January 21, 2011

Want to take action on a cause? The road ahead just got easier

Peter Deitz
Peter Deitz, the whirlwind behind Social Actions. (Photo by JD Lasica)

 

Social Actions moves the open source ball forward for the cause community

Guest post by Amy Sample Ward
amysampleward.org

I’ve followed and supported the work of Peter Deitz and Social Actions ever since hearing about his passion and ideas a few years ago. There’s a lot happening with Social Actions right now, but one bit of news is really exciting and needs to be highlighted: some incredibly important technical enhancements have recently been made to the Social Actions API. (Here’s what an API is.) Earlier this week, I got ahold of Peter to get the full scoop! Here’s our exchange:

Let’s start at the beginning: What is Social Actions and where does the API come in?

I describe Social Actions as an aggregation of actions people can take on any issue that’s built to be highly distributable across the social web. We pull in donation opportunities, volunteer positions, petitions, event, and other actions from 60-plus different sources. That’s today. A few years ago, microphilanthropy had just a handful of pioneering platforms.

The Social Actions project began in 2006. I wanted to make some kind of contribution to the world of microphilanthropy. My intent was to inventory every interesting action I came across to make it easier for people to engage in the causes they cared about. There wasn’t much scalability in the way I was pursuing the project.

In 2007, I realized that a much more effective way to aggregate interesting actions would be to subscribe to RSS feeds from trusted sources. I wrote about the potential for aggregating RSS feeds of giving opportunities in a blog post called, Why We Need Group Fundraising RSS Feeds. Three months later I had a prototype platform aggregating actions from RSS feeds, with a search element around that content.

Around  the time of the Nonprofit Technology Network’s 2008 NTC conference, an even brighter lightbulb went on. I remember sitting in a session by Kurt Voelker of ForumOne Communications, Tompkins Spann of Convio, and Jeremy Carbaugh of The Sunlight Foundation. They were talking about APIs. (API stands for Application Programming Interface, and refers broadly to the way one piece of software or dataset communicates with another.) In fact, the name of the session was “APIs for Beginners.”

I knew I wanted to be in the session even without really knowing why. It was there that I realized my RSS-based process for aggregating actions could be so much more with a robust distribution component. I wrote a blog post called, Mashups, Open APIs, and the Future of Collaboration in the Nonprofit Tech Sector. I left that session knowing exactly the direction I wanted to take Social Actions.

And what would you describe as the purpose of Social Actions’ API?

There’s a groundswell of interest, on the part of “non-nonprofit professionals,” to engage with social movements and causes. It’s well-documented at this point that people are hungry to engage with causes they care about in various forms.

The premise behind Social Actions is that there are enough actions floating around on the Web that nonprofits produce, but that they’re not linked up properly or adequately syndicated. There are a million opportunities to take action on a cause you care about, but it’s not easy to find them. The Social Actions API attempts to address the distribution and syndication challenge while also encouraging nonprofits to make their actions more readily available. Continue reading