Yesterday I had the privilege of moderating a panel about Social Networks for ICT (Information and Communication Technologies) Entrepreneurs at the UN GAID “UN meets Web 2.0″ event.
The real UN, in NYC:
(as opposed to the model U.N. conferences I used to participate in back in High School.)
My panel included: Marnie Webb, Co-CEO, TechSoup, My Luu, Market Development Executive, Small &amp; Medium Business, IBM, Aaron Strout, VP, New Media, Mzinga, and Jordi Duran, Founder and CTO, iWith.org.
We covered a large amount of ground in just one hour, and as moderator I wasn’t exactly taking notes to blog with, but I did learn a few things to share.
Marnie works at Tech Soup, which offers nonprofits a one-stop resource for technology needs by providing free information, resources, and support. It’s so much more than that, go check the site. One of her big projects currently is the net squared mashup challenge. Marnie noted during the panel that they let the “community” (meaning anyone interested) vote for their favorite projects, which will be reviewed at a conference. While some of the contenders might not have been what her team might have picked, she felt the community did a great job in surfacing interesting projects.
The benefit to groups submitting to the challenge was that all submissions were public, and that allowed any smart people to comment on them and potentially improve the submissions before the deadline.
The entire project is a great example of the ‘Wisdom of Crowds‘ that is often referenced around web 2.0 efforts.
Aaron was involved in another community-built effort, the book We are Smarter than Me. This book was written using a wiki to source comments and ideas from anyone on the internet who choose to share and contribute. (Disclosure, I participated in the Wiki a few times, and am credited in the book, but don’t have any significant role in it).
Jordi gave me 2 really great things to think about. First, his group, iWith.org has partnered with AlternativeChannel.tv to host video content for not-for-profits looking to share their video and use something other than You-Tube. Looking at the site, I also note that: Alternative Channel in collaboration with iWith.org in Barcelona organize the Alternative Channel Forum on Social networks and responsible media.. The event is scheduled for April 30, 2008. Read it for more.
Jordi noted that iWith.org had originally offered a bunch of software-as-a-service hosting for not-for-profits, but that when they gave the service away, many groups didn’t make much use of it. Now they charge Euro40/month, but offer grants and discounts to organizations who need them. I love this lesson – if it costs something, it counts and groups will use it. This is the same reason I often have charged $5 or $10 to attend an event like Social Media Club in NY – it’s enough money that people have to think about attending, but not enough to keep people away.
Jordi also had an insight that (and I quote):
NPFs have been leading social movements in 20th century. From charity, to political parties, and labor unions, most of the volunteering from these causes was young people, mainly students that participate with their free time in the cause of their choice. But in 21st century, younger people are spending more and more time online, and the net offers volunteering opportunities, from co-creating an online encyclopedia, to develop an operating system. That is happening while traditional NPOs are becoming more professional, structured, big and “like a job”… [Jordi is] seeing more virtual and less structured groups – those organizations that once lead social volunteering in the 20th century are losing resources to online groups – they must use and participate online in groups or lose attention and fundraising resources – as their volunteers move to other interests online.
It makes sense to me that organizations have to allow the youthful volunteers –who are often the backbone of groups — the freedom to connect with each other and with the organizations online, and become infrastructure for the cause and be a connection point.
My’s project with IBM and the World Bank created a toolkit for small businesses. The site has resources, forms, and content, can be found at http://www.smetoolkit.org/smetoolkit/en . Definitely worth a look!
An audience question asked about deploying social networks, and noted how in the traditional tech model, companies had Integrated Systems Vendors (ISVs) who would deploy hardware and help small to mid-sized businesses who needed coordination and might not have IT staff. What’s the equivalent to an ISV in social media? This ended up being a soft-ball question for me, and I replied that this is part of the role that my company is playing. Many fimrs will deploy a software-as-a-service social network, but not have the strategy abiliites in-house to make a community grow. My consultancy focuses on this strategy component, and I work with other consultants and have relationships with multiple vendors. (end of commercial).
There were lots of other panels, and I will blog about them in the near future. I look forward to questions and comments from attendees and others, and thank UN-GAID and Gary Bolles for this unique opportunity to contribute.