Nonprofits

It’s been a nonprofit kind of month. The first session I got to at WordCamp Mid-Atlantic was Geoff Livingston on nonprofits.

More recently, I just set up a website for my daughter’ school’s PTA. Earlier this month, I posted about PTA websites, and got some good advice.

Some of the more interesting posts recent posts at Mashable have been in the Social Good category. One of these posts even defines the term social good: equal parts online fundraising and advocacy via social networks.

Then there’s the post in which Jason F of 37signals asks:

Why should a non-profit organization pay less for software (or supplies or food or rent or…) than a for-profit company? How is an automatic discount for a non-profit fair to a full-price paying for-profit?… The best pricing is clear, fair, public, consistent, and predictable.

By consistent, Jason means the same for enterprises, small businesses, nonprofits, etc. The ensuing comments make for interesting reading. I was surprised at how many come from people in nonprofits who agree with Jason.

Amie Street is One Way to Amazon

Amie Street is a music download site with a business model I thought was brilliant, and Michael Arrington still describes as “awesome.”

Artists upload songs and those songs are free to download to start. As more downloads occur the price goes up. A cent, fifty cents, etc., up to $1… Over time a lot of artists tried out the service, songs were downloaded over 10 million times, and the company raised venture capital from Amazon and others.

As time went on, I developed qualms about the service. If tracks are $1, Amie Street is like lots of other ways to get music. What does it mean if a track is less than $1? That it’s not very good? That I can pay less for it, even though the artist probably needs the money more than those who command the full $1?

Anyway, the Amie Street service is closing down. So what happens to my account? I can’t tell from the site itself, which is currently offline for maintenance. Mashable Stan posts that I have until September 22 to spend my balanced (~$3?). It won’t be transferred to Amazon, which acquired Amie Street. But I will get $5 to spend there.

The Amie Streeters will now focus on the web radio platform Songza. So I don’t see this as a sad story, just as the end of a chapter in the big and growing book about music on the web.

Vox Stops: Six Apart?

Six Apart launched Vox in 2006. I don’t think it ever lived up to 6A’s hopes for it to be “home, home, on the web” for a great many. I said so around Vox’s first anniversary. Anil Dash, who was 6A’s chief evangelist at the time, left a Vox-defending comment. At the time I felt that his comment seemed to arise out of duty, rather than out of the passion he often conveyed for 6A’s other offerings.

Now Vox is headed to what TechCrunch call the deadpool. I prefer the term amputation ward, since Vox is a limb, and 6A still has other limbs. That said, 6A went out on a limb in terms of the resources invested in Vox.

I hope that use of the term deadpool won’t soon be appropriate for 6A. It seems rather ominous that, of the social media blogs I subscribe to, only TechCrunch considered the amputation of Vox worth a post in itself. Mashable gave it a mention toward the bottom of a roundup post.

ReadWriteWeb, which used to run on 6A’s Movable Type (but now runs on WordPress) didn’t even mention the silencing of the Vox (or mentioned it so quietly that I didn’t hear). Anil, who left 6A a while ago, didn’t post about it either.

Even though I won’t miss Vox, I find its closing sad.

Planning a PTA Website

I just got back from the first PTA meeting of the school year at Highland Elementary School, where my daughter Maddie has just started first grade (and where my son Max is likely to start kindergarten next year). I wasn’t able to make any PTA meetings last school year.

One of priorities for the Highland PTA is getting more parents involved. I see a website as a means toward this end, in that it would be available all the time, while real-world PTA meetings can never be. The site would also make involvement easier for some parents able to be involved anyway, but who might want to get or provide updates between meetings.

Were I to set up the site right now, my priorities would be as follows.

  • Provide updates on PTA activity. Some updates might be meeting-based (reminder of meeting, here’s what was discussed, etc.), some between meetings (we’re weeks away from the next meeting, but what do you think of this?).
  • Solicit input, especially from parents and teachers who are not able to attend meetings at the school. No time is good for everyone: this morning’s 9am meeting was well attended, but still must have excluded many families.
  • Be multilingual, or at least bilingual. The Highland community speaks many languages, with Spanish and English being particularly prominent.

I’ve done some searches on terms such as PTA website. There’s a lot of stuff out there, including:

  • PTA sites at the national (US) and state (MD) level.
  • A PTA website builder site. First reaction: the nonprofit side of my brain says that it seems expensive; the for-profit side sees an opportunity in the PTA website builder business, if my pro-bono efforts at Highland go well.

Now,to solicit input on PTA websites. I’ll send out a few emails. But if you, dear reader, have thoughts on PTA sites, please share them here, especially if they include links to successful PTA sites.

Software, the Hold Up Problem, and the Cloud

Why is “the web development world… dominated by open source”? Michael Schwarz & Yuri Takhteyev, writing at GigaOm, answer the question as follows.

The reason is based on what economists call “the hold up problem.” When a business relies on assets owned by another party, it may become dependent on that party’s cooperation in the future. In this situation, the party with ownership of a key resource may gain the ability to “hold up” its partner, demanding an unreasonably high price…

The hold up problem is particularly severe in the IT sector. Building an Internet company on a foundation consisting of proprietary software owned by others is akin to building a house without owning the land under it. When software is sold in binary form, the buyer is subject to hold up by the vendor; if the software needs to be changed in the future, such changes can only be done with the cooperation of the original vendor at the price that the original vendor demands. By relying on open source, a company can invest in developing its product without fear of being held up down the road. Therefore, open source is an economically powerful solution to the hold up problem.

There are of course limits to this analysis. One is the proprietary anomaly, Flash. Indeed, explaining this anomaly is a primary purpose of the quoted post. Another limit, found in the comments, is that source code is not the only asset that may allow holdup.

I’m posting to advance another limit to the argument that open source software solves the hold up problem. It is “the web as platform.” That may be familiar to older readers as one of the definitions of Web 2.0. Cloud computing is an increase in the extent to which the web is used as a platform.

Cloud computing is a trap, warned Free Software Foundation founder Richard Stallman a couple of years ago. Cloud computing allows software derived from free/open source software to run without the source code being made available.

So, while free/open source software is a solution to software hold up, it also gives life to a new monster: hold up in the cloud.

Restaurant Presence on the Web

Every restaurant has a presence on the web. It’s up to the restaurant to manage that presence. In fact, that’s true of every organization, but this post is about restaurants.

The restaurant may be represented on the web by review at sites like Yelp, and by mentions on blogs and at other social media sites. It makes sense for the restaurant to add its own web site. I jotted down some thoughts on restaurant web sites earlier this year.

  • A simple front page is key, especially since potential customers may be mobile, hungry, and impatient.
  • Current content is good. Customers want to know that the restaurant is still good and is doing interesting things. Search engines like current content too.

While rich and extensive content may be good, especially for upmarket restaurants, I don’t think it deserves a place on the above high-priority list.

With these thoughts on the back burner, I was interested to read about Chompstack in a RWW article by John Paul Titlow. Chompstack is a tool to build mobile sites for restaurants.

First thought: great idea, given the importance of mobile for restaurants. Second thought: is it necessary to focus specifically on mobile? The restaurant also needs a site that works well on laptops, desktops, etc., as well.

Like most people, I think of the hammer with which I’m most familiar. I could use WordPress to build a restaurant site that works well for the mobile customer and for the not mobile right now, but still impatient, customer. Such a site would of course have a built-in blog for current content such as reviews, specials, etc.

Restaurant web presence seems like a huge opportunity. I don’t see many restaurants with really good web sites. I see many without a web site, or with site with more bloat than good information.

What do you think? Can you provide examples of restaurants with good web presence?

Reddit Has Freemium Thrust Upon It

Reddit is among the handful of sites I visit most days. It’s always been free. It’s supported by ads. It’s owned by Conde Nast, but that doesn’t mean it’s supported by Conde Nast. As mike [raldi] explained at the end of last week:

We’ve been kinda bummed at reddit these days. It seems like every week something comes up that slows performance to a crawl or even leads to a total site outage. And we almost never get a chance to release new features anymore…

The bottom line is, we need more resources.

Whenever this topic comes up on the site, someone always posts a comment about how reddit is owned by Conde Nast… and how if they wanted to they could hire a thousand engineers and purchase a million dollars worth of heavy iron. But here’s the thing: corporations aren’t run like charities. They keep separate budgets for each business line, and usually allocate resources proportionate to revenue. And reddit’s revenue isn’t great.

The good news is, our traffic continues to grow by leaps and bounds… to about 280 million pageviews per month.

Reddit addressed the resources problem by going freemium, but in a rather unusual way. The usual freemium proposition is: it’s a free service, but you can pay $X to get the following features. The Reddit proposition was a lot less specific:

in exchange for subscribing to reddit, we can right now only offer you our undying gratitude and an optional trophy on your userpage. It’s kind of a lame offer, we know, but if the program is a success, we’ll be able to give subscribers better incentives in the coming months. We invite you to post ideas in the comments section; in the meantime, I suppose it’s more or less a pledge drive.

The Reddit people called this Reddit Gold. Mashable Stan called it going freemium out of necessity. He also called it “a huge success” and an example of how “a very dedicated community can sometimes shape not only your service… but also your business plan.”

Reddit’s Chris [KeyserSosa] also hails the success of Gold, and promises that “there are some cool things coming that would be impossible for us to do for eight million active users, but totally feasible to bring to the 6000 or so who have taken a leap of faith with us so far.”

That figure of 6000 Gold members: it’s 6000 more users paying for Reddit than there were a week ago, but it’s a lot less than the 2% rule of freemium would suggest. That said, we’re a only few days into a rather sudden and unorthodox leap into freemium.

I hope that many more will sign on to Reddit Gold. Some intermittent users of Reddit have probably only just become aware of the Gold program. It’s currently the number five story on Reddit itself, by the way. Others may be waiting to see what the premium features will be. Some of us are prone to procrastinate, and/or are delaying discretionary outlays until we get our tax refund (and yes we did file on time, back in April).

WooThemes

WooThemesWooThemes is Bootstrapped, Profitable, & Proud, according to 37signals’ Matt. As its About page/comic illustrates, Woo is in the WordPress theme business.

Woo has much in common with Automattic, the firm behind WordPress, and with 37signals. All three firms are distributed: Woo has three principals, one each in South Africa, England, and Norway.

As someone who has written about the WordPress ecosystem, I was struck by this quote from Woo founder Adii Pienaar.

We have created a niche, micro-economy, where a lot of our users — specifically the designers and developers — are selling add-on services that relate to our themes in one way or another… So we’re finding that users are helping each other on our support forums, while also building their own businesses using our themes.

Woo didn’t just find a niche for itself: it created an ecosystem within the WordPress ecosystem. It is now exploring other publishing platforms/ecosystems. For example, there are now Woo themes for Drupal.

Woo particularly impresses 37signals by being like 37signals. Neither firm took venture capital, and each has grown “organically,” from profits, without taking investment from outside.

Woo’s About page/comic refers to WordPress default themes as boring. I’d say that has ceased to be true now that WordPress 3.0 comes with Twenty Ten as the default theme. But it looks as though Woo, its brand, and its ecosystem have arrived at the point at which it doesn’t need other themes to be boring in order to stand out.

Talking of the Woo brand, I came across what I think of as a neat bit of brand-building when I was upgrading blogs at WanderNote, which lives at BlueHost. Use of Simplescripts there is “sponsored by WooThemes Get a fresh new free or premium WordPress theme!” Upgrade and installation are good times to tell WordPress admins about theme options.

I’d be interested to read your impressions of WooThemes: the themes, the organization, the way in which it has grown? Mine are fairly positive, although I’ve yet to use any Woo themes myself.

Rdio On

Rdio logoI just got my invite to Rdio, and started my free trial. My first thought was that Rdio reminds me of MOG. The free trial lasts three days, with no credit card required to start it. Thereafter, the cost is $5/month (basic – see below for what another $5 gets you).

Rdio also reminds me of some of the reasons I decided MOG is not for me. There are gaps in the music library. I continue to use Josh Ritter’s So Runs The World Away as my first test case. Rdio fails that test.

That’s not an isolated gap in the library (or even in the Josh Ritter collection). Three of my favorite five albums of the year so far (The Golden Archipelago, July Flame and Sigh No More) aren’t available at Rdio.

A different sort of gap in Rdio is the current lack of an Android application. It is apparently coming soon. Use of mobile apps (currently BlackBerry and iPhone) is part of Rdio Unlimited, which costs $10/month.

It may seem premature to criticize such a new service for gaps. I believe that the gaps are being addressed. I don’t mean that I have inside knowledge that the four albums referred to above are seen as particularly high priorities by Rdio management. I mean that I believe Rdio’s statement that the library is growing, and its statement that Android is coming soon.

Rdio did decide that its service is ready for trial. It seems to be, in that I’ve found the site easy to navigate, and encountered no problems with streaming the music that is in the library. I doubt that I’ll subscribe beyond the 3-day trial, although I don’t rule out another trial as the gaps are filled.

If you’d like to try it for yourself, I have some invites to give away. Leave a comment while stocks last, and a Rdio invite will be yours.

Update: my 3 free Rdio days are up. It seems that I can still give out invites. I have 8 left as of June 20, having sent an invite to each of the first two people to comment.