About Social Source Commons

Problem Statement

A great range of resources exist to inform software selection, use and support in NPOs and NGOs, but they are not well connected, and rarely share common formats or metadata. To date, there is no place for comprehensively mapping the full range of "what's out there" and "who's using what", and in turn aggregating relevant information for tools and categories of tools. There is also no general platform for sharing collective software knowledge in geographic, subsector and other specialized contexts.

Anecdotal inquiry and formal research both indicate that software selection in the NPO/NGO sector is usually done by "asking friends what they use". Such "social network" methodology has the built-in advantage of establishing de facto support networks, as those same friends and allies who recommend tools are only a phone call or email away for questions. But such processes are limited by the size and capacity of the network, and can never be considered comprehensive or best practice.

When considering how nonprofit technology assistance providers (NTAPs) search for and select tools, one need only survey the archives of various NGO/NPO technology mailing lists (INTERIDER, RIDERS-TALK, NTEN-DISCUSS, NOSI-DISCUSSION) to observe a pattern repeating itself on a regular basis: a list member asks a question of the form "who's using what for tool category X". On categories ranging from case management to survey tools to simple utilities, responses come from all over the globe, establishing a snapshot inventory of tools, tips and caveats. But just as quickly as these de facto catalogs are built, they roll up into mailing list archives, unlikey to see the light of day again, and fated to be recreated weeks or months later.

A resource that systematically inventories available tools, and connects that inventory to the wealth of relevant information resources is long overdue.

Aggregating Software Knowledge for the NPO/NGO Sector

The Social Source Commons (SSC) is standards-based, open source web platform for mapping "what's out there??? and ???who's using what??? in NGO/NPO software, based on a model that blends the sharing ethic and passion of nonprofit and NGO technologists with the best new internet technologies and information models.

SSC augments the "social network-driven" software selection paradigm that pervades NPO/NGO technology, allowing users to discover tools and connect with allies by asking:

  • What are others using? Which tools are most popular?
  • Who else is using what I'm using, and what are they saying about it?
  • What tools exist in a given category?
  • What new tools are people discovering?
  • What am I not using that I could be using?
  • What tools are used in combination with the ones I'm using?

The platform enumerates and documents the landscape of software tools available for NPO/NGO use. The primary focus is on empowering eRiders and NPO/NGO technology practitioners, who are building out the inventory by sharing and comparing what they use. The architecture is based on sites such as wikipedia.org, del.icio.us and flickr.com that leverage collaborative editability, democratic categorization schemes, and ease of use to build shared knowledge stores. SSC is designed to enable peer supported, collaborative information management around NPO/NGO software technology.

SSC is not just an inventory tool; it is an information "prism" through which relevant information feeds, updates, and new resources can be aggregated and redistributed per tool, per category, and per user. The web is evolving from a destination-oriented resource (the YAHOO of yesteryear) to a services-based, feeds-oriented universe of highly targeted and filtered information streams. RSS and open APIs (Application Programmer Interfaces) are changing the way web-based information is consumed, moving experienced users from "pulling" information to receiving "pushed" and well-targeted feeds. SSC takes advantage of this emerging paradigm to "push" answers to the above questions to each user in a personalized fashion, and to allow other sites and sources to query and publish SSC data.