March 16, 2010

Nonprofit highlights and photos of SXSW

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Kari Dunn Saratovsky

CauseLab, Good Guide, Ushahidi lead impressive array of social change efforts

JD LasicaI‘ve learned long ago the challenge of covering South by Southwest Interactive, which hums along at its own idiosyncratic pace compared to more linear conferences. Thus, I spent last year and this year doing less blogging, conducting more interviews (which I’ll roll out in the coming weeks), taking more photos and doing much more networking.

I returned home from my fourth SXSW last night — here are 54 photos from the event I just uploaded to Flickr. Here are a few takeaways that may be of interest to nonprofits and social change organizations — but I didn’t cover this as a nonprofit correspondent, so be sure to check out other coverage and look at SXSW’sarray of Greater Good panels and follow the hashtags.

• Loved Friday’s TechSoup-led display of “world-changing mobile apps,” including:

• The Good Guide, with info about 70,000-plus health, food, toy and beauty products — including an API that lets you create a custom product directory that pulls from its database.

Ushahidi — the Swahili word for witness — allows anyone with a mobile device to tell stories in an organized way that enables action. Major relief organizations and agencies, including the Red Cross, US State Department and US AID — relied on Ushahidi to assess the situation on the ground in Haiti and deploy resources in a more strategic way.

• Check out for an amazing backstory.

• I popped into the third-floor Cause Lab a few times and was thrilled to see all the energy devoted to bringing real-life solutions to combat hunger. See the #endhunger hashtag on Twitter for inspiration and see for “three ways you can help us innovate”:

No matter where you are, you can be a part of the CauseLab thanks to the Secret Beta Test. Even better, the best idea created will win $1,000 and the person who collaborates the best will win $500, when the CauseLab ends on April 15.

• I was too busy taking photos to take any notes during the Crowdsourcing Innovative Social Change panel featuring Socialbrite’s own Amy Sample Ward, Beth Kanter, Holly Ross, Kari Dunn Saratovsky and David Neff. But WiserEarth has a great summary, you can see the re #crowdx and #sourcinginnovativechange hashtag streams or read Beth’s take on it.

• Also got to meet Pete Cashmore, founder/editor of Mashable, who’s even classier and more personable than his online persona. (Pete said he was a longtime fan of my writings, and the feeling is mutual.)

• At Saturday night’s Digg party, I made my first contribution using Square, the Jack Dorsey startup and app that attaches to an iPhone so you can swipe a credit card. Charity:water got my $25.

• “Every time a talented young producer goes off to work for Google, another startup dies,” said Matt Ewing of Democracy Alliance quoting a Silicon Valley aphorism and making an allusion to how social change innovators should consider launching their own projects rather than getting absorbed into nonprofits or socially responsible outfits. “A lot of little ideas that can change the world aren’t being funded right now.” Democracy Alliance is looking to help change that.

• Exchange between Guy Kawasaki and Laura Fitton at the last panel I caught on top Twitter tools. Kawasaki: “There are two types of Twitter users: Those who want as many followers as possible, and those who are lying.” (I’ve heard Guy repeatedly trot out this chestnut.)

Fitton: “Bullshit, Guy, you have to find the right followers.”

I’m with Laura on this one. I could have hit 50,000 followers long ago through manipulation rather than attracting the 10,000 high-signal followers I have now. Twitter is about connecting with the right people, not creating another broadcast station, though I see how Guy has made good use of his large following.

• If there was ever a doubt that Twitter co-founder Evan Williams is a tech rock star, his keynote chat made that clear. The main exhibit hall and two ballrooms were packed to capacity. I like the modest new Twitter program @anywhere, which lets users follow a writer straight from her byline or tagline on a blog or news story without having to go to the Twitter site. As Ev says, “It reduces friction.”

• Williams: “Openness is a survival technique, because some of your core assumptions are probably wrong.”

• More Ev Williams: “it’s been important to us for Twitter to reach the weakest signals in the world. SMS can reach all these people. It’s actually profound in the right situations.” Those of us who rely each day on the Internet forget that billions of people still don’t have Internet access, though many of them do have cell phones. Twitter has agreements with 65 carriers in world, and people in the developing world are discovering the benefits of using Twitter via mobile carrier. “We take that [Internet connectivity] for granted, that anyone can communicate with each other,” Williams said. “For Chilean farmers who hear there’ll be a downpour in a few days, it can be a life-changing event.”

• Williams says media corporations are adapting to the new landscape. “Ecosystems get richer if there are new species. The old species die off if they’re not adding enough value. Pretending the new species don’t exist or saying I’m at war with that — that doesn’t work.”
JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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