Everybody is now familiar with Web 2.0 and all her buzz. But what is this all about? Is it about adding some AJAX and creating a new trendy site that is just bells and whistles? No, not entirely; it is much more. The short definition is it is about community collaboration and when collaborating, there can only be one king, content.
Now let’s create a term that, believe it or not, hasn’t blossomed just yet-Associations 2.0. I am not sure exactly how to define this. I imagine some derivative of the Web 2.0 definition, “Web 2.0 is about systems that harness collective intelligence”, as Tim O’Reilly puts it, is probably appropriate.
Here is the question, how can your association harness information? How can you collaborate better with your members? Is the answer to bring members, organizations and content closer together? Or is the answer to create communities for them to collaborate and share information?
RSS has spoiled me. I can track of hundreds of sites, knowing exactly when each site has updated.
The convenience factor is very high. I find I spend a lot less time surfing aimlessly for new things to read. So why can't RSS be used for other tasks like banking? Why can't I be notified when a check clears or a new bill has been posted? How great would something like this be:
The great thing is, you wouldn't even have to protect the feeds (I just wanted to use that cool lock icon in my design). The content could just say something like, "New bill from Sprint due 2/24" or "Check #1002 cleared 1/23." More detailed information would be stored in your password-protected account on the bank's website. So why hasn't this been done?
One of the more progressive Associations in the Chicagoland area, Association Forum, has had a blog for a number of years now. The interesting fact is this blog is published anonymously about another Association. From what I understand, the Forum approached someone and asked them to start a blog, but would they would only write if they maintained their anonymity to speak openly about the board and the organization. What is the point in having a blog affiliated with your organization that is published by another organization? Was the Forum just trying to demonstrate that they were ahead of the times and could get a blog together? While I give the Forum a tremendous amount of credit for moving forward with Blogging back in October 2004, I do think it is time that they also create their own produced by people at the Forum. Back in 2004 they were clearly trying demonstrate that Associations could use blogs and they could be valuable. To me, I feel this is now validated and they should move forward with confidence that this “experiment” is no longer just an experiment and an extremely valuable tool. Blogging is all about delivering information to a community and communicating freely within that community. This is a technology that the Forum and many other Association’s could really benefit from.
To help digest how this could be beneficial to other organizations, let me explain a little more about blogging. Blogs, for one, provide a very simple and intuitive interface. A simple and elegant user interface makes posting information very easy and fast, even for the most inept computer user. The objective of having a very simple UI is to encourage authors to publish and publish frequently. Providing Association professionals with a platform to publish valuable and possibly provocative information about the industry and organization is an enormous asset to members and anyone else interested in the information. Of course, as we always say, the real value is the content and that is what will drive membership and viewership. We can’t necessarily help you with the content, but we do encourage frequent posts and opening blogging to everyone in the organization.
Another important factor to understand is the technology. The technology is not very sophisticated. Let me break down the process of a “blog post” or “article” to help you understand, on a high-level, the technology driving this. The first step is writing. Once the article is composed, the writer posts or publishes the piece. Here is where the magic begins. What happens is the software tells blog search engines (My Yahoo!, Technorati, and many more) that we have posted new information to the site. When an article is posted almost every search engine knows about it within minutes. The information published is searchable by the entire world in a matter of hours. What this means for the organization is valuable information has the potential to reach more interested people faster. This translates into more exposure and free publicity for the organization and potentially increasing membership.
Blogging also uses a technology called RSS (Really Simple Syndication). This allows an organization to broaden its viewership beyond its membership. RSS is a file that is updated every time a blog gets published. This file tells subscribers what information is new and who published it and when it was published. Users can then subscribe to your site via RSS. One can quickly subscribe by creating a BlogLines (this is an RSS reader) or Google IG (also an RSS reader) account and then just add our RSS feed to this page. RSS feeds allow organizations to distribute content and information to anyone who wishes to subscribe to it. Subscribing to an RSS feed frees readers from having to visit every site they are interested in every time they want to see if it has been updated. RSS readers create a one stop shop for staying up-to-date with information.
Integrating a blog into a website gives it much more visibility than having a blog hosted somewhere else, like the Forum’s. It is important for viewers to be able to see new and fresh content every time the visit the site. An excellent example of this is ALA Techsource. This gives users an incentive to come back more frequently to see what is new. It would be beneficial to see more organizations take this approach and begin to leverage this technology.