Special Friday guest post from our friend and fellow non profit Nerds over at Prelude Interactive.
All For Good vs. Social Actions Smackdown (Part 1)
All For Good launched very recently as an aggregator of service opportunities within the United States. Earlier this spring I got involved with Social Actions, which is an aggregator of worldwide service and micro-loan opportunities. Both offer APIs for creating apps and republishing their data, and both are open source projects of one form or another. Both exist to solve the problem of universal publishing of non-profit/NGO sector public involvement data, created by the dozens of mostly closed or non-uniform databases and websites such as Volunteer Match, Idealist, Craigslist, etc.
Now that there are two competing aggregators with different formats, support structures, and emphases, it seems that the problem isn’t going away. Instead of having to maintain accounts, profiles, and data on multiple websites, non-profit/NGOs will potentially need to do the same for multiple aggregators. On one hand, competition is good, and forces each of them to innovate and give their data sources a reason to stay involved. On the other hand, they are likely to reinvent each other’s wheels.
Social Actions was, to put it mildly, a little ticked off that AFG didn’t reach out more to them or their community of supporters to develop a cohesive, shared strategy. This conference call transcript reads tensely, but I wasn’t on the call to really say for sure how heated it was. (Don’t mess with Peter, got it? He’ll nice you unconscious.) So it made me think: Where do they go from here?
By the way, a couple of things first:
- All For Good has a ton more weight behind it. Google, MTV, Huffington, Craigslist Foundation, HandsOn Network, and the non-profit company created to manage it (Our Good Works, which apparently doesn’t have a website yet) has some serious heavies on their board. Oh yeah, and the ‘effing President! In comparison, Social Actions is small, scrappy, and came into being by winning third place in a Net Squared contest, rather than by divine Google proclamation.
- Social Actions is sustained, in part, by running a social media consulting business on the side. This reminds me that in order to work effectively in the Non-Profit Technology (#nptech) space, you must always be mindful that your desire to earn a living is almost always orthogonal to doing good in the best way possible. There are always compromises.
- All For Good is in “Alpha” which is a great way to excuse everything that’s not perfect about it. I applied for both an API key and for a copy of the source code, but have yet to hear back. Generally the site, especially the volunteer feed form, lacks polish. In fact, I think they might have been pressured to launch during the National Conference on Volunteering and Service and were not ready.
- The work of convincing 50+ disparate data sources to aggregate has been done, and will be a substantial and positive legacy for Social Actions even if nothing else goes well. They helped plant seeds that AFG may eventually get credit for growing.
At first glance, you might say that Social Actions has been pwned, or is at least at the mercy of whatever All For Good decides to do.
AFG already has the biggest servers in the world, many times the publicity, multiple ways to sign in (but for what purpose?), location awareness, and some other bells and whistles that Social Actions needs the community to supply, via efforts such as the Change the Web Challenge. AFG also has a mountain of clout while Social Actions is still not well enough known even within the #nptech circles, and they list on their website that only ~1,000 public searches were run last month.
However, I don’t think Social Actions should despair. Instead (after updating their Linked In and Idealist profiles just in case) I think they might concentrate on the following:
- Own the non-US market. All For Good is closely tied to the Obama administration’s service pushes, and as such is likely to stay out of the messy, foreign NGO scene. There is a HUGE opportunity to perform great works in consolidating and organizing the world’s nonprofit/NGO opportunity data. Two good ways to do this is to be the first to work with extra-national sites, and to get the best translation features possible working as soon as possible.
- Go after micro-loan, donation, and other opportunities that are tough to categorize or traditionally sidelined. AFG seems content to concentrate on service opportunities.
- Don’t try to compete with All For Good. If possible, leverage – use their infrastructure and build upon it, just like people are building on the APIs.
- Continue actually being open by practice rather than just claiming to be open and embracing (ahem, AFG?). Nice roadmap!
I also think they could find a revenue stream closer to their mission. Now that there are (at least?) two aggregators:
- Be consultants and subject matter experts for orgs who are trying to figure out best practices for publishing their opportunities. Help orgs do a better job publishing, refining, mining, and managing their posted opportunities.
- Make best-of-breed apps to help nonprofits and NGOs use these tools without any muss or fuss, including writing glue code between the APIs and their databases.
I’ll definitely be following the All For Good goings on as I have Social Actions’, including Paul Rademacher, Adam Sah (@adamsah), and Jonathan Greenblatt (@jonathan_g). I will be excited to get my mitts on the API and the codebase. More to come!