May 26, 2010

Zanby: Roll your own community

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Zanby: Create your community from JD Lasica on Vimeo.

JD LasicaI‘ve been fascinated for some time by Zanby, a plaform for online collaboration for businesses and nonprofits that launched last year. I chatted a few months ago with Leif Utne — technologist, journalist, activist, musician, social entrepreneur and son of the founder of the Utne Reader — about Zanby and its potential as a customized collaboration community for millions of members.

“It’s a pretty exciting way to allow a movement to collaborate across organizations to share users and share content, while being able to maintain their distinct identities,” Leif said.

A few other platforms have stepped up to the plate, but what’s different about Zanby is that it allows organizations to create teams of online collaborators in a richer way than Microsoft’s SharePoint or Google Groups by letting you create “group families” with all the latest photos, videos, discussions and upcoming events shared by all the groups in the family.

Said Leif: “It’s kind of like a private-label version of Meetup.com that lets you customize the look and functionality [of the site and permits you to] own your own data.” Zanby lets you map your teams and members to the real-world structure of an organization, he adds. A number of businesses are already using it as part of their company intranet.

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Zanby is close to releasing version 4.0 (current version is 3.2). “Our best-looking client site right now is Rework the World, a global summit on green jobs taking place in Sweden next week,” Leif said yesterday.

Leif Utne: "Quote goes here here here here here."Leif points out that a number of nonprofits and socially responsible businesses have used the platform to mobilize their members. Clients like OneSky, 350.org and the Energy Action Coalition are using it to mobilize climate activists in every Congressional district. With Zanby, each organization creates a separate community but shares access to the same 435 Congressional groups in the platform.

“It’s a pretty exciting way to allow a movement to collaborate across organizations to share users and share content while being able to maintain their distinct identities,” he said.

Zanby’s revenues come through selling licenses and community building services. The base level to get a branded group family is $5,000 for set-up and $500 a month, Leif said.

(Update: Leif provides this updated information on pricing: A Zanby Lite license starts at $7,200 for setup, plus $600/month, which includes a single hosted, white-labeled group family with unlimited groups, plus admin panel. For an additional cost, CRM integration and other custom functionality are available with a Lite license, too. A Zanby Enterprise license (typically hosted, but can be installed locally) starts at $11,000 setup plus $2k/month for nonprofits. An enterprise license gives you the ability to create unlimited group families (groups of groups). Each group family can be served as a Zanby Satellite — a separate, stand-alone community with its own brand, but sharing the same databases of users and groups. This is how the Climate Networks coalition site is structured. The enterprise user interface is password-protected, though it could be public-facing. Each partner organization has a branded satellite group family that shares the same set of 435 congressional district groups, plus some additional groups that live only within their family.)

Zanby as a tool to manage a network of journalists

The Uptake, one of the nation’s premier nonprofit citizen journalism projects, has used Zanby from the outset to manage its national network of video journalists.

Jason Barnett, executive director of Minnesota-based The UpTake, said Zanby has addressed a major need of organizations trying to build functioning grassroots movements. “Its feature of grouping groups is the single most important feature for online organizing to operate in an efficient and dynamic way. I am in the Kool-Aid drinking department of the Zanby vision, and have been since day one.”

The UpTake has been using Zanby to grow its community organically with editorial oversight, he said. “We needed to establish ourselves as a media organization, build a budget and hire staff to make us operational. To put it mildly, that has been difficult in the media climate in the last few years. We have not had the staff to use Zanby in the ways it was designed. Any organizing – online or offline – needs to be staffed, even with efficient tools like Zanby, while we needed to put our resources in content creation and distribution.” The UpTake hopes to upgrade so that it can use a good content management system as its front end and use Zanby organizing tools as the back-end. “All this comes down to costs, which we are currently analyzing,” he adds.

“All in all, our experiment with Zanby has been good for us and good for Zanby. We tested many of the systems early on, helped them understand what was working and where to better focus their energy. For us, it gave us the support of a web team, some cutting-edge tools, script objects (which rock) that make some things easy and a platform to build off of to help us establish our brand as a citizen-driven grassroots news organization,” Barnett said. “The vision of The UpTake is to organize citizen media wherever the desire develops. Zanby is a great tool for that, and once we are able to upgrade to the newest version, which will give us the CMS we need, and have a budget to support the online organizing staff needed to execute that part of our mission, Zanby will be a powerful tool.”

I’m looking forward to seeing where Zanby 4.0 takes things.

(Leif provides this final update: “One more thing: When we release R4 on our free site, http://free.zanby.com, users will be able to create group families for free. Currently, all groups are free, but to create a group family there’s a fee of $100 setup plus $100/month, though we’re waiving that for anyone who asks. For cash-strapped nonprofits, this may be a good alternative to Google Groups, Yahoo Groups, MeetUp or Ning.”)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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  • bearsonpatrol

    Thanks for this blog post. We're one of the cash-strapped nonprofits, and I first found out about Zanby here. They connected with me on Twitter and helped me set up a free group family when I mentioned the price. Their attention and service have been great, and, so far, it looks like a great platform.