Archive for social media

CauseWired’s Laptop/Printer Contest

Some lucky nonprofit or social entrepreneur is going to win a free free laptop and printer bundle courtesy of HP and CauseWired Communications!

But you’ll have to answer a key question first, in order to win: “How we’re going to use social media and web technology to change the world.” Drop your ideas and thoughts into comments, no more than 500 words please – and include a link to your organization or website.

Here’s the skinny on this give-away. It’s part of the HP Create Change effort. For every purchase from the Create Change site that is part of the HP direct purchase website, HP will donate 4% to one of the following seven nonprofits that you can designate. The nonprofits are: American Red Cross, CARE,, Junior Achievement, Make-A-Wish Foundation, Susan G. Koman Race for the Cure, World Wildlife Fund.

You can download a widget for the HP Create Change effort form their site and follow their conversation on Facebook.

So what’s the deal with the contest? HP has asked me and a few social sector bloggers – Beth Kanter, Allison Fine, Katya Andresen’s Nonprofit Marketing Blog, Jolly Mom, and Amy Sample Ward – to ask our readers a question about social change. And then each of us bloggers will pick a winner from the comments on our blog.

Note: we’re not receiving anything. Only contest winners get the equipment. So let us know what you think!


Redefining Holiday Luxury, Part One

A great pair of videos from aims to redefine the idea of holiday shopping “luxury.” The videos are particularly important this season, given the global economic crisis. If you like them – as I do – put them on your blog or Twitter them.

Don’t Panic: Scarcity Drives Innovation

Online social activism platforms are, generally speaking, lean operations. The more than 40 platforms we’ve identified here at CauseWired (and supplemented by Christine Egger over at Social Actions) do not boast deep balance sheets laden with venture capital, or vast marketing operations designed to build their brands rapidly. As hard times nip at the world’s heels – and this truly is, in my view, a global economic crisis – the cause start-ups should be well-positioned to survive, and in many ways, to help provide assistance where it may we be needed more than ever.

And as recruiters of CauseWired consumers – wired young activists who believe their work must stand for something great than themselves – the online social activism start-ups can provide a real outlet for soul-satisfying involvement even as markets close and opportunities suffer.

Nonetheless, these platforms are start-ups: from the venerable DonorsChoose (started way back in 2000) to the newest online cause. They require some cash to run, whether philanthropic or of the investment variety (or a combination of both). They are social ventures and are expected to boast models that lead to financial self sufficiency at some point in the future. So the disaster in the markets and the paralysis of the world credit markets may well leave their mark.

That said, I was struck today from some advice published by my old friend John Borthwick, a well-known entrepreneur from my Silicon Alley days who now runs an incubator for social media start-ups. I think some of the hard-charging CauseWired social entrepreneurs could do well to read his advice this Columbus Day weekend. Here’s an overview:

Things look ugly, but with distress comes opportunities. Scarcity drives innovation. Always has, always will. Do more with less: A trite one liner that you need to make part of your companies DNA.

There will be more emphasis on user value, more ways to make money from that value. We will finally fess up to the fact that many of the ad models of web 2.0 don’t yield results, and we will invent ones that do. All around there will be more innovation.

It’s counterintuitive, but during an up cycle people accept conventional wisdom, and during a down cycle people challenge it. That’s good. Very good. And the cycle will winnow competition.

And yes, you do have competition. Sure, it’d be great if all the well-minded social actions platforms grow and survive and help to change the world. But they won’t. Some will become part of the fabric of public life; others will whither. And the competition for attention alone – those precious clicks and minutes online – will eventually winnow the pool. Then other start-ups will come along and innovation will advance. And the big players we currently take for granted in the online world will also change, says Borthwick:

Pieces are going to move on the chess board. Big pieces. This shouldn’t be your focus, but things are going to have change around your business, and they might affect you. Yahoo is going to be sold or bought. Ebay will either be sold or bought or broken up. Facebook is going to have to change (cut spending, focus on revenue) or it will be bought. Same for Linked in. Microsoft, News Corp. TWX and other media companies will be buyers. What does Google do in this cycle — freeze or be bold? The newspapers — do they act out of fear or freeze up? Telco’s and cell cos; cable cos — do they jump upstream? Why should you care? Because as these pieces move around the chess board, they may well affect your future. So watch carefully. If Paypal — which by some estimates is now 50% of the value of Ebay — gets spun out of ebay, then they will accelerate services beyond advertising. Etc. etc. So consider the moves the elephants make. The equation for them, public or private, has changed.

Finally, the big downturn – and we’re looking at a couple of years, minimum, so don’t kid yourself – will help to accelerate another trend, one that favors the zeitgeist of online social activism. Borthwick:

I think this cycle is going to drive another significant shift in how open and interconnected the Web is. This is good news for you, and this is bad news for the Facebooks of the world, who tried to replicate the walled garden strategy of Web 1.0.

Think about what happened through the last cycle. Start with AWS. In the 1990s, Internet companies had to own everything top to tail. Today you can use Amazon and other services to pop up a new box for hundreds of dollars, if that. Thats a huge shift, and it’s also a shift towards interdependency.

We are all now dependent on the Amazon’s of the world for parts of our infrastructure. I think this turn of the cycle is going to drive a lot more openness. This in turn ties to the market figuring out how to rapidly establish bottoms-up standards. This is about working with others and figuring out how to do things without having to do all the work.

John Borthwick was writing about for-profit social media start-ups, but I think his advice is spot on for social entrepreneurs working on the web. It’s going to be a rough go, but I think the stakes of what we’re doing just got higher.

Ourmedia Evolves into CauseWired Platform

JD Lasica has been one of the true guides in the evolution of Internet-based communities and networks for well more than a decade. His 2005 book Darknet was a seminal piece of reporting about the personal media revolution, and certainly an inspiration for some of what I’m trying to accomplish with CauseWired. And I’ve been reading JD’s blog for years. So it’s big news to me when his nonprofit startup platform for hosting user-created media, Ourmedia, shifts its business model – and in our direction. Writes JD:

This summer we’ll be relaunching Ourmedia as a social media platform and tools provider for cause organizations. We just hired a programmer and we’re in the process of upgrading the site to Drupal 6 as we build “cause pages” with specific calls to action (many more than are available on Facebook Causes) and customizable widgets — all part of an effort we call cloud campaigning.

I think that’s a fascinating shift – and clear evidence that user-created content is deeply embedded (no pun intended) in the world of online social activism, peer-to-peer philanthropy or whatever you want to call it. It will be interesting to see how Ourmedia develops in the “cause” sector and we’ll certainly be watching.

And speaking of JD, I wanted to point out his excellent interview with Hal Plotkin, the founder of, a video platform for social change. Here’s a bit, but please read the whole thing:

“ reflects some of what I think many of us hoped could be achieved once we had better technology. I don’t mean to sound too utopian, but I think many of us born somewhere near the middle of the last century hoped that as more sophisticated technology came online over the last few decades it would enable more highly-evolved ways of living and of organizing our lives and our society, including greater empowerment of communities of interest and an overall decentralization of power. It hasn’t quite worked out that way in all cases. But advances that overall vision…”

Nonprofits and Social Media

Beth Kanter, one of the real experts of using social media to benefit nonprofit organizations, has a different kind of New Year’s post up – four lessons she’s learned about social networks and nonprofits. This one struck me in particular, given my personal (very rewarding) experience with newcritics:

2. Size doesn’t matter:   It isn’t how many people are in your network, it is how you well you know them and your relationship.  It isn’t about quantity or friend collecting.  It isn’t about broadcasting your message or lecturing.  Grow your network slowly and get to know your friends and be helpful.  And, if you find yourself in the position I was in – with lots of people requesting to be friends, find out why first.  Don’t just accept them. Seek out tools that will help you manage your relationships efficiently, not gather or collect more friends.

For those who don’t know, newcritics is the group blog/social network I started last January to bring new voices to the dying art of media criticism – we’ve got about 45 bloggers and it’s really become a  very tight, supportive social network for its members. As Beth says, it’s not a massive group of people – daily usage is around 200 people and the regular commenters are there at least weekly. But it’s been more rewarding to me than my participation in much larger, better-financed efforts. I plan to share some of the lessons I’ve learned with newcritics in writing CauseWired.