On Sunday morning, I got up at 4:00 am (after very little sleep) to catch an early plane back to the East Coast. When I arrived in Boston, I was waiting for my luggage. So, what would any geek with a treo do? Check twitter.
When I read Judi's tweet about her blog post, I knew exactly what she was talking about! I received an embargoed press release in my email about Convio's Open Initiative. Blogger's angst. Do you post first and scoop all? Have to be pretty confident about your opinion. Or do you sit back and read what others are saying and add to the conversation? I tend to do the latter if I'm jet lagged. I tend to the former if I've had lots of sleep, know a lot about the topic, and a strong reaction. Underneath it all, there's probably a fear of sounding stupid.
While I wouldn't know an API from Ape if it stood right in front of me beat its chest, but I have seen the results of open APIs in social media apps like Flickr. The openness sparks creative solutions, collaborations, accelerates partnerships, and sharing. Better yet it allows for seamless data integration. That saves time and money. The nonprofit sector could benefit from these innovations that this openness has the potential inspiring.
As Michael Hoffman describes the practical benefits:
Imagine you run one program for your main donor database and another program for your email and online data. Until recently, the main way to deal with this was cumbersome import and export of data from one system to another. With an API, you can write new software code that hooks one application into another. Or, more likely, you can use code developed by a third-party that does what you need.
Almost a year ago, NTEN hosted a field wide discussion about the need for nonprofit tech vendors, particularly CRM systems for online fundraising, to offer open APIs. (A year ago, most systems were walled gardens, closed proprietary systems). Recently, vendors have been listening. The most recent announcement is from Convio, which launched Convio Open.
The site addresses data integration in three ways: APIs, Connectors,
and Extensions. According to the NTEN blog, it's a much deeper set of tools than before, and the site provides integration resources for organizations using social media sites like Facebook and YouTube in their strategies.
Let me pause for a second. Since Convio typically is used by larger nonprofit organizations and institutions, does that mean that integration of social media marketing strategies has tipped the tuna in the nonprofit sector? Also, I wonder what happens to the smaller and medium size nonprofits that can't afford the hefty cost of Convio's tools? (Ryan? Jason?)
I spoke to senior Convio folks last week who laid out a high-level overview of where this is heading for them. The “open API” buzzword is their way of making integration happen in a low-cost way and build community, it’s not the punch line. It appears that Convio is more closely modeling their initiative after the wild success of software-as-a-service giant Salesforce.com. Closed platform. Completely open community within that platform that allows data to freely move in and out. Let your nonprofit customers leverage both open and closed networks to create a unified online application for their organization that costs less overall than managing multiple systems, and works off a central database.
Judi finishes her analysis with the big picture, noting the downside is cost:
Think of all the tools out there with open APIs that we’re already using as nonprofits to broaden our reach…Plaxo, Facebook, Flickr, Google Maps, blogging, forums…and then start imagining the possibilities that can be built to combine and share data with those tools so we’re communicating and building relationships more effectively. Salesforce is already doing this for the forprofit world. Convio is taking a bold move to do this for nonprofits. I can use Salesforce as the hub of my organization, and Convio as the hub of all my organization’s online interactions, and the two databases talk directly to each other. Amen!
Michelle Murrain, NTEN board member and NOSI leader - and author of Nonprofit API white paper has insightful analysis. She is more optimistic about Kintera than Judi, noting "Kintera’s API goes a long way to help organizations be freed from yet another data silo, and they are free." She goes on to applaud Convio for it's efforts, noting that "Convio has, seemingly, gotten some serious Web 2.0 religion." (Although it a bit ironic that the Open Convio site has a blog like section, but no comments or trackbacks. So, the perhaps not everyone at Convio has drank the Web2.0 Koolaid)
Michelle offers some advice to both companies, including deliver, don't hype!
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