In the beginning, TechSoup’s Marnie Webb, Daniel Ben-Horin,
and Billy Bicket created NetSquared to "remix the web for social change." The
year was 2005. TechSoup was then called CompuMentor. The Iraq War was raging. Pope John Paul II died, and
Hurricane Katrina devastated New Orleans. The buzzword then was Web 2.0, which
heralded a new, participatory web culture.
networking was just being born. Facebook was just
getting its first venture funding, YouTube was just starting, and
Twitter was still a year away from being founded.
Marnie, Daniel, and Billy had
been following developments at O’Reilly Web
2.0 and knew something new and interesting was going on. They originally
wanted to organize a conference to convene social innovators and social
entrepreneurs on the nonprofit tech cutting edge to see what everyone was doing.
To get going, they built the first NetSquared website using
open-source Drupal. The idea was to embed the functions of existing social
sites like Meetup,
Flickr, and del.icio.us
bookmarking (now called Delicious) by
using their APIs on
the site. (An example of
an API is when you put a Bing or Google Map on your website.)
The NetSquared website was itself designed to
be a model Web 2.0 site in which people could interact and collaborate with
each other to create a virtual community. Most of the content was (and is) user
generated. I remember that it was simply not cool to just go there and
look at things. You had to say something on the blog, or post a photo on Flickr,
or organize a Meetup.
were some the baffling hot new things that charity techies and geeks for good were buzzing
was the Philanthropy
News Network announcement of
NetSquared, the project to increase nonprofit effectiveness through Web-based
social tools, has added a case study section to its website. 'Net2 in
Action' highlights more than 30 real-life examples of nonprofits using
this new breed of Web-based technologies to tackle issues such as reaching and
to their corporate counterparts, nonprofits are discovering that they can
increase their effectiveness while maintaining lower operating costs by
utilizing Web-based and open source tools. These innovative tools are meeting
the fundraising, grassroots mobilization, volunteer engagement, and issue
awareness needs of many organizations."
Bicket got the first Net Tuesdays going in San Francisco.
These were in-person meetings that were made possible by the website Meetup. Billy was formerly director of
partnerships at Meetup.com and had shown the power of it during the 2004
Tuesdays became a series of national and international face-to-face meetings
connecting industry and nonprofit techies. They eventually became
hugely successful NetSquared Locals in
Ben-Horin described the potential of the project at the time:
stands between nonprofits and much greater mission effectiveness is no longer about money. ... In the end analysis, nonprofits and NGOs
build communities and are sustained by communities. The new platform and the
new tools are all about communities. Wikipedia is a community, Craigslist is a
community, Moveon.org is a community, eBay for crying out loud is a community.
The blogosphere is a huge, fractious, disorganized community. The capacity to
create content and easily share it with others are the bricks and mortar of
community building, and nonprofits know a lot about communities (even if a lot
of nonprofits don't know that they know it, but that's another blog entry).
that's the moment, that's the opportunity. If the Wikipedia community can build
Wikipedia with the smallest handful of grant dollars and paid staff, what could
the AIDs community do if it embraced these tools? What could the peace
community do? The environmental community?"
I have to admit, it took me awhile to get some clarity on
what this was all about. But it was an exhilarating time.
NetSquared finally held its first conference the following year and was off
Lots of the social media and interactive Web 2.0 things that it
celebrated are now commonplace, and nonprofit technology and effectiveness
still requires money. But we’re much more connected online — for better or
If you’d care to have a look at the immense excitement that
Web 2.0 was generating at the time, have a look at the original series of
NetSquared blog posts.
Image 1: NetSquared classic home page, circa 2005 (gorickjones)
Image 2: The NetSquared site 1.0 (cambodia4kidsorg)
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.
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