If MP3s are the bane of the music industry, could another three letter word be their savior? According to many experts, APIs could set the music industry free. If the music industry can be saved with open technology, can the non profit industry do the same?
API’s are the set of instructions that allow users to interact with data easier. They are the lines of code that let you mashup a Google Maps or place a YouTube video on your Web page.
In an article from Wired, Ted Greenwald outlines some of the new trends in music mashups using open APIs:
JamBase, an online concert database founded in 1998. …[offers] a public API that funneled the data directly to its own site and, at the same time, made the same information available to other developers who might find clever things to do with it…the community transformed JamBase data into tour maps, performance calendars, and Internet radio programming, all of which promoted concerts without requiring the businesspeople to lift a finger. For instance, iConcertCal mashes up JamBase with your iTunes music library, letting you know when your favorite artists are playing nearby. -Wired.com
But do open API’s have anything to do with non profits? Back in 2004, Jason and I met with Ami Dar, founder of idealist.org. Our pitch was for Idealist to develop an open API system that would allow non profits to submit their actions to a central database. With a collection of actions, any number of custom widgets could be developed to allow users to search and sort actions that are relevant to them.
I’m happy to hear that someone else had the same idea, SocialActions has created a database of actions from over 60 non profits sorted by topic.
But Social Actions doesn’t go far enough. In order to benefit from the creativity of our community, we need to encourage more nonprofits to open their actions database. If we can demonstrate the value in an open actions database many exciting possibilities could happen:
1. Local Actions – Just like new mash-ups allow you to see what band is playing in your city, we need a large repository of actions across organizations to allow our community to take local actions wherever they are. There should never be a situation where a user goes to a web site and does not find an action they can take in their community on a topic they are passionate about.
2. Embeddable Widgets - With a large enough database, we could have intelligent action buttons across the internet that could contextualize anything you are reading and serve appropriate actions. Think of an Amazon.com like system that suggested further actions you could take on a certain topic. Web sites could filter these for their site with specific or bloggers could add this feature to their posts.
3. Mashups – There are an endless number of mashups that could be possible with a large database of actions. Think of a google map you could filter by causes, or a flickr map with drop downs on the most popular action to take based on the images you are looking at.
There are hundreds of other possibilities but at the end of the day we will need non profits to begin to see the benefit of placing resources into a shared actions database. Short sighted organizations will fear loosing control of branding and message. But at the end of the day, if more people from across the internet are finding your action and organization, isn’t that what really matters? Sharing actions and causes will bring more people into the fold by unlocking the actions from organization’s websites. I’d love to see a day when I have a dashboard application on my Mac of the cool new actions I can take on climate change instead of just an update that the Strokes are touring in New York.