Aggregation: Digital home bases and shared content

Illustration of aggregation web processes, using content produced by CCHR as an example.

In civil society spaces, particularly for NGOs and funders who feel pressure to tout/justify their own impact, incentives to share content are often mixed. Organizations and individuals are often torn. Post to someone else’s site increases exposure to a particular post, but also imposes opportunity costs — eyeballs are not drawn to their site.

Facebook stands alone in this regard. NGOs can reach a large audience. And according to reports from Civil Society Actors in the nation of Georgia, through tagging and friending strategies, NGOs can place specific messages and reports in front of key audiences. “Facebook for activists” is a longer and more complicated story. For my purposes, the point is that placing content on “the websites of others” requires fine tuning.

In grant/funding environments where organizations (and donors to some extent) compete with each other, what incentive exists to publish content to another organization’s website? For example, in Cambodia one organization is trying to create a human rights portal—a real-time human rights report. To achieve this vision, participation is required by many orgs from around the country. The data is the most scarce, valuable resource. But if participating organizations contribute the data, will the org that is hosting the website get the credit? And then when the next round of grants arrive, will they get the funding?

At TASCHA, we have been wrestling with related issues and are refining a coping strategy: aggregation. The idea is to build “digital home bases” which emphasize the technical and social dimensions of NGO communication. We are developing a customized wordpress installation (aka TASCHApress) designed to tell NGO stories around issue areas, projects, and pubications. The idea is that if enough participants in the ecosystem have their own digital home bases and are trained on syndication practices, then we can create positive incentives for collaboration. The idea is to configure aggregation and syndication systems so that it’s easy to both share information and to retain credit for contributing the information. We want to lower the costs (and increase incentives) for participation and sharing.

The image outlines the strategy. A fuller treatment can be found in our report “Open Cambodia, Open Development.”