July 16, 2010

12 open source tools you should be using

We liked this 3-minute intro to Songbird, Firefox, Audacity, OpenOffice,
Gaim, Gimp, Inkscape and Ubuntu.

Programs powered by coders’ collective brainpower & generosity

Target audience: Nonprofits, social change organizations, educators, foundations, businesses, individuals. This is part of Creating Media, our ongoing series designed to help nonprofits and other organizations learn how to use and make media.

By Kim Bale
Socialbrite staff

Afew years ago, most of us relied on closed, proprietary software to create documents, crunch numbers, surf the Web or watch videos. Today the landscape has shifted dramatically, with tens of millions of people taking advantage of free open source software that’s equal to — and often superior to — tools created the old way.

Some of the most useful, reliable and productive Web programs were developed using open source methods — transparency, collaboration, peer review and testing — resulting in screaming-cool products that keep getting better. Many of the open source tools outlined below are distributed under the GPL (GNU General Public License), making them flexible, high-quality products that give their corporate competitors a run for the money at a fraction of the cost. A few were even developed by foundations.

Here are 12 open source tools your organization should consider using and supporting. How many of them do you know about? (Know about others? Recommend them in the comments below.)

Office tools

OpenOffice: Full-featured productivity suite

1A single piece of full-featured software that will fulfill all of your administrative needs, OpenOffice.org is a nonprofit’s dream. The package boasts a word processor, spreadsheets, graphics programs and database access from any connected computer. The main benefit of OpenOffice is its interoperability — open and save Word docs, Excel spreadsheet, PowerPoint documents, etc., even if you don’t own Microsoft Office. Compatible with the Microsoft Windows, GNU/Linux, Sun Solaris and Apple Mac operating systems, OpenOffice is a one-click install and comes with an international community of users. Anyone can suggest improvements, report possible bugs or help troubleshoot problems via the organization’s wiki page. Download OpenOffice.org.

Constituent management


CiviCRM: Manage your connections

2CiviCRM is a free, open source solution for the civic sector that lets you manage your constituents. Far more than a contacts database, Web-based CiviCRM is designed specifically to meet the needs of advocacy, non-profit and non-governmental groups. See this 4-minute explanatory video on Vimeo.

CiviCRM is a contacts, fundraising and eCRM system that allows you to record and manage information about your various constituents including volunteers, activists, donors, employees, clients, vendors, etc. Track and execute donations, transactions, conversations, events or any type of correspondence with each constituent and store it all in one place. CiviCRM was created by CiviCRM LLC, the nonprofit Social Source Foundation and the open source community. See this page about which content management systems are supported.

Audio-visual tools


Miro: Watch Web video in high-def

3Streaming your videos is free and easy with the Miro Video Player. A project of the nonprofit Participatory Culture Foundation, Miro is free to download and allows users to watch video in full-screen HD from anywhere, regardless of Internet connectivity. Once downloaded, Miro plays host to HD content gathered from sites like YouTube and Blip.tv as well as podcasts and torrent files. Users subscribe to channels and feeds in their video player, allowing downloads to happen automatically as soon as new content is available.

Miro is great for nonprofits because it offers a customizable player allowing any organization to co-brand their video players and blast them to the expanding Miro community — the player was downloaded about 4 million times over the past year and boasts hundreds of thousands of users each month. As an open-source program, Miro is run by a mere 10 staff members, leaving much of the translating, coding, fixes and upgrades to volunteers around the world. Download the Miro Video Player.

A related free tool is Miro Video Converter, an amazing downloadable app that converts almost any video to MP4, WebM (vp8), Ogg Theora, or for Android, iPhone and more.

Audacity: A complete sound editing suite

4Audacity is a free audio editor that makes it easy for anyone to record, convert, import, export, edit and mix audio files of many formats. The simple Cut, Copy, Paste and Delete options make it very user-friendly and the Undo/Redo options quickly correct any errors. Audacity allows users to layer music beneath dialogue for a professional-quality podcast and features effects that can change the pitch or tempo of the recording, remove any background noise and add sound effects, like an echo. The open-source Audacity Wiki Tutorials can be edited by any user and helps answer questions like how to export projects into iTunes and record audio that’s playing on your computer. Download Audacity.

Songbird: Take control of your music

5This open source media player combines the best of iTunes, YouTube and Pandora to give you an immersive audio-visual experience. Songbird lets you buy and download your favorite music, provides video, photos, news and bios related to each song you play, suggests music you might enjoy and allows you to create and manage playlists that can be downloaded to your synced mobile device. Users are encouraged to aid in the development by uploading add-ons and submitting code. Download Songbird. (Image of songbird at left isn’t related to Songbird site — we just loved the little guy!)


VLC Media Player: A cross-platform media player

6This open-source media player has cross-platform capabilities and is very easy to use. One simple, free installation will leave you a player that can read DVDs, Audio CDs, QuickTime files and more. VLC is ideal for playing video or audio files that are unrecognizable to programs like Windows Media Player or QuickTime, and it has the ability to play damaged files by simply skipping over the damaged parts. Download VLC Media Player.

HandBrake: Rip your DVD collection

7The HandBrake DVD converter can take any DVD or DVD-like source and generate files output as MP4, H.264, Theora video, MKV and several audio options. Chapter selection, subtitles and other features are maintained even after the media has been converted, giving you a DVD quality file fit for any website, computer or iPod. Notably, HandBrake lets you rip copy-protected DVDs you own so you can travel much lighter. See the HandBrake wiki to ask questions of its strong support community. Download HandBrake. Continue reading

July 10, 2010

A quick guide to multimedia software


An overview of software for multimedia editing, video hosting & podcasting

Target audience: Nonprofits, social change organizations, educators, NGOs, citizen journalists, media makers. This is part of Creating Media, our ongoing series designed to help nonprofits and other organizations learn how to use and make media.

By Kaitlin LaCasse and Laura S. Quinn

Want to get started using audio or videos to engage your current supporters and pull in new ones? There are a number of tools that put multimedia within the reach of most nonprofits. In this excerpt from the Idealware Field Guide to Software for Nonprofits: Fundraising, Communications and Outreach, we explore three related multimedia topics. First, we take a look at multimedia editing software, which can help you whip your audio or video files into shape for public distribution. Then we explore how video sharing websites can help you put your video into the world. Finally, we talk about podcasts, a way to let people easily subscribe to audio or video shows.

Multimedia editing

Multimedia editing software gives you the capability to create videos or audio recordings with a level of a polish that used to require a lot of expensive hardware. Good editing takes time and some skill, but a number of low-cost, straightforward packages put the tools within reach of any nonprofit.

With audio packages, you can edit interviews for length, cut “um”s and pauses, and add music or voiceover introductions. Both GarageBand (for the Mac) and Audacity (for the PC or Mac) are free, solid tools that provide all the functionality you’re likely to need. If you’re eligible for the Adobe donation program through TechSoup, you may be able to get professional-grade Adobe Audition for a $35 admin fee.

Adobe Premier ElementsVideo tools let you cut out pieces you don’t want, splice different sections together, and overlay graphics and text onto your piece. You might join an interview with a constituent together with scenes of your program participants, and put a title screen at the beginning — and even upload it to YouTube with a single click.

For Mac users, iMovie (free with the Mac OS X operating system) is a great editing tool for simple movies. The free editing software available for PCs, on the other hand — like Windows Movie Maker and Pinnacle Systems’ VideoSpin — can be difficult to work with, and often imposes insistent front-and-center ads or confusing limitations on supported formats. For PC users, a good alternative is Adobe Premiere Elements (pictured at right, $15 for nonprofits on TechSoup, or the movie editor is about $79 retail), which provides friendly features very similar to iMovie.

[Editors note: There are also a few online video editing options, including Jaycut.com (free), Motionbox.com (free), Moviemasher.com (free & open source) and Kaltura (fee-based and open source, though these solutions have serious limitations.] Continue reading

May 20, 2010

How to record & edit a 2-minute audio interview



A step-by-step guide to using Audacity to get a polished audio

Target audience: nonprofits, NGOs, educators, citizen journalists, individuals who require media skills

Guest post by Adam Hyde and Adam Willets
Tactical Technology Collective

This is one in a series of training articles that convey new media skills to organizations.

It’s simple to record an audio interview — say, of a guest speaker in your office or at an event. Don’t miss the chance to capture the event so that others who couldn’t be there can share in the experience.

Here’s our guide to recording and editing a two-minute interview with a minimum of equipment. (Don’t be put off by all the steps below — once you’ve done it, it becomes simple the second time around.) There are lots of ways to do this — you can begin with an iPhone as the recording device, for example — but for our purposes, we’ll show you the steps using just one microphone and a laptop.

You will need:

  • a microphone
  • a computer (with Audacity installed)
  • someone to interview

This guide will show you how to record the interview to the laptop using Audacity, an open-source audio recording and editing program that can be installed on Windows, Linux or Mac OS X. Once you’ve recorded the interview, we’ll show you how to edit your audio using Audacity. Continue reading