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New update on Sproutbuilder: free accounts & more projects

Yet another update to the Sproutbuilder flash widget builder going to a fee for service model. Today Sprout Inc. announced a new more generous policy including a limited (3 projects, only online support and possible ads) Free account option as well as more generous allotments in their other pricing plans.

When Sprout first announced their plans to make the beta service a full fledged paid product with no free plans many were concerned and some upset. Their users spoke up and it looks like Sprout Inc. listened. What they have arrived at seems like a reasonable pricing system, including 50% discounts for nonprofits on paid plans – which translates to 15 projects (sprout widgets) for $10/mo at the low end. They might have saved themselves some trouble if they had just started out here in the first place, but I’m just glad this is where things are ending up.


Project Launch: Audubon Birds and Climate Quiz

We are really excited about the launch of our first Flash project in a long time – a quiz for the National Audubon Society’s Birds and Climate campaign. The quiz features the illustrations of Sherrie York and highlights important facts from the recently released Birds and Climate report. Audubon scientists analyzed 40 years of citizen-science Christmas Bird Count data and found disturbing shifts in natural ranges of many North American species. Customizations to the quiz, such as a drag and drop to match birds with the distance they shifted north as a result of climate change, led to a highly engaging way for supporters to understand the issues and spread the word to their friends and family.

It was a really fun project on an important topic. We were delighted to work with not only the truly wonderful folks at Audubon, but also with colleagues at Sea Change Strategies and Jackson River.

Please visit BIrds and Climate  and sign the petition Рafter you take the quiz of course


From the Idealware Blog

Sproutbuilder Update and Alternatives

(originally posted at idealware.org/blog)

Last month nifty WYSIWYG online flash widget maker Sproutbuilder announced its plan to move to all pay accounts by March and like a lot of organizations I was pretty concerned about what this meant for my nonprofit clients. Assurances that Sprout Inc. is committed to the sector turned into the news that there would be limited free accounts and some discount for official organizations. Last week a modified pricing structure was announced and some solid information about what is available for nonprofits became available.

The short story is that verified nonprofits can create up to 5 widgets (sprouts) with 100MB Storage and 10GB bandwidth available with a free account. Other pricing tiers will be half price or $30/mo for 5-15 sprouts and $150/mo for 15-30.

While this is decidedly good news, I did feel the need in the interim to see what alternatives exist and if any are worth exploring in more depth. The caveats about any free application or software service still apply of course and the original Idealware post on these developments by Michelle Murrain is well worth reading.

At first it looks like there are more options and decisions to make than on a new cell phone plan. But when I narrowed down the field with the following criteria some likely candidates emerged.

1. Offers a free version and looks to remain so
2. Interface to build widgets doesn’t require HTML, javascript or programming knowledge
3. Interface is relatively easy to use
4. Ability to have many types of content on several pages or tabs – photos, video, feeds, text areas
5. Ability to customize formatting and style elements, background, text etc.

    Alternatives I plan to check out in more depth include Wix, PopFly (from Microsoft) and iWidgets. I have just done a little preliminary investigation and playing around at this point, but here are my notes on each and a longer list of the other options I found.

    Wix: http://www.wix.com/
    Probably the closest match to Sproutbuilder’s ease of use and functionality but definitely geared more towards the MySpace style and audience. This shows in the widget building interface making it a bit jumbled and not that efficient for building tasks. They do have some nice add in elements like Google maps and a contact form. Free version includes a self-promotional footer when the widget is embedded.

    Popfly : http://www.popfly.com/
    I haven’t made it far into actually producing a widget yet because it requires Microsoft Silverlight browser plug in to be installed on my computer and I am not sure I want to make that kind of commitment yet to something I may never use. The orientation here is on flash games and mash-ups, but it does seem possible to create content+feed type widgets as well. I would love to hear from anyone that has tried or is using this since the idea of easy-to-make, shareable game widgets seems appealing for some nonprofits.

    iWidget: http://www.iwidgets.com/
    Advertising is added to widgets that don’t contain any of their own, so the fit for the nonprofit community isn’t great. The interface required an initial set up that included URL links to images hosted elsewhere, which might be a slight technology barrier but the actual content addition and customization interface seems solid.

    The others
    Widgetbox: http://www.widgetbox.com/
    Seems powerful but requires pretty solid coding knowledge it looks like.

    Yahoo Widgets: http://widgets.yahoo.com/widgets/widget-maker
    Also a probably a pretty powerful tool for those with tech chops.

    Blist Widgets: http://www.blist.com/what-is-blist/blist-widgets
    Pretty sweet looking excel spreadsheet type data display widgets with interactive possiblities but limited to data input/output as far as I can tell.

    Dapper widgets: http://www.dapper.net
    Offers the ability to generate a wide variety of output types (google gadgets for example) from data collected from a web site – static or RSS feed and might be worth another look.

    KickApps: http://www.kickapps.com/widgets
    Seems like widget creation is part of a larger package that requires a $100 minimum fee.

    Clearspring: http://www.clearspring.com/services/widgetmedia
    A forerunner in the widget field but it doesn’t look like they have any free or nonprofit plans available.

    These notes were the result of a very quick look around and I would be happy for any additions or corrections to my brief survey and initial thoughts. There are a lot of neat services out there and I know I didn’t find all of them or look at all of the functionalities they offer. None of the ones I summarized seems to have the same combination of ease of use and power found in Sproutbuilder though, so for now their 5 widgets for free plan still looks like a good starting place for nonprofits wanting to create their first widgets.


    Updated: Sproutbuilder Widget making tool changes to paid

    Sproutbuilder – a great drag and drop flash widget creation tool that has been a great boon for nonprofits trying to get their message out on blogs and Facebook etc. announced yesterday that they are moving to a paid model and will no longer be offering a free version.

    Unfortunately this was handled a bit poorly with the information that there will be discounts for nonprofits buried in their FAQ and no real indication of what that will be. Also the timeline of the announcement – that you could be shut out of your account as soon as 2 weeks from now and no clear answer as to what happens to your published sprouts once this takes effect led to some panic and hot tempers.

    Because I have been a vocal proponent of Sproutbuilder for nonprofits and have recommended it to clients and used it with clients already, I have been keeping an eye on the discussion on Twitter, news and blog feeds. There is good news. In response to Michelle Murrain’s very wise take on this at the Idealware blog, Carnet Williams posted the following:

    “We are doing our best to provide Sprout free or at a highly discounted rate to NPOs. Meaning if you are a small nonprofit and not using a ton of our bandwidth, most likely free. If you are a large NGO with tons of traffic, we will discount the rate so we cover our COGs.

    Michelle… you know I am going to do my best to make this type of powerful tool available to social change organizations… as long as I can keep my lights on.”

    Combined with the interview he gave Adam Ostrow at Mashable, where it states that the intention is to keep Sproutbuilder available for free to nonprofits, I am optimistic at this point. However I would still like to see a public announcement from the company as to exactly what their plan and pricing structure is for these groups since most of the discussion I have seen from NPO’s is around what alternative service they can switch to.

    So while I listen to Michelle’s sage advice and get my clients going on Plan B, I’ll continue to keep an eye and ear on the developments and will update here with what I find out.

    —————–
    UPDATE

    Received email from Sproutbuilder saying that there will be a grace period for existing users to sort themselves out and make a decision. Whew, good. Also that email will be sent to all nonprofits contacting them at pricing@sproutbuilder.com with details about the the special discount. So if you are in a nonprofit or educational institution, get your email in to them to receive the announcement when it comes out.

    —————–
    UPDATE 2 : January 21, 2009

    In their email newsletter Sprout has announced the following policy for nonprofits and educators –

    Non-Profits and Educators:
    Qualified non-profits and educators can contact us for discount pricing. Basic accounts will be free and 50% discounts will be offered for the other levels. Interested in pricing for your classroom? contact pricing@sproutbuilder.com with specific questions about pricing for education.

    This means that up to 3 sprouts are free with some bandwidth limitations, 3-7 for $30/per month and over 7 sprouts will be $150 a month.


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