Best practices for social change and environmental action

Archive for the ‘Online’ Category

Shedding light on why the Web went dark

In Advocacy, Best practice, Communication, Methods, Online, Policy, Politics, Public Opinion, Tools on January 19, 2012 at 5:14 pm



Wondering what drove all those popular websites such as WikipediaInternet ArchiveReddit, and Boing Boing to “go dark” recently?  I didn’t really get it myself until I watched this presentation.

Leave it to Kahn Academy to figure out a clear, straightforward way to explain the near-unexplainable…in this case the cryptic sub-textual issues fueling the current brouhaha over the Stop Online Piracy Act – affectionately known as SOPA.  The simple hand-drawn animation elegantly amplifies the key points made by the narrator in a way that enables the audience to understand them without getting mired in sideshow minutiae and demagoguery.

All I can say is that we need a lot more of this clarity where the social sector meets public policy.  The Web seems to be the ideal venue for it.

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The usual suspects of bad web design

In Best practice, Communication, Design, Online on December 9, 2011 at 8:38 pm

Bad design seems to spring eternal on the net. Despite years of simple, clear advice from the pros, hilariously horrible websites still pop up like weeds.  Sadly, many of them belong to nonprofits.

I was reminded of this the other day when PC World ran yet another installment of its perennially popular coverage of the subject – The Worst Web Design Mistakes, and How to Prevent Them.

You can read it for yourself of course, but here’s the lineup of usual suspects.

  •  All-flash websites –  We’ve all encountered them, and we all know why we hate them.
  • All- flash websites, amateurishly done  – The quickest way to turn a website that’s merely ugly and annoying …into something utterly intolerable.
  • Low-contrast text, visually chaotic background – Good luck getting beyond the first paragraph.
  • Ugly, mismatched colors – Creative expression for the tasteless and the color blind.
  • Dysfunctional fonts – The worst offending sites might use several at once.  Some fonts even have their own websites … dedicated to their obliteration.
  • Layouts that don’t travel – What might work in one browser might not look so hot in another. This is why we have standards.
  • Horizontal scrolling pages – Annoying enough to make many visitors just click up and leave. Fit everything on the screen or else.
  • Animated GIF assault  – I happen to think even one is too many for most websites. Several or more make a page seem like an arcade game.
  • Social widget overload – There might be such a thing as looking too connected. Just pick a few of the most important social network connections and go with that.
  • Too busy to be serious – When the widgets, ads, and general clutter overwhelm the main subject, the page has lost its reason to be.  Stick to the point.
  • Updates that apologize for the lack of updates – Gee, maybe the time would have been better spent coming up with new content… rather than producing a long online excuse for its absence.
  • Seizure inducers – You know these websites when you experience them.  Flashing lights, flying animals, strange symbols, cryptic scrolling text … all of it often set against a flowing neon rainbow background … or some such hideous framework. Then there’s the insipid electronic “tune” looping endlessly away in accompaniment.  Some sites do it all.  Have the aspirin ready.

On the internet, everyone can be a “publisher.”  That doesn’t mean that everyone should. There’s a good reason why professional web designers are still in demand.

From the look of things, that’s not going to change anytime soon.


It’s about impact…not output!

In Best practice, Communication, Fund raising, Grant writing, Nonprofit funding, Nonprofit management, Online, Resources, Tools on June 14, 2011 at 10:59 pm

Talking about impact – real impact – seldom comes easy for an issues-oriented organization.

It’s one thing to describe programs, services, and activities that depict output.  It’s quite another to frame results in a way that shows how it all solves problems out there in the real world. Yet, that is what funders and supporters want to know. Increasingly, they need to know it before making a commitment.  The problem is that many nonprofits and NGOs don’t even understand it themselves.

This is a common enough situation that several organizations serving the nonprofit sector have done something about it.  The result of their collaboration recently went online with Charting Impact–  a new web-based tool that helps nonprofits, NGOs, and social enterprises think strategically about what they are trying to achieve and how they go about it.

Developed with input from nearly 200 organizations, Charting Impact applies a proven framework predicated on five deceptively simple questions.

  1. What is your organization aiming to accomplish?
  2. What are your strategies for making this happen?
  3. What are your organization’s capabilities for doing this?
  4. How will your organization know if you are making progress?
  5. What have and haven’t you accomplished so far?
Some organizations might not be able to answer those questions quickly, but if they take the time – and effort – to work through the framework they will be rewarded with a crisp, detailed report that funders will appreciate.   Well worth the trouble…and well done by the creators – BBB Wise Giving AllianceGuideStar USA and Independent Sector.
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Animated thinking

In Best practice, Communication, Media, Online on May 2, 2011 at 5:29 pm

The Net is at its best when it gives us ways to understand the world and consider new ideas. That’s why TED is so successful and the GEL Conferences have gained such large audiences. Even if we cannot attend an event, we can get the presenters and their visuals right to our desks through the simple digital grace of streaming video or podcasts.

Now the RSARoyal Society for the encouragement of Arts, Manufactures and Commerce) has raised the bar with its RSA Animate format.

The concept is deceptively simple: RSA selects some of the most popular presentations from its conferences…and then commissions an artist to illustrate the concepts in a whiteboard-style concatenation of images and words that takes shape as the video progresses.  It adds clarity, insight and wit. Read the rest of this entry »

Where in the world is the latest outbreak?

In Disease, Health, Mapping, Online on April 8, 2011 at 6:53 pm

The recent Conference on World Affairs at the University of Colorado in Boulder included a panel on “Superbugs and Pandemics” that highlighted — among other things – the many uses of Healthmap.  This is an interactive global mapping site that aggregates news and information from sources such as the World Health Organization, Google News, and the ProMed information service on disease outbreaks.

Click to expand

As a “crowdsourced” tool, it’s not perfect nor verified for accuracy. But it’s quite useful as a window on very current public health problems for NGOs engaged in the sector, government agencies allocating assistance, crisis relief organizations monitoring the global situation for certain types of illness, or public health researchers tracking the vectors that contribute to those illnesses.

Travelers would also find Healthmap an effective way to see if their destinations are experiencing outbreaks that might affect their plans or their preparations.  Because it enables users to search by disease, nation, or region, it can produce helpful detail that is both targeted and specific.  The system has also gone mobile with the Outbreaks Near Me application for the iPhone and Android platforms.

Healthmap is the brainchild and creation of Clark Freifeld and John Brownstein at Children’s Hospital in Boston.  A quick summary of how they did it ran earlier this year in Fast Company. The Healthmap site includes excellent tutorials and some background information for the general public and health practitioners alike.

Put the Earth to work

In Communication, Mapping, Media, Online on March 31, 2011 at 9:29 pm

Geography can mean many things to a cause-oriented NGO or nonprofit: organizational framework, operational constraints, strategic opportunities, cultural boundaries…to name just a few.  Now, thanks to the enterprising folks at Google, geographic knowledge can be a brilliantly effective communication tool for conveying the scope and detail of an organization’s work.

Google has a rather extensive nonprofit outreach facility for the popular Google Earth application. It has the potential to become an ideal channel for global initiatives in particular because it supports visualization of key issues geographically, often in remarkable detail. But it can also be an engaging way for local and regional organizations to tell their stories.  It’s all a matter of scale, a concept that has almost become synonymous with Google Earth and the growing array of online mapping tools.

While there is much to consider and learn about this channel, it is quite feasible to develop and implement the following potential applications.

  • Images and information overlays illustrating  geo-political issues, regional initiatives, crisis points, trends, and human interest stories.
  • Placemark-based perspectives that illustrate concepts using snapshot views.
  • Narrated “tours” based on specific themes and concepts; the viewer can “fly” from one point to another automatically, or at the click of a mouse.
  • Embedding of these features within websites, blogs, and presentations.
  • Collaboration features that enable group work, enhancements and additions to all of these.

This is a low or no-cost way to add functionality to an online presence. Yet, its real value is in its potential to make the full scope of the organization’s work and outreach more accessible, understandable, and engaging for multiple audiences.

Google has an abundance of  resources to help make the most of this tool.  The showcase gallery should give you a sense of the possibilities.

Google Earth Outreach