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New Del.icio.us Tag to Help the Resource Roundup

I previously posted about our troubles in trying to keep the Resource Roundup going – thanks to everyone for their thoughts and comments about we can best continue! Several of you mentioned that an Idealware tag would help everyone in the Idealware community to highlight articles and other resources that might be of particular interest to rest of the community.

So let’s do it! Can you help, by tagging Idealware relevant resources in del.icio.us with an “idealware” tag? (I think it makes sense to consolidate in del.icio.us right now, so we can all see all the links without the investment and complication of aggregation…).

You can see the things that we’ve collected at http://del.icio.us/tag/idealware (I’ve seeded it with a few things, but hope to see lots of stuff there soon!)

I'm hoping we can use this tag to share high quality resources that:
  • Review, compare or list software of interest to nonprofits
  • Provide guidance as to whether a certain kind of software makes sense for you
  • Help people assess what features they need in a particular kind of software
  • Give detailed case studies of nonprofits using or choosing software
  • Cover areas that aren’t web 2.0. Big brownie points for good old web 1.0 stuff!
  • Otherwise give people guidance in choosing software (Idealware is focused on choosing software specifically)
Are there other things that you’d like to see included in an Idealware tag stream?

If you tag it, I will look at it, and if it’s about choosing software, I will link to it from the blog. And then I’ll round up the most pertinent stuff for our eNews. The full collection of everything that anyone has tagged will be available at http://del.icio.us/tag/idealware

So – please tag anything that seems Idealware relevant with an Idealware tag in del.icio.us! And spread the word!

Resource Roundup: Online PPT slides, data visualization

Okay, while we're talking about the best way to rigorously roundup resources (more on that soon), here's a few that have hit my eye this weekend:

Software for Sharing Powerpoint Slides (ForumOne Influence)
Nice look at online tools, especially SlideShare, that allow you to post your PowerPoint slides for easy viewing (and audio) without a presenter.

Tools for Online Data Visualization (Center for American Progress)
A great list of online data visualization tools (maps, timelines, charts, etc), with links to examples of them in action, from the Center for American Progress' Annie Schutte. There's not a lot of context in the list, but it's a really fun browse (tip of the hat to the ePolitics blog)

Ask Idealware: How Does Typo3 Compare with Other CMSs?

Thad asks: I am in the middle of an evaluation now and a number of people have suggested that I look at TYPO 3, versus Joomla, Drupal and Plone. Was it not in your comparison for a particular reason? Any thoughts?

Laura says: Typo3 is a large, complex open source content management system with a strong user base in Europe. We didn't include it in our Comparison of Joomla, Drupal, and Plone because Typo3 doesn't have nearly as strong a user base in the United States, and particularly in the nonprofit sector, as those three. But we asked Dean Matsueda, who's implemented Typo3 as well as Plone and Textpattern, what he thought of it. Update 10/30: Jason Lefkowitz of Change to Win weighed in with some serious CMS comparison kung-fu, so his thoughts are now included below as well.

Dean Matsueda of Business for Social Responsibility, says:
Typo3 works well for managing largely static-content web sites, but has a high learning curve to setup a site – as high or higher as than for Plone. Once it was up and running, users loved it - it's very easy to add and edit content, and to create new pages and sections within the site.

But it's not at all easy to configure. It has the complexity of Plone but without the elegance or well thought out architecture. I found that the way you build custom pages or data types in Plone made a lot more sense for me than the way things worked with Typo3. The templating system was also difficult to customize beyond very simple changes. It felt over-engineered – it tries to do too much and is by no means a light-weight system. For my money, it's overkill for what it does best, managing static content.

Jason Lefkowitz of Change to Win says:
Let's get this out of the way right off the bat - everything you've heard about TYPO3 is true. It's hard to learn. It needs a good bit of server horsepower (el cheapo shared hosting plans need not apply). And while it's popular in Europe, TYPO3 gurus here in North America are thin on the ground.

And yet, for all that, I believe it's the best open-source CMS available today. Why?

I've been working with content management for more than a decade now -- first as a consultant specializing in CMS selection and deployment, and now as the online manager for an advocacy organization. I've had the chance to work with CMS software ranging from amateur open-source bedroom projects to commercial Big Iron costing more than my car.

So what have I learned? Primarily this: there is no "good" CMS that can be recommended for everybody. There's only "good-for-you" CMSes -- products whose strengths speak to your needs, and whose weaknesses are in areas that won't affect you.

To be blunt, every CMS sucks. It's just a question of finding the one that, for your purposes, sucks the least.

The things that suck about TYPO3 are well known; they've been written about in this space before. So let's take some time instead to talk about the things that DON'T suck about it -- the things that make it stand out in comparison to every other open-source CMS on the market (and a lot of commercial ones, too).
  • Internationalization: If you need to publish content in more than one language, there is simply no better option available than TYPO3. TYPO3 offers internationalization on both the front end and the back end. On the back end, you can download language packs from TYPO3.org that will translate the application's user interface into just about any language you'll ever need. And on the front end, TYPO3 offers an elegant method for adding different language versions of any content item on your site; and once you have those different versions in the system, you can set your site to automatically hide content that isn't available in the reader's language - including removing it from navigational elements. If you publish multilingual content and don't want to get stuck maintaining different sites for each language, TYPO3 is what you need.
  • Customization: Drupal is a decent CMS. But nine times out of ten, you can tell that a site is running Drupal just by looking at it; its template system tends to force Drupal sites to look a lot alike. TYPO3, by contrast, offers complete flexibility in templating; any layout your designers can dream up can be converted into a TYPO3 template. And you can create TYPO3 templates directly from (X)HTML files - meaning you can take a template directly from your designers (assuming they speak HTML, which they should) into the CMS with just a few clicks. There's no need to teach your designers anything new.
  • Manageability. If you need to run multiple sites on your CMS, TYPO3 has important benefits. One example is that TYPO3's architecture is organized so that everything specific to your site is in its own folder, separate from the core CMS code. That means that you can easily have as many sites as you like - one, ten, a hundred -- all running off one single installation of TYPO3. And when new versions of TYPO3 are released, all you have to do is upgrade that core code and all your sites are up to date. Additionally, if you need to give different users different roles in the publishing process, TYPO3 has a powerful permissions system that lets you delegate as much or as little control as you want - right down to hiding elements of the administrative interface to avoid user confusion.
  • Standardization. Some systems offer a lot of the advanced features that you can find in TYPO3, but at the cost of having to learn and support a whole new world of specialized software. With Plone, for example, you have to learn the Zope application framework, which comes with its own Web server and object database; that makes it hard to find hosting options and experienced people to provide support. TYPO3, by contrast, works with the most standard tools on the market today: Apache, PHP, and MySQL. If you're already working with the LAMP stack, your systems administrators won't have to learn anything new to add TYPO3 to your servers, or to keep it running at peak performance.
TYPO3 is not for everybody. If you need something to build a basic site with a minimum of hassle, there are better options out there. But if your needs go beyond that -- if you are finding yourself running into the constraints that are imposed by the tradeoffs other CMSes make -- TYPO3 may be just what you need. (And if you need help getting started with it, feel free to drop me a line at jason AT jasonlefkowitz DOT net)

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at ask@idealware.org. Have a great option to suggest for this question? Hate our respo nses? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

Do You Miss the Resource Roundups?

Okay, I'm wracked with guilt. On this blog, and then summarized in our eNews, I used to round up articles from around the internet that I felt would be useful for nonprofits choosing software.

I really liked doing it - I thought it added great diversity to what was covered in our own articles, and I feel strongly that winnowing through the huge amount of stuff out there to find truly useful things is an important editorial service in of itself. And I don't know if anyone else noticed, but it meant that you could search the Idealware site and find many more articles than we have actually written.

But it's really, really time consuming - I was spending a solid 10 -15 hours or so a month on it, unpaid. In particular, you really need to go out of your way these days to find good coverage of anything other than Web 2.o tools. I stopped trying to systematically cover what's out there in August, as it just didn't seem to make sense - with an extra 10-15 hours, we could do another original article, for instance. We started the Ask Idealware series instead, which is considerably less time consuming for me, and also (hopefully!) adds good new content into the world.

But I really miss the article roundup, especially as part of our eNewsletter. I feel especially guilty as it means our eNews has closed down from being a roundup of the world of content to now focus almost exclusively on our own. Does anyone out there miss it too? If so, any thoughts on how we can carefully filter the world of content down to a useful summary in less time, or actually make money to cover that time?

The Wacky World of Grants Management

These days, I'm thinking a lot about software to manage grant making processes. We’re working on a large project – including a survey, many interviews, and vendor research – to create a “consumer’s guide” to grants management software and an overview of gaps and issues in the market.

(By the way, do you work for an organization that MAKES grants? Please take our survey, to help in the research: http://www.performanceleaders.com/?grantsmgt)

One of the initial stages for us is to try to get a sense of what’s out there. There’s far more research to come, but here’s my initial impressions of what grant management software is out there. This software is designed to help foundations manage and review incoming grant applications, track reporting requirements and outgoing payments for grantees, and create the many communications and reports needed throughout the process.

MicroEdge GIFTS is the 800 lb gorilla in the space, with a huge majority of the market share among large foundations. There's several levels, but all are powerful, expensive and complex installed packages, designed for organizations that have dedicated grants management staff that do much of the data entry and reporting from the system.

There are several web-based tools, also geared towards the large foundation space. Cybergrants, Easygrants, and FoundationSource are all in this space, but these tools put together have only a small fraction of GIFTS’ market share.

It’s not as clear what’s available for smaller foundations. Bromelkamp offers several levels of their Pearl products, geared to suit a gamut of small to large foundations. These products are installed applications. PhilanTrack offers a small foundation solution, though they are very new, and it’s unclear how many foundations, if any, are using it. Community TechKnowledge (CTK) also offers a package in this realm, which has some uptake among United Ways.

Some of the packages cater to particular audiences. For instance, JK Group works with corporate grant makers (Cybergrants is mostly focused on this space as well).

Community foundations have a large set of additional needs, which means that most need specialized grants management software. In addition to paying out grants, community foundations need to fundraise themselves. Often, money raised is devoted to restricted funds, which makes for very complicated tracking and accounting requirements to manage both money in and money out of dozens or even hundreds of funds. There’s a set of packages geared towards these needs: MicroEdge makes FIMS (formerly NPOSolutions) and Foundation Power; Bromelkamp makes Community Pearl. I believe that FusionLab's GrantedGE is also geared towards community foundations.

There’s a few people beginning to use Salesforce in the grants management space. It’s an interesting fit – Salesforce is a fairly powerful hosted tool geared towards companies who manage sales to other companies. It’s quite configurable, however, and has gotten a substantial amount of traction in the nonprofit world (thanks in no small part to the fact that Salesforce donates up to 10 licenses for free to nonprofits). As grants management is, at least superficially, about managing data and workflow around organizations, just as corporate sales are, my initial instinct is that it might work very well. Foundations would need to customize it, but this would be offset by the lack of license fees.

There’s a lot of additional packages, but I don’t have a good sense yet as to how they fit into the space. For instance, there’s ChesterCAP, Foundant Technologies, PowerOFFICE, Bamboo Solutions, FreeBalance, and Grantium (formerly Infoterra)

This long list is particularly puzzling as a number of those we’ve interviewed have told us there are very few packages available – that MicroEdge (with GIFTS and FIMS) has nearly a monopoly hold on the market. Are many of these packages used by very few foundations (and if so, how are they still in business)? Or are there perhaps different silos of the foundation world that don’t have much software cross-pollination, and we’ve been talking to people within a single silo? There’s a lot more research yet to be done!

Do you have thoughts or insight into the world of grants management software? I’d love to hear from you, either in the comments here or at laura@idealware.org

New article: Comparing Google Apps to Microsoft Outlook

We have a new article for your software comparison pleasure: Comparing Google Apps to Microsoft Outlook. We took a look at Google Apps, and what it offers as a potential substitute for Microsoft Outlook's features. And I have to say, it looks pretty compelling.... though perhaps a bit more risky.

Ask Idealware: Considering Proprietary vs Open Source CMSs

Benita asks: We are in the process of redesigning our website (which is housed in a homegrown CMS) and plan to include a new CMS in the process. Our new IT staff members are concerned that the web staff is not investigating other commercial CMS systems that may be viable options. Seems most of the nonprofits are using open source or completely customized systems and our IT folks are wondering why we're not looking at products used in the business world. It seems like an overwhelming task to review everything and I'm not intent on reinventing the wheel. I'm sure other organizations have had to deal with this - do you have any knowledge you could share? Are we limiting solutions based upon the nonprofit community experience?

Jeff Herron of Beaconfire Consulting, says:
Good question! This is something that a number of organizations struggle with.

First off, you mention that it seems like most nonprofits are using open source or completely customized systems. I'm not certain that anyone knows how many nonprofits are using which type of CMS. Regardless, if in fact many are using open source, that doesn't mean that open source is necessarily the direction to go for you. The choice of what solution is right for your organization has to do with many factors, but likely not very much to do with the fact that you are a nonprofit in and of itself.

But it sounds like the crux of your question is whether you should look at commercial solutions as well as open source ones. My advice is that you should look at all types of solutions that seem to meet your requirements, including commercial solutions, nonprofit specific ASP tools and open source. I'm not sure why you would eliminate a category of tools from the get go unless you've got some preferences or other criteria that dictates this. It doesn't sound like that is the case for your organization if this question is being asked.

Step 1 in any process of selecting software is to document your needs. Beyond requirements, there are other factors that have a big impact on the decision. These include things like:
  • The availability and capability of technical skills at your organization.
  • The existing technologies or languages your team is familiar with.
  • What systems that your CMS will integrate with – do you have an eCRM package or ecommerce tool?
  • What sort of budget do you have? Think beyond the upfront license costs that come with commercial software, but also to the implementation, enhancement and support costs.
  • Ease of use – if you are asking non-technical content authors to enter/update content if it is too difficult, they won't regularly use it, defeating part of the point of a CMS.
It is very possible that based on these criteria, you can eliminate many tools including whole categories of them. Without specific criteria for your organization, however, it is hard to say you should not consider commercial tools outright. From your question, it seems open source tools are preferred by the Web team and commercial solutions by IT. I'm sure each perspective is based on at least one of the criteria identified above. On the surface, both perspectives have merit but the decision should be based on all the top criteria not a single one.

Given that budget is often initially one of the driving factors towards open source since there is often no licensing fee, let me suggest that there are an increasing number of low cost commercial solutions out there too. Ektron (~$11k) and Hot Banana (less than $20k) are two that offer a boat load of features for not a lot of money.

The reality is that it is not possible to review all systems, nor is that even necessary. Step 2 in the evaluation process includes doing some preliminary research with colleagues, other organizations, and experts like Idealware to help you get an idea the most prevalent tools. You can get pretty far by comparing these against your requirements to narrow your list. Focus on 4-6 solutions that generally meet your requirements, it shouldn't require too much time/effort to investigate them further as Step 3.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at ask@idealware.org. Have a great option to suggest for this question? Hate our responses? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

Comparing Apples to APIs – A Framework

There’s been a lot of hubbub recently about the release of new APIs from Convio and Kintera. It’s exciting news, but hard to cut through the hype to figure out what precisely is being offered, and to who… as you can tell from the varying reviews from people who are trying to compare the offerings: Michelle Murain, Allan Benamer, and Judi Sohn.

Which API is better? Well, better for who? And to do what? Like any complex decision area, there are a number of different factors to be considered. And in this realm, each of these factors is complex in of themselves. We need a framework that can help us compare the data exchange offerings of different vendors.

In fact, we feel so strongly that we need it that we’re doing it! In partnership with NTEN and Beaconfire, and with generous donations of expertise from folks like Beaconfire, Database Design Associates and Forum One, we’re in the midst of developing a framework that will allow us – or anyone looking to understand their options – to rate the strengths and weaknesses of any package’s programmatic data exchange capability. We're not going to be actually rating the tools just yet (that's Phase 2!) but a framework for rating should help us all compare apples to apples.

Under Paul Hagen’s steady hand, the project is powering along, and we have a high level framework already. Here are the areas we’re in the midst of fleshing out:
  • Costs: How much does it cost to use? To get support?
  • Access: Who is allowed to use it?
  • Usage: Abut how many people are using the API, currently?
  • Open Standards: Does it support several widely used standards for data exchange? If so, which ones?
  • Ease of Getting Started/ Documentation: How easy is it to understand how to do what you want to do?
  • Security: If your data transfer needs to be secure, how secure can you make it?
  • Performance: Will your transfer be speedy? Will you run into volume limitations down the road?
  • Backwards Compatibility: If the vendor updates the application, how likely is it to break everything you built?
  • Robustness: The big kahuna. How much of the useful data can you access programmatically? Can you query it, write it, modify it, access it in real time?
We’re still hard at work at what all of this means, and how you would rate it, but would love your thoughts in the meantime. Does this seem to cover the key elements that would affect the quality of software in the data exchange area? What would you change?

Robustness is a particularly challenging one – any thoughts on how best to usefully rate software there?

I'm Getting Things Done

I’m just finishing up an article on Project Management software, and one of my biggest takeaways was of the non-tool variety: a whole heck of a lot of nonprofit project managers have bought into the Getting Things Done methodology, first proposed by the book of the same name by David Allan.

I’m not a big believer in this stuff, but hearing everyone talk about it coincided with a week in which I was completely overwhelmed with stuff I had to do. So I bought the book – hey, it’s both research and personally useful!

And I was compelled. Four days after the book arrived, I had finished it and was starting to set up the system. I have to say, it’s been really very useful. The effects in fact seem to be more powerful than the steps warrant – there honestly seems to be a kind of synergistic thing going on. My email in-box has been completely under control for almost two weeks now, after years of almost-at-the-brink of email chaos. My desk is clean, which anyone who’s ever worked with me would tell you is entirely unheard of.

For me, there were some particularly powerful rules in there (some of these have been a bit personally adapted):
  • If an email’s going to take less than two minutes to respond to, just respond right when you read it. This includes printing attachments that you’re going to feel the need to print. Otherwise, make it a task to manage along with other tasks. This has transformed my email inbox from a black hole that I felt I could never get on top of, to something that is nearly always organized.
  • If you’ve got papers or other stuff and can’t think about what to with it at the moment, you get to throw it in a box of random stuff. My kind of rule.
  • But then you have to go through the box of random stuff at least daily, and figure out the next step with each. That’s a little less fun.
  • Filing shouldn’t involve categorizing. Decide on the first label you think of, and put it in that folder, or create a new folder just for that piece of paper. The first label you think is likely to be how you’d look for it anyway, and any folder is better than not filing because it’s a pain (my former system)
  • You don’t get to have random papers or emails floating around that you haven’t really figured out what to do about. Take the time to decide what’s next – which is hardly ever going to take more than 20 second. This was one of the biggest for me. Probably half of all my outstanding email was stuff I hadn’t thought through, which made me panic every time I thought about going through them all.
  • Every week, think through all the projects you’re working on, and make sure you’ve captured all the next steps
What software am I using to manage stuff? I’ve got my tasks organized around Gmail, with the GTD Gmail plug-in, which is working pretty well. I have emails about many of the tasks anyway, and I can email myself new tasks. Things like Projects, Status, and Context become labels.

My only complaint with this system is that it’s hard to parse the list – I’ve got everything outstanding in my Inbox, and that’s a long list. But searching/ filtering by projects or context or whatever only shows 20 things at a time (why is that? It’s annoying). Because of this, I'm using the (non-GTD-compliant) Star in Gmail to note something that I should do soon – mostly to surface it from what is otherwise a list of a hundred things.

I also have some suspicion that the GTD plug-in sometimes becomes a memory hog over the course of the day. Anyone experience that?

I’ve just been trying out L8R – a service that allows you to schedule emails to be sent in the future. I’m using it to send myself reminders of things that I don’t need to think about for awhile, or that I want to make sure catch my attention on a particular day. I like it, and it works, but it seems a little wonky and buggy on the interface side.

So, overall, I seem to have drunk the Getting Things Done kool-aid. And I’m not typically one to jump on a bandwagon.

Ask Idealware: Finding Current Users of Online Software

Rachel asks: Our org is looking into GiftTool as a solution for several of our needs. However, our senior management has requested recommendations from actual users of the product. Other than contacting them directly, do you know of any way we could get some further insight into what it's like to use the product?

Laura says:
Hmm, getting feedback from actual product users - a topic close to my heart! We talked to some folks and summarized the results in our Online Donation Tool report, but it's getting a little old now, and it can be very useful to talk to actual software users yourself. There's the obvious method of posting questions to one or two of the nonprofit technology discussion lists (for instance, the Information Systems Forum, NTEN Discuss, ProgressiveExchange) - but I noticed that you already did that! For a pretty specific tool like this, it can be hard to find users, especially more than one to give you a more balanced perspective.

But I actually do have a trick. If you're looking at tools that are used to collect information online, or especially payment processors like GiftTool, you can often find a lot of organizations that are using it simply by Googling the name and paging in to the more obscure results. A lot of organizations will mention what tool they're using in a privacy policy or as an explanation to their site visitors. For instance, I see a number of organizations using GiftTool on page four of the Google results for "GiftTool." You can then click through to the site, find contact information, and send off an email. I've actually done this a number of times, and, surprisingly, gotten return emails from at least half the people I contacted this way.

The Ask Idealware posts take on some of the questions that you send us at ask@idealware.org. Have a great option to suggest for this question? Hate our responses? Help us out by entering your own answer as a comment below.

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