Who Is the Best of the Nonprofit Social Web for 2007?

This month's Net2ThinkTank is asking for 'Best Use of the Social Web by a Nonprofit in 2007'. Like Britt Bravo I'm looking forward to reading some great answers. But the bigger question is how the social web is having a direct impact on the social causes, and I bet a lot of that comes from outside the usual nonprofit circles.

I can quote a couple of cracking human rights examples from Egypt. For starters, the use of Twitter by activists to let people know whether they've been arrested or disappeared. To quote Ethan Zuckerman;

"When I saw Alaa a few weeks ago in Doha, the first thing he did was grab my computer, log into Twitter and, as he put it, "let everyone know I'm still alive." This is a good thing to do when you're an activist who routinely gets detained or arrested. Alaa's Twitter feed includes updates for his compatriots every time he goes to the police or to a demonstration so he can let people know where he isĀ¦ and if they don't hear from him, perhaps they need to reopen the FreeAlaa blog."

This is a genuine social innovation, taking something that's already been invented and turning it to some unexpected and valuable purpose, and is one that i predicted.

Another one is the courageous use of YouTube by award winning blogger Wael Abbas , whose videos captured the torture of victims at the hands of police and led directly to the first ever jailing of an officer for abuse and brutality. The recent suspension of Wael's YouTube account highlights the clash between human rights and web 2.0 Terms of Service.

So i guess my categories for picks of 2007 would include 'best use of mobile to frustrate a despotic regime' and 'best use of a sharing site to shock people out of apathy' :)

In setting their categories for 'Best of the Social web', Britt & the Net2ThinkTank recgonise "the movement of innovative activity to the edges of organizations and into communities" and have added Best Use of the Social Web by an "Extra-organizational Activist" (taking the term from an interview with Allison Fine).

Saul AlinskySaul Alinsky

And although MySociety has been around for a while, I'm going to pick one of their 2007 projects called FixMyStreet. More than a reporting tool, it encourages and enables people to take collective action to sort something out. As Daniel Ben-Horin reminded me, this is exactly the starting point for community action recommended by the great Saul Alinsky.

The other category I'll invent as one to watch is 'best web-enabled ngo startup', a concept that I was switched on to by the 2006 Netsquared conference. A flowering of new and unexpected projects is my hope for 2008, because the full potential of the social web won't be unlocked by nonprofit institutions. Netsquared's slogan is 'remixing the web for social change', to which i reckon we should add 'remixing nonprofits for social change'.

As to the question 'Who Is the Best of the Nonprofit Social Web for 2007?', I'll follow the example of the 1st International Open Web Awards and invite nominations via blog comments...

return on investment (ROI) of the social web for nonprofits?

"What do you think is the return on investment (ROI) of the social web for nonprofits?" is Britt Bravo 's latest Net2ThinkTank question. It's a hot topic for nonprofits and companies alike because of the time soaked up by tending social networking sites, but I think there's at least three dimensions to social web ROI for nonprofits, namely metrics, the paradigm shift and the new enclosures.


Non-profits aren't focussed on a financial return but they have a duty to use donations effectively. So it's good to see initiatives like frogloops ROI calculator for social network campaigns, which uses the tried & tested perspective of email marketing to calculate value for money. Metrics may be harder for the social web but nonprofits would be unwise not to try it - in part because the social web also leading to greater pressure for transparency.

paradigm shift

Even when the return rates are low, nonprofits should be investing in social web experiments because they herald a paradigm shift in how people will organise to have a social impact. In Participatory Web for Development I described how an era of mass collaborative innovation will lead to new ways of tackling social issues. Either nonprofits take part, or they risk being left on the beach.

the new enclosures

The big feature of the web 2.0 boom is the way that value generated by users is being cashed in by the site owners. As I warned in social networking and social change, one consequence can be nonprofits getting booted out if they get too 'controversial'. Monetisation of the social web is often done in a way that ignores the mass of contributors and threatens it's nature as a kind of common ground. As well as making creative use of this space we'll need to find collective ways to defend it. Mass investment of time, creativity and content implies a return for the common good.


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