My Social Actions

Notes from 2/25 Luncheon with Partners in Vancouver

Photo Credit: (Road Fun on Flickr)

Event:Lunch for for social action platforms, Vancouver BC Date:2/25/09 Host:Business Objects

Peter Deitz, Social Actions
Joe Solomon, Social Actions' Change the Web Challenge
Carla Culos, Simon Fraser University
Charles Tsai, Ashoka
Doug van Spronsen, MakeGood
Elijah van der Giessen, David Suzuki Foundation
Erin Sikora, BCGEU communications
Gillian Shaw, Vancouver Sun
Kate Dugas,
Keith Grennan,
Kevan Gilbert, Union Gospel Mission
Kris Krug, Rain City Studios
Lorraine Murphy, a.k.a. RainCoaster
Monica Hamburg, Consultant
Paul Ryan, Pivot Legal Society
Rebecca Bollwitt, a.k.a. Miss604
Reilly Yeo,
Rob Lewis, TechVibes
Steve Anderson,
Steve Williams, Business Objects
Suresh Fernando, Strat-Insight
Teresa Marshall, BCGEU communications
Victoria Ronco, DreamBank


Steve Williams of Business Objects introduced the lunch, and explained how Social Actions and this event fits well with their mission to support businesses involved in accountability and governance.

After brief introductions around the room, Peter Deitz provided a brief overview of Social Actions. Social Actions came out of a personal observation that there were, as of 2006, various platforms that facilitated micro-donations. As someone really interested in that bottom up approach, he started writing about the platforms and soon realized there was no intersecting piece that brought it all together. Around June 2007, the idea was born to aggregate microphilanthropic opportunities from sites like GiveMeaning, Firstgiving,, and others. From June 2007 until the NetSquared Conference in May 2008, the initiative evolved into Social Actions’ current purpose to aggregate, via RSS and XML, all of the opportunities that are available to individuals online.

Social Actions Overview
Peter then gave a quick description of Social Actions’ search engine and open API (the most exciting piece as it allows any developer to embed actions in the dataset on the websites and blogs people visit every day).

Before circling back to the API, as it relates to Joe Solomon’s presentation of the Change the Web Challenge, Peter first described Social Actions’ financial sustainability model. Social Actions is not interested in creating points of friction within the process of finding/engaging with opportunities to take action. We’ve ruled out membership fees for participating as a platform (source of the actions that are aggregated into the API). We’ve never had any intention to take a commission on the funds that flowed through the API, and we didn’t believe that advertising would be appropriate. All three in some way would distract people from taking action. We’ve also ruled out any API licensing fee, because we don’t want to discourage people from using API.

In place of that, Social Actions launched social media consulting services in January. We’ve already been quite successful, and are working on something for the social entrepreneurship sector that’s similar to what we’ve done in the microphilanthropy sector. We’re doing some work for the Case Foundation and for Social Edge as well.

Our overhead is quite low and the social media consulting (which might expand to other kinds of assistance for individuals and organizations wanting to engage people in making a difference) to support Social Actions’ growth. This is similar to the Red Hat model, providing something (in their case, Linex) for free and then generating revenue by supporting that service. In the case of Social Actions, our revenue model is in supporting the use of the open API and in sharing the expertise we’ve gained in the course of putting this together.

Question and Answer session

Eli van der Geissen, David Suzuki Foundation: If we have actions, how do we get them into the system?

Peter: We encourage nonprofits to go through one of our platform partners. It’s possible that any one of the action sources would provide the right mechanism. We’ve also integrated with Delicious so the quickest way to include actions in the open API is to tag it with “take action” (we’ll also be integrating with Twitter, aggregating the hashtag #takeaction).

Kevan Gilbert, Union Gospel Mission: How do you avoid groups like my own from appearing to be spammers because we’re adding so many actions to the system? How do you deal with filtering?

Peter: Each of our action sources has its own vetting system. Our real response to the filtering question involves this Open Actions format which provides 15+ datapoints above and beyond what RSS already provides. There are many ways to use this information to filter ie by EIN number, or by the specific goal that the action seeks to fulfill (amount raised, volunteers recruited).

Kris Krug, Rain City Studios: What if an action gets updated?

Peter: Our system updates them every 30 minutes. The rich filtering and seamless updating, however, are currently in theory: they depend on our action sources implementing the Open Actions format. The Social Actions Developers Google Group is the resource for more information about that process.

Change the Web Challenge
Joe Solomon then introduced the Change the Web Challenge, an initiative designed to draw attention to all Social Actions’ platform partners. The Change the Web Challenge is an effort to correct that by embedding the action source’s content on the sites people already visit. Joe gave a quick overview of the Challenge’s particulars (awards, deadline, judging criteria and process) and then demonstrated several applications from Social Actions and Challenge entries including a Twitter trending app; the Twitter Action Pack; and the Related Ways to Take Action widget and plug-in. Joe and Peter stressed that Social Actions created several applications to get people thinking. Social Actions’ mission, supported by the Change the Web Challenge, is to encourage developer communities and third parties to build things like Drupal modules and any other applications they can come up with.

Open discussion
An open conversation followed about the Social Actions API, Change the Web, and implications for what all of these developments mean for the people in the room.

Steve Williams mentioned the importance of an action’s impact, launching a brief discussion on the possibility of that field to the XML. Peter mentioned the API’s unintended consequence of getting trending data on what’s piquing people’s interests, which actions are getting completed, etc. He gave a brief demonstration of, showing how numbers of click-throughs and URLs are being captured and made available through an open API as well. This creates the possibility of applications that show the most popular actions.

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