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Update on Sprout Builder and Nonprofits

This is basically the same as my comment on my Idealware post about Sprout Builder shutting down.

Something of an update via Facebook fan pages, which I suppose is a sign of the times.

First, in the group Jeff Wassermen started and mentions in the comments on my first post and Johanna mentions on Idealware “Spurned Sproutbuilders Unite!” Carnet did indeed say that all existing Sprout subscribers that are members of the group can get the half price discount ($1500 a year) by emailing info@sproutinc.com with subject line “early adopter discount” . You’ll need to give the email address you used for your Sprout account , if different your paypal email so they can send you a manual invoice. This is because you will need to pay the for the full year up front and they are discontinuing Pay Pal billing.

Also on Beth Kanter’s Facebook fan page there is a reply to Jon Dunn’s post about Sprout’s discontinuation from Michelle Wohl at Sprout saying that they “..are working with existing Sprout non-profit clients on pricing. Please email support@sproutinc.com for info. ” And Beth’s indication that it will be on an individual basis.

The company has expressed their concern for nonprofits and intentions to do all they can to support them in the past, so its likely they will offer some sort of discount for 5013c organizations.

In any case, all nonprofits using Sprout would be wise to contact them soon and see what can be done for your organization.


Sprout Builder shutting down (unless you have $3k)

The do-it-yourself widget maker so many nonprofits grew to know and love, Sprout Builder, announced today that they are shutting down all subscription service to concentrate on their enterprise ($3000 a year +) offerings. This is sad news for nonprofits using the service and if you are one of them you’ll want to read the Sprout FAQ right away. You’ll have a little lead time to find a solution though – until the end of March to be precise.

Just about a year ago the service went from free to fee and although there are probably more alternatives now, my post about what else is out there may come in handy again.

[Update: I posted  more on this topic at Idealware’s blog and am hoping that post becomes a place for sharing alternatives and what’s to do for those losing their Sprouts – please check it out and contribute your solutions and ideas]


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.


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.


    From the Idealware Blog

    Should you use a volunteer or intern to do your social media?

    (originally posted at idealware.org/blog)

    Lately I have been doing some research about options for communications for Idealware and its become apparent that most organizations are hedging their bets with social media and cautiously dipping toes (sometimes more) into outreach on sites like My Space and Facebook. Everyone seems to agree on the potential of this area but its tricky to devote resources into getting involved in new arenas when resources are stretched tight as it is and desperately needed elsewhere.

    One of the recurrent suggestions I keep hearing is to get a youngster (from teen to 30) that has a native understanding of MySpace, Facebook and Twitter to help you out – like an intern or volunteer. Seems like a good idea to me, that keeps the organization up to date, open to new opportunities and avoids a painful (and expensive) learning curve for staff that are already a bit overwhelmed managing “older” technologies like the Web site CMS and CRM software.

    So on the one hand, it seems like a great way to explore social media without a big investment in fledgling area that is not yet proven to really be effective. But on the other, something about hearing it over and over made me slightly queasy. Indulging in a little navel gazing I realized that it sounded an awful lot like what organizations were saying and doing about getting on the Web in the first place. “Our board member’s son is a whiz with that internet stuff and he can make us a Web site for free!”

    Don’t get me wrong – a lot of talented and generous folks created Web sites for organizations that otherwise would not have been able to get online. And it was a good thing. But look at how we are now – most organizations would not dream of leaving such an important piece of their communications solely in the hands of an intern or volunteer based on their youth and tech skills.

    Of course the land of social media is also a horse of an entirely different color. In general, it’s much more modular and less rigid, so it can evolve more gracefully than Web sites did in the past, reducing the risk involved. And organizations seem to consider it a supplemental outreach channel at best – but then weren’t Web sites once seen that way too?

    So I still think enlisting young supporters is always a good idea and that playing to their strengths and knowledge of the new outreach channels just makes sense. But all of this just has me wondering if organizations will be saying something like “Oh, our [insert social media tool here] is so bad – it was done by a volunteer kid for us years ago – can you fix it?” at some point in the future. Will social media become so important that current experimental forays will come to haunt their organizations? I really don’t know.

    What do you think? Will organizations regret not making a serious investment in this part of their communications now or will they be glad that they were smart enough to take advantage of the skills and smarts of low budget resources while getting under way? What started as a little brain tickle has piqued my curiosity and I would love to hear your thoughts and ideas on the subject.


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