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Every now and then, we like to predict what's on the tech horizon. We recently polled our TechSoup employees and NetSquared community on what they see as looming large in 2015.
What they said may surprise you. Here's what they think will be worth paying attention to in the coming year.
Since I'm writing this, I'll lead off. I've been impressed at the recent price drops of consumer electronics gadgets. There are now lots of laptops available that are less than $200 — like HP Streams, Acer Aspires, and too many Chrome books to count. Smartphones are also getting cheaper.
Tablet prices are also dropping rapidly. OK, not so much the famous ones like Apple iPads, Microsoft Surfaces, and Samsung Galaxy Tabs, but there are now lots of tablets under $100 like Kindle Fire, Dell Venue, Toshiba Excite Go, HP 7, and Dell STREAK.
Is $100 too expensive? You can get $50 tablets by RCA, Polaroid, Digiland, and a ton of others with names you've never heard of. Super cheap tablets are a security risk for offices, however, because manufacturers cut corners on these devices.
Prices on all this gear will continue to drop in 2015, and the effect on nonprofit offices will be an acceleration of the "bring your own device" (BYOD) trend. More people will be using their own devices to do their work and giving their IT teams more headaches.
TechSoup's senior online community manager, Lewis Haidt, predicts that charities will use more sophisticated group social media tools like Thunderclap that amplify messaging.
The way Thunderclap works is that a user invites followers to support her or his Thunderclap on an important tweet like an end-of-year fundraising pitch. Those who agree authorize Thunderclap to tweet from their accounts.
The campaign, as a result, gets an explosion of simultaneous tweets.
Thunderclap has been called a "crowdspeaking platform." The technology allows a single message to be shared en masse so that it rises above the noise of social networks.
Our NetSquared organizer in Naples, Florida, Birgit Pauli-Haack adds that with Facebook going more commercial, with Twitter to follow, organizations will be able to move beyond Facebook and Twitter to more private and less commercial services like Ello, Snapchat, and Ask.fm.
Data theft, cyberattacks, and government surveillance are a growing fact of digital life, and it looks like 2015 will only be more of the same. That's one reason why we recently came out with TechSoup's Safer Online for Nonprofits Guide. The New York Times also recently came out with an article on Reinventing the Internet to Make It Safer.
Wes Holing, TechSoup's web content developer, predicts that the nonprofit Electronic Frontier Foundation's new program, called Let's Encrypt, will literally make the entire web more secure.
Let's Encrypt is a project in cooperation with the University of Michigan, the nonprofit Mozilla, and TechSoup donor partner Cisco. The project aims to clear the remaining roadblocks to transition the web from http:// to https://.
This change adds considerable security to web pages. Nonprofits can participate by making all the pages on their websites https:// pages.
The sharing or peer-to-peer economy is a relatively new Internet trend that arose out of the Great Recession. In the sharing economy, we use apps to rent or otherwise share goods and services with each other.
Prominent examples are Airbnb, in which we rent rooms in our houses; the ridesharing service Uber; and the meal-sharing service Feastly. So far it has been a largely commercial phenomenon.
Michael Enos, TechSoup's senior director for community and platform, sees a trend developing where nonprofits are leveraging existing technology platforms to "source to excess."
An example is an Uber and Goodwill partnership in New York. Uber has excess capacity (cars, drivers, and technology); people have excess clothes.
Using Uber's platform, people can have their clothing picked up on demand and donated during a winter clothing drive. (Learn more on Twitter by following the hashtag #uberspringcleaning.)
Amazon, Facebook, and Ebay have all had ways for consumers to donate through their platforms for years, but what is different about this trend is that a specific charity is leveraging a technology platform to source free or discounted supply to meet its demand.
Joyce Hsu, communications lead at TechSoup for Canada, predicts more nonprofit interest in hybrid cloud services. Hybrid cloud services mean that some of a nonprofit's IT is in the cloud and some of it stays in the office.
She explains that some nonprofits in Canada need to store their private data internally as required by law, but want to take advantage of free cloud services such as Google for Nonprofits and Office 365.
Forrester is forecasting that public cloud vendors will begin offering more of a hybrid model that includes some on-premise implementations to meet growing demand.
This past October in my post, What Apple's Big Product Launches Mean for Charities, I boldly predicted that Apple Pay may really transform nonprofit technology.
It's a new electronic wallet mobile app that allows you to use your iPhone or Apple Watch to one-click pay for things easily and securely.
To not put too fine a point on it, it will make mobile donating happen.
We'll see. Apple Pay just launched.
If just a fraction of the 70 million or so iPhone users adopt it, it will be a big deal.
TechSoup's Eli van der Giessen said it much more entertainingly than me, though.
"Mobile payments have been a trend I've been scoffing about for years, but two months ago I finally had an 'aha' moment. The software has finally moved to a place where mobile payments are actually practical. With all the friction removed, I'm no longer a mobile donation scoffer!"
Chris Delatorre, TechSoup's forums community manager, joins Gunner at Aspiration in predicting increased use of cloud-based collaboration services like Huddle, Basecamp, Box.com, and Podio. They have project management tools that combine document tracking and social media elements.
They're so useful! And yet staff adoption is difficult, because they tend to systematize workflows and document sharing. Chris predicts usability improvements in 2015.
With more and more charities experimenting with crowdfunding sites like Indiegogo and Kickstarter, I predict this field will get crazier — as in pet rock crazy. While a majority of crowdsourcing campaigns fail, some strange ones succeed. They include the ALS Association Ice Bucket Challenge and Zack Brown's potato salad project that raised $55,000 on Kickstarter, where he explains, "Basically I'm just making potato salad. I haven't decided what kind yet."
And then there's the personal causes funding service, Go Fund Me. There you can find projects to fund gas money for someone to attend a music event, buy a new set of roller skates, win a bodybuilding contest, and take a much-needed vacation.
How to be successful on either a personal or charity crowdfunding campaign? Expert Rose Spinelli recommends, "Don't try and copy previous viral campaigns." If that's in fact true, expect this new arena of human innovation to get crazier in 2015.
Steven Flower, our wise NetSquared organizer in Manchester, England, believes that for our personal sanity and betterment of the planet, we should all take a break from all this Information Age sound and fury.
He recommends the Oakland-based charity Digital Detox and perhaps a stay at Campgrounded in the California redwoods.
Become a digital refugee. Just unconnect. It's not that hard.
Do you have an NPTech prediction for 2015? Please comment below.
Image of Joyce Hsu: TechSoup Canada