with only a limited amount of marketing-ese for Convio, an integrated online software package.

Google Releases Apps Premium Edition (Google)
Google introduces Google Apps Premium Edition, a suite that provides e-mail, instant messaging, calendar, word processing and spreadsheets integrated into a dashboard interface, for $50 per worker per year. See commentary and information from NTEN and USA Today.

New Laws for Organizations that Accept Online Payments (TechSoup)
A terrific overview of the new legal requirements for organizations that are handling their own payment processing to protect their payment data.

Users Who Know Too Much - And the CIOs Who Fear Them (CIO Magazine)
Are your staffers using technologies that you haven't approved? CIO Magazine says they probably are, thus creating "shadow IT" A great article about the challenge of deciding what technologies to allow in house.

Comparing in-site search engines

A long time ago, I took a fairly rigorous look at in-site search engines (the kind that you can integrate into a website to search just that site). I compared a bunch of tools, and came up with a fairly clear front runner: Spiderline. (For a blast from the past, check out my search engine article from 2004)

Spiderline costs a bit of money (it starts at about $8/month), but it offers seamless integration into your site, and a lot of control. I've implemented for a bunch of clients with nary an issue. I never found Google's old site search compelling - it was just impossible to make it look like a Google search glommed onto your website, and look and feel was typically important to clients.

But Google has a new offering now: Google Co-op custom search, which allows some new options. I had the opportunity to compare Google to Spiderline both for a consulting client, and for the Idealware site itself. A comparison chart is below. They're both good options, with some interesting tradeoffs.

Note that I haven't done a broad survey of the search tools market in years, and there may be other great, or better, search tools that I don't know about.

Google Custom Search Engine Spiderline
PriceFree.Based on number of site pages and number of crawls per month. For instance, 5 crawls a month for a site with less than 500 pages is $10/month.
How often does it index your site?About monthly, maybe more for high volume sites. Not controllable.Up to daily; more frequent indexes cost more.
What pages are indexed?The pages that Google indexes in the main search engine, for whatever reason Google decides to do that. Real risk that it might not include key pages, especially for low volume sites. Have to do hacks to your site to allow Google to index pages under password protectionWhatever you want, including most pages under password protection, depending on your protection method
Look and feelMostly customizable to match to your site. Uses iframes, which concerns me that implementations might have odditiesComplete control over every aspect of look
Search result qualityGoogle quality. Notably better than Spiderline for sites I looked at.Reasonable, but less good at putting the best links on top. And seemed to include a lot of results that weren't relevant.
Info for search results listingNice display of page results with very little required of website metadata (it works some Google magic to pull the page title out of the body copy if there's no metadata). Less control over what is shown. Needs strong page title and metadata for every page to be optimal. But if you have good metadata, you have complete control over the results, and can display the metadata title and description on the results
Customer supportCommunity forums onlyPhone or email, real, actually helpful humans
Effort to format, integrate into siteHalf day to a dayHalf day to a day

It comes down to, in my mind, a tradeoff between price and search results quality vs. control over what's indexed and how often it's indexed

So what was the answer? My client decided on Google. They get a fair amount of traffic, are well represented in the main Google search engine, and don't have a lot of critical updates, so it was a great choice for them. And as they have a lot of pages on their site, the price for Spiderline was non-negligible.

We choose Spiderline for the Idealware site. I miss the Google quality of search results, but for us it was a deal killer to have to wait a week or more for Google to index our new articles. If you search for a phrase that you can see right there on the homepage (in a new article blurb), and get no results, the search just seems broken. And as the Idealware site isn't very big, the monthly price for Spiderline is only $10/month - no big deal for a good search on the site.