Friday, March 13, 2009

Ten ways to use Web 2.0 to change the world

1. Find people. There are people out there who are interested in your cause. Seek them out. Technorati's blog finder can help you do this. (Don't worry too much about how it works — you can learn about that on Technorati's site if you're interested.) Plug in keywords associated with your areas of interest and see if you can find bloggers whose goals are related to your own. For me, this strategy has become an effective recruiting tool: When I'm looking to fill new positions, I use Technorati to locate people who are working on and thinking about the things I need to get done. Then I try to hire 'em. In two cases, this has resulted in finding amazing people who were already doing the work they loved; I just got the chance to pay them for it.

2.Find opinions. People are always sharing what they think — and you can tap into those opinions with the same tool you used to find people. Technorati's main search interface will help you discover what people are saying about the issues near to your organization's heart. This isn't the same as searching for people: after all, sometimes a blogger will be moved to write about a topic that is relevant to you, but which may not be something he or she normally writes about. Find these entries, which can inform your marketing and outreach. For example, before composing letters to your organization's donor pool, read what people are saying about your areas of interest, and use that information to inform your efforts. While you aren't doing something new, you are doing it a bit differently — and potentially adding a new data point.

3.Scatter a trail of comments on the Internet. You don't have to blog to comment on one. When you find the people and you find the issues, participate by leaving a comment. Let bloggers know that they've found a reader in you. Be thoughtful and keep it real: If all you want to say is "Good job," drop a private email so that your comment isn't confused with spam.

4.Make sure the API is open. Don't even worry about what an API is yet. But if you are purchasing a database or content management system, find out if the API is open. While not the most important consideration, it should be a deciding factor. Likewise, when looking into free tools on the Internet, check to make sure they have open APIs.

5.Share the face of your organization. Take pictures! Post 'em on your Web site or, ideally, in a location where you can connect to others, such as flickr. Yes, there are other places you can do this — but flickr lets you tap into a stream of caring, committed people. (Go through this series of photos and tell me you don't want to support March of Dimes' mission.)

6.Make yourself link-friendly. You know those situations when you want to share information with someone and have to describe where to look for it online? Try not to be that Web site. Make anchor links. If you don't know what they are, find someone to help you.

7.Use RSS. You can't keep up with everything that's happening by trolling the Web and using your browser's Favorites or Bookmarks tabs as your starting point. There are a lot of good resources with information about RSS: find and use them.

8.Check out the third-party tools. There are a lot of tools out there that don't stand alone, but work specifically with other software services. If you start using a particular service, find out if others have built tools to make it even more useful. This is where the open APIs come in: if you've been following this outline as a progression, you made sure the tools you obtained had an open API. (Right? You did that, right?) Now, go to Google, plug in the name of the tool and the words "third party." One of the top three results is going to point you to some enthusiast who is maintaining a list of useful add-ons. Go through them and see if they work for you.

9.Share your path. After completing the steps outlined above, you're moving around the Web in meaningful, deliberate way. You're responding to people, leaving comments, and promoting the face of your organization, using RSS to track it all. You are a Web 2.0 god-in-training. Now, share your path. When you find something interesting enough for you to click, take the two extra steps necessary to share it with your friends and supporters by tagging it with Yes, there are other ways, but once you get past's minimalist design, I don't think there's anything that works better to save URLs in a social environment. There are some good tutorials out there to help get you started.

10.Engage the developer community. By now, you should have some idea of what you want that (or what you think you want), even if it doesn't exist yet. Tap into the network of people who are really interested in building things — and ask them to help you out.

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