I first "met" Marshall when he left a comment on my blog about the interview with Marnie Webb. I was curious by how he described his work: "blogger coach to nonprofits." I also sensed a kindred spirit who is interested in how technology impacts what's inbetween the keyboard and the chair ... human aspects of technology.
So far, I have interviewed people who I have met face-to-face or have known through my work in the nonprofit tech field. Marshall now has the honor of being the first person I have interviewed who I haven't actually met face-to-face.
1. What type of work do you do in the nonprofit sector?
I am 28 years old and am just beginning to work in consulting and training in the use of new web tools for research and communication. More specifically, I help non-profit, small business and academic groups and individuals learn how to use web applications and services like RSS, blogs, wikis, search, social bookmarking, podcasting and more. I'm very excited about it. I am working on making a living turning other people on to it all.
2. How did you become interested in nonprofit technology?
I have long been a dedicated web researcher, so when I started hearing about blogs and about RSS, I investigated. That led to the whole exciting world some people call Web 2.0 - online services and applications made possible by ubiquitous broadband, dirt cheap storage, programming innovations and human ingenuity. The way that it all made my brain team with information like surfing the web manually for text information never could made it obvious to me that I needed to tell as many other people about it as possible. Maybe some of these new tools to be leveraged for purposes connected to fighting injustices.
3. Tell us about your blog? How long have you been blogging? What do you blog about?
I try to make my blog a place people can come to learn about new developments on the web. I have some static resources there, several dynamic resources (like syndicated feeds of certain categories of my Furl archive and the main column of posts or articles. I try to write there at least 4 times a week. I waited for quite awhile before beginning to blog, I've been reading blogs from probably a year, and have only been writing one for 6 months.
4. You mentioned that you do blog coaching. What is blog coaching exactly and how do you do it well? Can you give me an example of some advice you've given some nonprofits?
By blog coaching I mean that I teach people how to run a blog. I find people or organizations who could use a place online to post new information about their work regularly, quickly and with very little technical skill. I set them up with a nice looking site, ancillary services like a traffic monitor, email-subscribe service, RSS feeds and explanation, syndicated headlines from elsewhere, etc. Then I train them how to blog well, to the best of my ability.
I familiarize people with what kinds of content are appropriate for the medium. I tell them to write short posts and often. I show them several typical types of blog posts. For example, in certain circumstances I'd tell people to base their posts on three basic forms: short announcements, medium length excerpts from elsewhere with commentary and very occasional long posts of original content. I show people how to use a WYSIWYG editor, and how to learn HTML troubleshooting by flipping between those two editing modes. I show people how to use ancillary services, including an RSS feed reader and social bookmarking system to find and store content that may end up on their blog.
A huge part of being a good blog coach in contexts outside the corporate world is, I believe, taking peoples' life experiences seriously. As a heterosexual, middle class white man in the USA, it took me a long time to have it driven into my skull that not everyone relates to situations the same way I do..or even could if they wanted to. In this context that means that though blogging and throwing my thoughts all around the internet may seem like the most natural thing in the world to me - that is not the case for everyone. Many people with life experiences unlike my own, all of us always influenced by matters like race, class, gender and age, have some intangible but very real obstacles to feeling comfortable blogging. I try to take this very seriously, and I'm just beginning to learn ways to engage
in an informed manner. I don't write about these kinds of things on my blog, because there are other people far better qualified, and I want to help those people with the skills I do have.
5. How did you discover my blog? Have you been reading awhile before you posted or did you find and post a comment?
I found you doing a Technorati Tag Search for Non-Profit, after I applied the same tag to a blog post of mine. I think I noticed your interview with Marnie Webb, who I recognized from TechSoup.org.
I did post a comment right away after discovering your blog. I had something I wanted to contribute and felt it was not inappropriate for me to do so. I recognize that this is easier because of the sense of entitlement I'm socialized with, so I try to exercise some discretion when deciding whether my thoughts really warrant posting. But I also recognize that the world is in pretty rough shape, and if I can offer technical assistance then I should.
Any advice to me on how to improve my blog?
You might want to consider moving your "contact me" link to the top, instead of the bottom of your sidebar so it's easier to find. Similarly, your "syndicate" link might work better to be in a more obvious place, and should probably be in closer proximity to your button explaining RSS. I think it's good to have a small number of one-click "subscribe in..." buttons on a blog as well. I think that people just beginning to learn about these subjects could really benefit from a Subscribe in MyYahoo or MyMSN or Bloglines button. If beginers are part of your taget audience, they certainly are part of mine.
I don't know how good the Typepad RSS traffic stats are, but you might want to look at reburning your feed at Feedburner.com. They have great stats and services.
If you think that email subscription to new posts is something some of your readers would be interested in, I like the services of bloglet.com.
Really though, your blog is pretty fantastic and is something I feel like I need to spend lots more time going through.
(Thanks Marshall for all the great advice, I'm going to make some changes after I post this interview. Do you have step-by-step instructions for feedburner?)
6. How did you discover the nptech tag? How have you been using the nptech?
I found it on one of the blogs I found through yours. I've been using it as a technorati tag at the end of relevant posts on my blog, I've been grabbing the delicious feed to watch what other folks are finding, and I've added nptech as a topic in my furl archive to contribute to the stream myself. It's such a huge field, we'll have to see how helpful such a broad tag ends up being. Tagging itself is going to need to change so that people feel more comfortable using multi-word tags.
7. I noticed that you recently posted on the nptech community site, how did you discover it?
Probably through the Delicious feed, probably via Technorati Tag search. I don't know for sure. I try and concentrate these days on where things are after I've seen them, it's a whole other matter to try and remember where I was before I found them!
8. What are your observations about blogging and nonprofits?
I think nonprofits really need to use blogs to keep themselves on the public radar screen, to deepen the public knowledge about the issues as they unfold, and as a way to mobilize supporters. It's a great way to focus discussion, to communicate with constituents so you can be responsive. The word blog is in many ways interchangeable with the word RSS feed, and there's lots of proven advantages of RSS over email. (Pull not push content, changeability of information after initial transmission, ease of opting out for recipients, easier delivery of attached multimedia files.)
I am also very intrigued by the concept some people are calling newsmastering, though I despise the word master. Creating a place where content around a certain theme is aggregated, in part by machine selection in part socially, and in part by a human. That's very exciting, I think.
I'm also very interested in the use of internal blogs. A large number of big corporations are using internal blogs to facilitate conversation between leadership and the rest of the organization. I'd like to help this happen more in the non-profit world.
Allocating sufficient time to the tasks associated with blogging is something we all have to take seriously, though. I think that the medium has an unserious reputation, which is interesting but undeserved, and that disguises the seriousness of the work to write well regularly and participate in the conversations that rapid online communication enables.
Of course there is also the very important concern that the dominant people in the real world, even in social change movements, will also dominate the blogosphere to the detriment of everyone involved and the project as a whole.
9. Can you tell me more about your work with wikis and nonprofits? How have nonprofits you're working with used wikis?
Wikis are great for collaborative document development and knowledge sharing. Meeting agendas can be edited to add items as the meeting approaches. Mission statements can evolve organically, with each previous version available in the page history. Meeting minutes can be deposited in a central place, added to or edited according to multiple perspectives. Personal pages can provide participants with a sense of web presence to introduce themselves with far beyond anything they were likely to get using email introductions or a proprietary form based system.
Wikis are great, but they require some oversight for clean-up and encouragement. Just because they are so easy to change, and thus to leave messy or forget about if email notification of changes is turned off or doesn't have momentum. When I do a wiki training session I demonstrate the simplest "edit page", save and view previous versions first. That generally gives people a good idea what's going on. Then I show them Wikipedia, and I used to demonstrate Wikalong, but the page history of that service is broken and thus so is the wiki as far as I'm concerned.
That's a great loss, because the idea of Wikalong - a wiki space sidebar corresponding to every URL online - is fantastic! I gave up on that particular service after I showed someone how they could post a description and link to the lawsuit against Coca Cola for hiring death squad members to kill union organizers in Colombia in the Wikalong sidebar for cocacola.com...and then it was deleted by another user days later. No problem at all, if the page history function is working then the previous incarnation will never be lost, but will remain a part of the living artifact that is that particular wiki space. But no such luck, it's broken. That's one thing that I try to keep in mind when evangelizing all these amazing new web applications and services: they aren't very amazing when they break.
Technorati Tags: nptech