Bram Pitoyo, Portland Creative/Tech Event Review

Portland Net Tuesday June: An Event Review

Portland Net Tuesday June

(A note/recap from the organizer is available in PDF.)

When: Tuesday, June 24, 2008, 6:00 PM – 8:00 PM
Fourth Tuesday of every month

Where: AboutUs office, which I reached in an hour and fifteen minutes by biking really, really fast through the Springwater Corridor from Gresham.

What it’s about: Portland Net Tuesday is a venue where folks from nonprofit organizations can learn about ways to integrate technology into their activities. A note that focuses on the stories behind rather than the subtle technicalities of the two sites, Connectipedia and Squarepeg, is presented below.

*** BEGIN EVENT NOTATION ***

Connectipedia

Connectipedia is Wiki + database that’s focused towards nonprofits.

Objective: to serve as a go to place for both Foundation members and Nonprofit organizer to get information, connect with each other, and ultimately get funded, or fund the right organization.

How we’re different:

  • In Wikipedia, a page about dog looks literally like a collective book report on dog.
  • In Connectipedia, thanks to its database functionality, if somebody wrote “The best dog park is in Laurelhurst,” that same bit of information will show up in the dog page, Laurelhurst page and Portland page.

But Connectipedia isn’t built to be a wiki where user can find all the information, but one where he/she can find where all the information lives. Rather than having write-ups or contents, Connectipedia has links to write-ups and contents. If it’s available on other sites, Connectipedia will link to it.

If Wikipedia is a full-length book, Connectipedia is the reading list.

The easiest way to use Connectipedia: sign up, enter your organization name, and start filling it out.

DataPlace.org pulls in all kinds of public demographic data for various neighborhoods, counties and cities in Oregon. Connectipedia embeds statistics from DataPlace, so nonprofits can easily browse all these data, wiki-style, and compare them side by side.

Squarepeg

Story
Squarepeg started out when a group of student activists had difficulties maintaining contacts and creating momentum around their causes, while going to school at the same time.

The founders noticed a gap: when they build websites, nobody goes to it. But when they go to MySpace/Facebook, there’s too much information for anybody to pay any attention.

They also noticed that, on social media channels, they get a pretty solid response to any cause—until they sent out an email and invite the audience to meet. Then suddenly, half of them dropped out.

They finally learnt that people use social media to talk about their lives, the movies they watch, etc.—not about social causes.

What they found, however, was that if they meet with people offline before they organize things online, this greatly changes the dynamics and dialogue around the community. More people commit. Less people drop out. Etc.

In other words: in order to create real change, you need to have face to face, real life conversation. Internet is great as a databank of informational resource. But inspiring and organizing social activism events are an entirely different subject. It doesn’t work.

So they aimed to create a space where people can connect with other user, events and actual actions. Hyperlocal. In other words: they built a social network centered around social activism.

In this process, one of the first thing they realized was that they need a large number of user to make the network valuable. You know, the critical mass. So we tried to work with some nonprofit organizations in Portland who are willing to invest both members and times. They would literally help these organizations plan annual meetings and then say, “wouldn’t it be nice if we can use an internet tool to do this?”

That changed about two weeks ago.

TechSoup has a conference called NetSquared. For the last 3 years, this conference aims to bridge the gap between the developer and social activist communities by having the former vote on projects to be worked on during the next year. Social activist groups, then, will benefit from the developer’s expertise and resource.

Squarepeg was one among the twenty-one organizations that were selected; and they immediately got overwhelming amount of feedbacks from the people at NetSquared.

Almost all of them suggested one thing:
Don’t create your own social network.

That’s where we are today. And that’s why we don’t have a demo to show you tonight. We are scrapping the development of the social networking part of Squarepeg.

But they decided to do something better.

Squarepeg is now collecting organizations, users and actions around Oregon, from local blogs and event places, aggregating all these information in one big source, filtering them through a recommender engine, then disseminating the result through Facebook, OpenSocial and widgets.

In other words:

You put in your data, and the system spits out what thing you’ll be most interested in.

This way, nonprofit organizations don’t have to have a MySpace and Facebook account to reach MySpace and Facebook users. They can simply submit their listing to Squarepeg, and the system will push the information on all of those sites, through widgets and applications.

Put simply, it reduces barrier of entry for nonprofits who aren’t necessarily social media savvy to organize events and gain members from social media venues.

What’s unique about Squarepeg, however, is that they are planning to partner with media venues and for-profit companies, not just nonprofit organizations—but only ones that aim to cause social change. That, to put it simply, is how they’re going to make money.

We literally stopped the car and decided on a direction two weeks ago. When our direction was to create a social network, the development time was so long. In light of that, we decided that, this time around, development has to be really quick.

What our timeline today looks like:

  1. Recommender system will be online within a week.
  2. In 3 weeks, the system should be pulling data in real time from Social Actions (and all the other places) and framework for events listing should be done and tied in with the aforementioned recommender system. At this point, Squarepeg should be ready for private beta.
  3. One month to test it out.
  4. Official launch within 2 months.

*** END EVENT NOTATION ***

Technicality: ☝ ☝ ½
Translation: Some of the bits that go into the underlying technology and practices of Connectipedia were technical, but they’re easy enough to understand—provided that you have a laptop at hand.

Interestingness: ☝ ☝ ☝ ☝
Translation: It isn’t just about social activism and technology. It’s about stories—ones where the social web can make even the most low-key causes possible by putting them in the spotlights of active participants. If you’re in a nonprofit, Portland Net Tuesday is a must go.

UPDATE: But don’t take my word for it. Bob Uva can attest to this fact since he had been attending the event since February.

What I Learned From The Event In Six Words:
Social media cause meaningful social changes.

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6 thoughts on “Portland Net Tuesday June: An Event Review

  1. Pingback: Great Resources for Non-Profits « Seeing the Forest AND the Trees

  2. Hey Bram – It was great to have you join the group! Thanks for the terrific write up. I especially like your idea:
    If Wikipedia is a full-length book, Connectipedia is the reading list.

    You totally get it! I hope the Squarepeg guys see you post as well (if you want to email the Net Tuesday group with a link, feel free to use the message function of our meetup group!).

    Thanks again, and hope to see you in July!
    a

  3. Hey Amy,

    It was great to attend an event about technologies that make community outreach easier. Glad that the review could capture the essence, too.

    I’ll see you guys in July—or sooner if you’re attending other creative/tech events around!

  4. Hey Bram,
    Thanks for the write up! I couldn’t make the event in person because I am out of town, but really wanted to see what Connectipedia and Squarepeg had to report. These notes filled that desire perfectly. Keep at it!

  5. Chris Pitoyo says:

    I know this post has nothing (I mean..NOTHING!!!) to do with your post..but I just want to say hi from my Blackberry at Pasar Atom (I know..they have WiFi at this one cafe and I’m all over it (with a cup of soy latte of course🙂 peace out brotha!!!

  6. Pingback: Great Resources for Non-Profits at bobuva.com

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