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Summer roundup of new technology

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The information in this article is current as of August 4, 2005.

I've been catching up on technology news after several months out of the country. Here are a few services and articles that may be of interest to nonprofits:

Online calendar

Trumba is a new service that provides online calendaring for groups and individuals. An organization can quickly create multiple calendars, publish them on the web, and send out automatic email updates. For example, you could post community events in a public calendar and post upcoming board meetings in a separate private calendar. You can also send email messages to distribution lists reminding participants of upcoming meetings, or use the distribution list for email newsletters. Events can be downloaded into Outlook and other calendar formats.

Trumba hopes that group members will all buy Trumba accounts so that they can share each others' calendars.   However, that's not necessary. It looks like a great service for organizations that want to easily post and share events and meetings. There is a 60 day free trial, and it costs $39.95 US/year after that, with unlimited calendars and email distribution lists (as far as I can tell). Here's a review from PCWorld.

There are no ads on the public calendars so you can link to the Trumba calendars from your organization's site, using a template of your choice. This example shows the public events for a San Franciso environmental group.

Google maps

Google's latest offering is a beautiful world mapping service at http://maps.google.com. It can be used for the usual direction-finding, like mapquest or yahoo maps, but has some additional functions. For example, see this map of downtown Toronto. Now click on 'Satellite' or 'Hybrid' on the top right corner. The map changes into a satellite photograph that can be zoomed down to see individual buildings.

Google provides an open API for its maps, meaning that organizations can freely create their own customized maps. Here are some examples of how communities and organizations have been using Google Maps. Organizations could map community services or office locations, and   use the maps to give directions and estimate travel distances. Many funders require clients and services to calculate mileage costs, and Google Maps is great for this.

Skype teleconferencing and long distance calling

Skype, the free Internet phone service, continues to grow and provide new services. I used SkypeIn to forward my business calls to Qatar; when I was on the computer, anyone calling my Toronto office would reach me in the Middle East for a cost of about $4 CAN per month. The cost includes voice mail. Skype is now partnering with Boingo to provide wireless hotspots across the world where you can use Skype for phone calls. Some people have replaced their home phones with Skype, though it's a bit complicated and requires internet access.

Skype includes Instant Messaging and free teleconferencing for up to five people as long as everyone is using a computer. (You can patch in someone on a regular phone, but the quality isn't great.)

For nonprofit organizations, Skype's major contribution would be the teleconferencing and free or cheap long distance calling. As an alternative to Vonage and other VOIP services it shows promise, especially with their growing product line. SkypeJournal, an independent web log, regularly posts updates and gossip about Skype.

SharePoint applications

SharePoint is Microsoft's 'intranet in a box'. RealWorld Systems uses it for its own intranet, and while it has some problems (works better with Microsoft browsers and office programs than with non-Microsoft programs, surprise surprise), it's well designed, inexpensive and powerful software. And it takes just a few minutes to set up a good looking functional intranet.

Microsoft has released several new site templates for SharePoint, including events management, Board of Directors application, Request for Proposal management, and lots more. Unfortunately they don't provide examples of each; you have to download them and see them for yourself. The applications appear to be free.

You can try out a SharePoint site at Outtech, where a site with unlimited users costs $40/month US. There's a 30 day free trial.

Open Source software ratings

Some open source software is terrific, and others are terrible. And still others will be great if they are ever mature enough to use (i.e., have most of their bugs worked out). Several organizations, including Carnegie Mellon, O'Reilly, SpikeSource and Intel, are sponsoring an initiative that will rate the business readiness of open source software. Called the "Business Readiness Rating", it will provide an open standard to allow organizations to assess and share information about software.

If it works this will be a real help to organizations that are trying to select a reliable and robust piece of open source software.

What open source can teach us about work

Finally, here's an article that discusses some lessons that regular organizations can take from the open source software movement. For example, amateurs are more productive than professionals; homes are better places to work than offices; employment is a paternalistic and infantilizing institution; and so on. It's a fun read. In fact, it's similar to some of the things that Peter Drucker says about nonprofits -- people who work out of a sense of shared values are more productive than those who just work for money.

Gillian Kerr, Ph.D., C.Psych. - President, RealWorld Systems

gkerr at realworldsystems.net

Read my weblog at http://blog.realworldsystems.net

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