While checking my links in Technorati last month, I came across a link from a blog named "Darkstar.org" and wasn't sure who it was. After a little digging, I figured it out was Carnet Williams! So, I tracked him down for an interview ...
1. You've been in the nonprofit technology space for a long time. I remember reading your posts in the early days of Rider's list and finally meeting you back in 2001. Can you share a little of your background ....
I have been bouncing all over. My introduction to the nonprofit technology space occurred during my first year of law school in Oregon (1995). I realized that technology was a powerful agent of change, but it was not being integrated into grassroots socially progressive organizations.
As is my nature, I see a problem and try to solve it. I formed Community Networking Technologies (CNT) with another law student (Rachel Ogdie, now my wife Yeh!) and a bunch of volunteers. We ran around to local nonprofits in Eugene helping them with their technology projects. We had no money and foundations did not understand what we were trying to do.
I also wanted to recruit and train the next wave of nonprofit staffers since the aging middle of the movement seemed to be moving on. College kids have a tremendous aptitude for technology, but lack real world skills. I transformed CNT into NetCorps as a response to recruiting, training, and placing college kids in nonprofit orgs to lead technology based projects. We taught our NetCorps students skills such as running meetings, performing needs assessments, project management, etc.
Our goal was for NetCorps interns to teach NGOs how to integrate technical tools into their workplace to achieve their mission, at the same time these orgs were teaching our students how to deal in life. The ultimate goal was for these students to be hired on full time when they graduated by the nonprofit organization who now realized they could not do without this skillset in the office. Many of our students ended up staying in the sector after they graduated.
I also met Rob Stuart early on as an organizer of the Public Interest Environmental Law Conference in Eugene... I must say I was often not found in a classroom during law school. I jetted out to the first Riders Roundup in Chicago where I realized there were other folks doing similar work.
I then went on to help start NTEN as a board member. I sidestepped out of nonprofit tech sector when I jumped into Silicon Valley to help start a Linux company called TurboLinux. We never made it to an IPO, but I learned tons in the process. I then tried to start an online advocacy firm called NetVocate, but when the dotcom bubble burst, so did we. I then became and associate dean at Stanford Law School, then moved on to be Director of Academic Technology for Stanford University.
My love and curiosity with technology runs deep. I have always continued to dabble in all sorts of social organizing tools and try to keep up with the latest in cool new tools.
2. What you are doing now?
Two years ago my wife and I decided we needed to get out of the rat race of the Bay Area, so we moved to Hawaii where I am now working at The Nature Conservancy starting up an international trade policy and invasive species program. I have just recently decreased my hours at TNC to work with some folks to start a Wireless startup company in Hawaii trying to form a FreeNet WiFi network across the islands. I am also involved in a renewable energy project to turn waste into energy to reduce Hawaii’s dependence on imported fossil fuels and to reduce the load on our island landfills. Ok.. My wrists hurt and this is getting too long.
3. Are you maintaining a personal or organizational blog?
I still keep a blog... Darkstar.org and a surfing blog. (BK Note: In the photo, you'll see a surf board, along with the technology tools, including Carnet's new treo. If you want to see more of Carnet's boards, click here.) I also use a mailing list to send friends things I read. I find that I have such a hard time keeping up with reading that trying to blog on it is just too much time. I am also trying to get folks to use WiKi, to collaborate, but it has been tough.
4. You created npoblogs.net in October, 2003 with Kathy Walkins. Why did you create it? What was your vision?
I created NPOblogs as a means to aggregate the many socially progressive blogs that were appearing. This was in the days before bloglines and such. I was finding it hard to keep up with all the blogs out there and thought it would be nice for someone looking for blogs/rss feeds to come to a single site to find a listing. I also wanted to create a site to aggregate all the different online advocacy campaigns running based on categories, so a user could have a one stop shop to do “one good thing a day”... I would still like to build such a site so if anyone is interested drop me a line :)
5. Do you think there is a value in blogging for nonprofits?
I think blogging for nonprofits is a great way for constituents to keep updated with what is happening within an organization. Blogs are really just a mechanism for communication.. It is the actual message/content that is the most important. Blogs have just made it super easy for groups/people to quickly get their thoughts online. Sort of the 21st century scratch pad. I think with the ease of use that Wiki software and CMS (plone, drupal) systems provide for quick updates, we will see many new mechanisms for groups to get their content/message out and keep their site fresh.
I don’t think we should too hung up on blogging itself... We need to realize that the digital age has created a ripe environment for quickly disseminating and absorbing information. We are becoming a multi-tasking and connected society. Most folks now demand news and information from more than just their local papers. Nonprofits need to take advantage of this change in personal engagement to the world, and make sure we have a place in that new window.
6. What do you think are the challenges of blogging for nonprofits?
Too much information, the noise and static of it all. You should see how many lists, annoucements, actions, etc. that come across my email inbox a day. That is why I think there might be value in sites that aggregate information so that folks can find the right time in their day to go read and appreciate topical information. That is why I think a site that aggregates all the advocacy actions daily would be a good place to start a one good thing a day campaign and get people into the habit of checking to see what they can do to make a better world. I know most folks have a short list of sites they check once a day (commondreams, craigslist, espn, etc). I also think content is still important.. Blogs make it easy to post information, but sometimes I find the info is being posted just out of habit or to fill a day in the blog, vs. making the content mission driven, on message and clear.
7. I should also ask you about surfing - how often do you surf? Are those all your surfboards on your surf blog?
I try to surf as much as possible. I actually have about 10 boards (sheesh.. don't tell rachel) that I ride consistently. When I have time I get up, do an hour or so of work, then head out at sunrise and surf a couple of hours before getting online. Surf's up ...Aloha ...
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