Feb 28, 2012
The scene: June, 2011. A conference room. Our clients – Jennifer and Kari from Rural Development Initiatives, Inc, have asked me to sit down with them and discuss an exciting new idea.
The idea? They want a social challenge to support their cause. They’d like to challenge their supporters to take an action – build a fence, start a community garden, paint a mural – and then ask three of their friends to match their action with an action of their own.
"What kind of web programming will it take" is the question I have to answer. Should it be a separate website? Something built onto the new web database that we launched just a few weeks before? Something else entirely?
As we talked over ideas, a memory tickled in the back of my mind. I remember a Facebook app a year ago. An app where each “player” selected one action that they pledged to do in order to cut down their environmental footprint, then posted their pledge on their Facebook “wall” for all of their friends to see.
I suggested it. And we started looking for a reliable Facebook developer.
The need for a Facebook application came out of the bi-annual Regards to Rural conference. RDI wanted to encourage rural community participation and decided that a Facebook application would be an ideal tool for this while expanding RDI's social media presence.
netCorps helped RDI identify their needs, including the use case, key features and capabilities. We helped find a suitable developer, and helped to install, troubleshoot and host the app. We also acted as a project liaison, interpreting nerd speak. The developer, AES Connect, communicated the capabilities of Facebook applications well, we simply helped to clarify a few computer concepts and suggest how RDI could manage the data.
What is Powered by Rural?
RDI knows there is power in rural communities and we want to cultivate a new interest in civic engagement and help rural citizens showcase their power to those with the means to make the biggest impact in their community. The campaign is about awareness raising and civic engagement.
For those who are interested in joining, we ask that you do something- big or small- to improve your community, engage others to do the same, and share your stories with us so that we can help you get the attention and recognition you deserve.
Our audience is citizens, nonprofit organizations, and businesses of the Pacific Northwest. We want everyone, rural and urban alike, to understand that there is power in rural communities. We want to highlight those who are making a difference in rural and cultivate new interest in those who are not yet engaged. And, if you are a service-based organization we’re happy to showcase what you do too.
What were the challenges in reaching people?
Literal answer: Rural people are often distanced geographically. They often feel alone in their efforts and it’s hard for them to connect with others in order to share, inspire, and to be inspired by them. For this reason, the internet was a way to reach them and many people are already using Facebook
Figurative answer: Our biggest challenge was encouraging rural people to stand up and share the good work that they’re already doing. They needed to be encouraged to brag about themselves! Because they’re doing great things and they should be proud!
How does the Powered by Rural Facebook App support your project?
As I mentioned, many people are already using Facebook! In addition, it’s a way for us to reach beyond our current network and touch their friends and friends of friends, expanding our reach and our network. Facebook is also helping us reach the youth audience and cultivating a new interest in civic engagement within them.
There are some things we’d like to improve with the app, but that’s a task for the developer. To date, there’s been about 320 hours of community service pledged since the app launched, just 2 ½ months ago.
Powered by Rural can be accessed online at http://fb.me/poweredbyrural.
Oct 20, 2007
So much information, so little time. At least it seemed that way, before I fell in love with RSS. RSS (Really Simple Syndication) is a method that allows information on the web to be collected--by a keyword, a tag, a type of content, a content author, etc.--and then made available to anyone who wants it. Some content is collected by the publisher. Want to get the latest Science and Technology headlines from Google News? Go to, click on the Sci/Tech link and then click the RSS link. Not specific enough? Create your own feed based on a Google News search. Instead of just "Science and Technology" maybe I want to see articles on "Green Technology" so I can search on that and click on the RSS link to access that feed.
Wait--a what? A feed?
Sorry. Let me back up. RSS has been around for a while, but the every day use of it by common folk (that would be most anyone who isn't a proudly self-identified "geek") has languished due to a lack of easy software to collect and read RSS feeds. What is the point of creating or promoting RSS feeds if no one out there is listening?
But with the ability to subscribe to feeds through Internet Explorer 7.0, theweb browser, Microsoft Outlook 2007, Mozilla's email software and a host of web-based and free RSS reader applications like , , and more, investing in RSS finally makes sense.
How can/should nonprofit organizations use RSS? RSS, essentially, is a way for you to allow members, constituents, peers--anyone really--to get timely information from your organization delivered to them quickly and easily. Aby Phil Shapiro, explains:
"As an example, RSS feeds can be used by a nonprofit organization to distribute different kinds of information to different people. One RSS feed could be the organization's calendar of events or classes. Another could be a call for volunteers. A third feed might be information for funders. The more feeds an organization offers, the more narrowly tailored the information delivered to people served by that organization or supporting that organization."
How do you go about creating an RSS feed? Well, there are at least three answers to that and it mostly depends, for lack of a better term, on software.
First, if your website is using one of many "content management systems" to manage site information, RSS is very likely already available. This means that you can create RSS feeds for things like calendar items, news and press releases, articles on a certain topic and more., the content management system we use, for example, offers an RSS feed on the built-in News and Events pages, as well as any "Smart Folder" (basically a page built to display certain site content based on keywords or other criteria). Additionally, any search that a visitor makes on the site is also instantly available as an RSS feed. In this way RSS can be used by both the content publisher to promote certain content (your latest news) as well as by the content reader to make it easy to track new content from your site specific to his or her interests.
The second way to create RSS feeds is to start using software that supports RSS. Basically, start using third party tools that offer feeds. Blogging tools, video sharing services, photo sharing services, news services and others almost all offer RSS feeds. Upload your videos to(or one of ) and of them and promote that on your site. Use to do the same with your photos. Use or to create a search about your organization or issues that interest you and your constituents and publish that feed to your website. And by publish to your website, I mean you can literally display that content on your website (widgets, they are called these days), as well as sharing the link to the feed so your constituents can have that content essentially "beamed" to them on regular intervals--the same way that email is delivered to their inbox.
The third way to create RSS feeds from your website is to use a third party service that creates RSS feeds to do the work for you. These services often charge for this, but if you don't want to figure out how to write the code to generate RSS feeds or you don't want to use other tools that already offer RSS feeds, then a third party service might be the way to go, like, and others. More information on this approach, as well as software that can be used to build feeds for use on your website, can be found in the recent TechSoup article, " ."
The upside of creating RSS feeds (of your own content or content of interest to your constituents) is you instantly have a new fantastic way to "push" content to your constituents, including both the content you want them to get as well as content they are specifically interested in receiving.
This is why I ultimately fell in love with RSS. Because there really is just so much information out there. And despite the fact that I said I'd visit those websites on a regular basis, I don't. And email lists, even if they are grouped around a topic, don't hold my interest with every post.
With RSS, though, I can select exactly what information I want to get. So if I want to know what my peers are thinking about and learning, I can subscribe to their blog feeds. If I want to keep up on the latest environmental news on a specific topic, I can find a feed dedicated to that or I can make my own. I have, essentially, filtered the abundance of information on the web into my own personal information delivery service.
My fear, initially, was that by filtering this way I'd miss things, I'd shut off areas of information. Instead, the opposite has happened. Feeds I've subscribed to have led me to subscribe to other feeds--sometimes similar, sometimes not. Feeds from organizations I care about have gotten me more involved in their issues and their work, not less. And I am much more knowledgeable on things I care about and can act on those issues more quickly because of how fast and easy it is to get to the information.
I think that is the take-away message here for nonprofits as well. Sure, your nonprofit can (and should) be using RSS to keep up on issues and organizations by subscribing to feeds using your browser, email software or RSS reader, making you more effective in your work. More than that, though, RSS has huge potential to instantly share information with your constituents just by publishing it to your website, whether they visit your site or not. It also allows folks to tailor information from you to suit their interests, and that is fantastic. And it allows you to pull information from other sites and services (the latest YouTube videos on your issues, the latest news on your issues from the 4500 news feeds tracked by Google News) onto your website, making your site that much more relevant. The problem with the Web is that there is just so much of it, and every nonprofit is competing for keystrokes and eyeballs against all that other content.
So much information, so little time. Make the most of it--start using RSS.
In addition to the links provided above, here are a few other resources to get you going:
Easy Ways to Publish Your Own RSS Feeds
Why Nonprofit Managers Must Use RSS — And How to Start
Make your nonprofit more effective with RSS aggregation
How to Create RSS Feeds for Your Organization