One Cause At a Time – Archive

An Archive of Chicago Now One Cause at a Time Posts

Archive for January 2013

A Musical Tea-Driven Kickstarter

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Crowdfunding platforms like Kickstarter and Kiva allow individuals and groups to mobilize their networks in supporting and funding small and unique projects. Much like Future Perfect‘s take on government, crowdsourcing and crowdfunding allow people to allocate their resources appropriately for unique projects that can drive social good and small business development.

One of those projects is co-sponsored by Andy Angelos, a friend of mine who is seeking support for a unique venture: providing support for artists, musicians, and other artists to engage and support fans. The “Tea For Tyrants” Kickstarter campaign is looking to do that through a unique e-commerce program, creating custom blends of tea which are matched to creators and their work. It’s probably the most unique matching of tea and creativity since….well, the Rutles.

But there’s a larger implication – crowdfunding engines like Kickstarter allow for a greater diversity of creative efforts, but more importantly – engaging online audiences via social networks. Projects are approved by Kickstarter, and only receive funding if they meet their goal. (Services like Indiegogo allow retention of money if goals are not met). Many arts organizations attempt to meet critical financial needs through traditional funding, which often comes with restrictions, and crowdfunding allows for a greater sense of democracy and choice. People are not forced to support Kickstarter efforts, and can do so with various incentives.

But the Tea for Tyrants project goes slightly beyond that – it is an effort to not just benefit artists, but to foster a stronger entrepreneurial and business spirit amongst them. By nature, the “social good” and “social benefit” has a very broad definition, and part of that includes enriching the cultural landscape by fostering a diverse range of artistic endeavors. Thankfully, Kickstarter allows creators in various artistic efforts (many Kickstarter campaigns focus on graphic novels and documentary films), but crowdfunding is a major web-based tool for fundraising. By allowing small groups of people to pool their resources to provide funding for unique projects, crowdfunding drives a greater sense of online community through fostering collaboration.

As of this writing, the Tea for Tyrants Kickstarter Campaign has 17 days left. If you are interested, I encourage you to show your support…but more importantly, realize that it is a great example of an increasingly popular trend: people mobilizing their networks to create and fund unique, one-of-a-kind ideas and projects.

I welcome your thoughts and comments, and encourage you to please leave them below. If you wish to contact me privately, you are always more than welcome to do so either via Linked In (just mention Chicago Now) or via e-mail (via my web site’s comments form)

And as always, thanks for reading.


Librivox: Public Domain Done Right

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LibriVox-SelectionsPublic domain books (whose copyrights have lapsed) are often more readily available for public consumption….but sadly, no works in the United States entered the public domain this year. Much like Creative Commons (of more recent vintage), public domain works allow for greater distribution and reuse of works, creating new media from bits of the old?

Want a great example of public domain in action? Consider Librivox.

Much like the Chicago Public Library’s adoption of LibreOffice, Librivox takes a very open source approach to literature. Librivox provides free audiobooks of public domain literature, read aloud and recorded by volunteers (using software like Audacity), and provided free for download. (Think of it as a much more thorough version of Project Gutenberg). There’s a great diversity of works provided on the site – you’re just as likely to find classic science fiction (such as Triplanetary) as you would Victorian detective literature (where you can listen to Sherlock Holmes and his literary rivals, including gentleman thief A.J. Raffles…and don’t forget, there are plenty of literary classics that are ripe for your listening pleasure.

(Granted, some of the volunteer performances can be….awkward, but you’ll get a great gem. Just check out Plunkitt of Tammany Hall, or this particular version of A Princess of Mars)

Now you’re probably wondering why the public domain matters…as well as why this matters for Chicago. As we struggle with creating digital (and other) literacy, tools which make information more readily available in easy consumed form provides great benefit to others. Much like Open Books, Librivox is taking a unique model in promoting literacy by making diverse works available in an easy-to-use, popular format. If Chicago is a city of “big readers”, everyone must have a place to start somewhere, and Librivox is a great example of public domain done right. At its best, it creates derivative works that not only act as a resource, but promote and drive a much more literate, well-informed public.

Thoughts or comments? Please leave them below. If you wish to contact me privately, please feel free to do so either via Linked In or e-mail.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

January 22, 2013 at 10:17 pm

HERE COMES EVERYBODY & Non-Profit Organizing Online

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CNow - Here Comes Everybody

Many non-profit organizations use web-based tools  like Meetup and Eventbrite in organizing their events, but are often lost when it comes to understanding basic online organizing principles. In fact, many organizations still think of these platforms (much like social media) as having “followers” rather than “event planning tools”.

But thankfully, Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody written very early in the emergence of social media and online organizational tools, still has some great thinking – and insights – into the arena of online organizing. Written in easy-to-understand language, Shirky’s book describes one of the key challenges of organizing, moving away from more formal structures (which can often have higher costs) to a more democratic, inclusive model.  Shirky outlines how online platforms like Flickr and Meetup have reduced the cost of setting up formal organizations, allowing for more informal/casual networks of people to organize themselves along lines of interest.

Admittedly, given the nature of online networks in 2013, some of Here Comes Everybody sounds a bit dated….but that s a minor complaint. This is the go-to book for any person that wants to move beyond the “follower” way of thinking – in short, for many non-profits and social benefit agents, this is a definite must-read.

Any thoughts? Please feel free to leave comments below, or contact me directly either via Linked In or e-mail.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Hacking Open Data for Democracy

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One of the treasure troves for hackers is the idea of “open data” – data which Chicago government provides for citizens to maintain transparency. However, interpreting this data can be a challenge, because there are very few online resources for doing so….unless, of course, you head to 1871 every Tuesday night.

This past week, I was fortunate to visit the Open Gov Hack Day, a collective of software developers, problem solvers, and other concerned citizens working towards developing applications that take City data and interprets that data, making it more accessible for neighborhood residents and helping the city build better communities.

ChicagoDigital_125The group meets every Tuesday at 1871, a space where digital startup companies can find like-minded collaborators. This past Tuesday saw a presentation from the Mayor’s Office, focusing on Chicago Digital, which is part of Mayor Emanuel’s initiative to make the city work more effectively and transparently, and the site hosts a variety of online projects. Serving as the digital hub, the site provides a central access point for the city’s various social media channels, tech resources for developers, and several web-based applications which are intended to provide information for residents, including

  • ChicagoShovels,org, focusing on mobilizing around snowstorms;
  • a Local School Council locator;
  • Videos of the Mayor’s press conferences (Fact: the Mayor’s Office livestreams every press conference except in situations – like CTA Garages – where a stable wireless connection cannot be established);
  • “Rate Your Plate” via the Chicago Department of Public Health; and
  • Currently working on a discussion forum.

But one of the highlights of the evening occurred when several groups spun off and worked on various independent software projects. Many of these projects use current city data in many unique ways, providing information in a very graphically distinctive way, including

(Note – many of the sites are still “under construction”, which is why several entries lack links).

If you’re interested in learning more about open government and open data, you are more than welcome to check out the group – just visit 1871’s calendar for more details. 

And as always, if you have questions or comments, please feel free to leave them below or contact me via Linked In or e-mail.

Thanks for reading!

Written by gordondym

January 11, 2013 at 6:57 am

Networking In the New Year

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One of the great things about writing on tech and social good in Chicago is the number of great opportunities to learn, network, and gain insight into how non-profits, social ventures, and other organizations are working towards
driving efforts towards the common good.

With 2013 off to a strong start, there are several events that are worth attending
that will allow you to learn, meet like-minded people, and more importantly, help
build a stronger, more tech-savvy community.

Do you have a suggestion for an upcoming event? Please feel free to make suggestions
and/or comments below. If you wish to contact me privately, please feel free to do so
via my Linked In profile (please mention Chicago Now when you do) or my web site contact form

And thanks for reading!

The Non-Profit’s Insider Guide to Engaging Bloggers

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As a blogger, I often receive requests for reviews (whether they be comics and/or DVDs on my personal blog, or professional books for this blog), and I’m always more than willing to comply. However, like many of my fellow bloggers, I frequently receive requests that don’t fit my blog…and requests to advise non-profits on how they can engage bloggers.

So in an effort to provide some great insight (and to help both parties with a quick-and-dirty guide), here are some general guidelines for non-profits of various stripes to engage bloggers. Hopefully, this will allow you to better engage in marketing/public relations efforts, and to help you in advocating for your organization’s mission more effectively.

  • Look for Bloggers Who Have A Stake In Your Mission – Two really good online resources for networking and finding bloggers are Google Blog Search and Icerocket – both provide great search resources to find blogs that cover some aspect of your mission. However, be sure there’s a good match – too often, organizations will attempt to engage bloggers who have little – if any – affinity for their mission.
  • Determine Your Blogger’s Popularity – Sites like Quantcast and Compete can tell you a blogger’s traffic, and you want to know the unique monthly visitors of a blog. Engage both high-traffic (for visibility) and low-traffic (for a more immediate sense of community) blogs, and also be sure to check out their social media presence (many bloggers use social media as a way of driving traffic and building community).
  • Offer Value, Even If It’s Only Exposure: Many bloggers may be in it for freebies, but ultimately, the greatest freebie your non-profit can offer is readership for their blog. (Of course, this also means you have to approve). Bloggers will be motivated to write about your agency if you can provide something of value to them (especially if they claim they’re “PR Friendly”, meaning that they are open to receiving solicitations from marketing agencies and others). And speaking of which….
  • Understand FTC Blogger Disclosure Guidelines – In the past few years, there has been a development of legislation around when bloggers need to disclose that they have received an item for the purposes of blogging about it. You can find a copy of the guidelines here, and the Word of Mouth Marketing
    Association (WOMMA) has a great quick-and-dirty (and continually updated) guide to social media disclosure
    . At the very least, it will save you numerous headaches (and hefty fines) later on….
  • When the Post Appears, Promote It – once you get a blog post focusing on your non-profit, make it part of your marketing efforts. Tweet it, link to it on Facebook and Linked In, and create a link on your web site. You’re not only thanking the blogger for their efforts, you’re also providing them with a great benefit – exposure. (Yes, it is repetitive, but quite honestly – worth repeating).
  • Track Your Efforts  – This can be as simple as an Excel spreadsheet tracking the author, blog title, URL of article, unique monthly traffic, and date in which post appeared. At the very least, you can make the case that for a minimum of effort, you received a set number of impressions and/or unique readers for your agency. However, there is one item that I would be remiss in not addressing….
  • Avoid Blogs Where “Admin” Is The Sole Author – Many blogs serve as spam blogs, allowing some sites to  “cheat” in driving search engine rankings. These kind of blogs usually have “admin” as the author of posts, and many of the posts tend to read a little more like bland sales pitches. These are usually a dead end, and not worth pursuing – try to find bloggers who post under a name or pseudonym. (Having a picture on their blog usually helps as well).

Admittedly, this is a starter guide, and I am sure there will be ample opportunity to drive conversation. But as a way to enable non-profits to begin dipping their toes into social media by engaging bloggers, I’m hoping it’s a great way to lead off conversation.

If you have questions, you are more than welcome to leave them below. I can also be reached privately via Linked In (just mention Chicago Now when you write) or my web site’s contact page.

And as always, thanks for reading!

Resolve to Connect Chicago In 2013!

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Your New Year’s Resolution may be to find work, or to learn how to navigate the social sphere….but for many of us, online access is not easily available. You may have even seen some intriguing signs at bus and train stations encouraging you to “Connect Chicago”

Quite honestly, this is one of the best tech-oriented services that is available in the city of Chicago.

We Connect Chicago is the brainchild of the Smart Chicago Collaborative, an organization that is working to drive digital excellence and literacy across all of our diverse neighborhoods. They announced the service back in November, focusing on a web site that lists places where free computers are available, but also provide information about training to use computers.

And all of these services are provided….for free.

In all honesty, We Connect Chicago lists most places you would suspect would have free computers – Community Tech Centers (CTCs), public libraries, and other resources. Smart Chicago Collaborative is also working on some higher-end initiatives like Open 311 and other projects that…well, may not be of interest to the average person. But with contemporary culture – especially workforce development and social networking – increasingly moving to an online realm, and with an increasingly unsure economic climate, access to technology is no longer simply a privilege – it is becoming an essential tool for survival, and We Connect Chicago is a great first step towards making sure that tool is available for everyone.

At the very least, there is some good news to report as 2013 begins….

Please feel free to leave any comments and questions below. If you wish to contact me privately, please feel free to do so via Linked In (just mention Chicago Now) or my web site’s contact form.

And as always, thanks for reading – and Happy New Year!