Drupal and the Dot Org Boom

The news that Amnesty Seeks a Drupal/CiviCRM Vendor signals a move in to open source that should benefit Amnesty and have a wider impact for NGOs and the open source movement. I started advocating for open source at Amnesty's International Secretariat more than two years ago, but anyone who has been a change agent within a large organisation will know that it's a big challenge to get a strategic commitment to FOSS (Free and Open-Source Software). Of course it helps if a like-minded organisation has already taken the plunge, and we got a lot of support from Andrew H. and Romilly G. who had already steered Oxfam's adoption of Plone. This made the case that serious NGOs were adopting enterprise-ready open source and also, through Oxfam's participation in the Plone Foundation, showed that a large NGO can be an active member of an open source community.

The best way to keep pace with the rate that web tools evolve is to be part of a community of innovation. So I was excited by the buzz of community activity around Drupal at the Netsquared 2006 conference, where I could see an emergent sweet spot for web activism at the confluence of FOSS developers and social activists. A stream of developments confirms this trend, from CitizenSpeak's free email advocacy service for grassroots organizations to the fact that Drupal is a leading contender as the platform for development of the WITNESS video hub (a human rights portal).

For me, the increasing adoption of open source tools for real-world impact validates several years of commitment to bringing together FOSS & NGO communities. This work has been inspired by organisations like Aspiration in the USA and the Tactical Technology Collective here in Europe. In the UK we formed a small collective of volunteers which organised the Social Source events in 2004 and 2005, and it's great to see how many of the participants have made important contributions to the common DNA of open source and social change.

One of those groups was Mute Magazine, who became early UK adopters of CiviCRM. and full credit should be given to the CiviCRM community for the way their software has risen to enterprise level. When I looked at it 12 months ago it was hard to see it competing against off-the-shelf CRM solutions by ASP providers like Kintera, Convio and so forth. But such is the pace of development that it is now a credible solution, especially if your criteria include internationalisation and the potential to interface with mobile channels, both of which should be important for international NGOs who want to engage constituencies in the global south.

I think there's an underlying dynamic at work here that goes deeper than the pragmatics of ecampaigning, and I like Juha Huuskonen's notion of the Dot Org Boom "referring to the same development as Web 2.0 but from a different perspective. Dot Org Boom is proposing that the current wave of development is heading to non-profit direction,something that Web 2.0 promoters would probably not want to agree with". Propagated through the PixelACHE festival the notion of the Dot Org Boom is actually a non-web idea, drawn from a study of social entrepreneurs from around the world and focusing on the activities of Ashoka Foundation, but Juha says

Our version of Dot Org Boom consisted of independent media, open source community and NGOs. Considering the fact that all these three areas share the same basic principles - open, non-profit activities based on volunteer contributions and grassroot organisations - it's striking how little collaboration there has been between these areas. The tactical media/indymedia/activist networks used to be very different from the sourceforge/slashdot/geek camp and the NGOs were mostly left out of the loop, happily using their Microsoft tools. What I find essential in the Dot Org Boom is that these three components - open content, open tools, open organisation models - are starting to find each other. Web 2.0 people would like to ignore the organisation component of this transformation.