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In this edition of nonprofit tech news, TechSoup shows new ways your nonprofit could harness mobile and killer apps in 2016! We also shine the light on the potential security problems of smart toys, predict the end of the digital divide, and discuss a health-related wearable that can't get here fast enough and some intriguing 10 year-old predictions that just happened to come true.
For 2014, our NPTech experts made strong predictions about charities doing more multi-channel marketing or going beyond email and direct mail into social media. Now, it is looking like the emerging killer apps may be messaging apps that text directly to stakeholders' mobile phones. The leading apps are Snapchat, Facebook Messenger, and WhatsApp.
However, another trend that is emerging is that we'll be discovering the limitations of social media in fundraising. In their most recent Best of the Web, Idealware's Laura Quinn recommended the NPR piece: A Click Too Far: Why Using Social Media Isn't That Great for Fundraising. (Social media's still pretty great, though, for raising awareness about your nonprofit, communicating with existing supporters, and listening to your community.)
According to research by Adobe, only 3 percent of people find charities by following social media links. Forty percent find charities through plain old web searches. In 2016, doing traditional search engine optimization on our websites will be good for fundraising — just like it was 10 years ago.
During the last several years, TechSoup's Storymakers project has been focused on highlighting the most compelling nonprofit videos. In 2016, video will continue to be the most interesting media on the Internet. If we want to get our story out there in a form that will get attention, videos are the ticket.
This past year, U.S. adults spent more than five and a half hours per day on their digital devices, mostly watching video. This has been a steady upward trend since 2008. This is about as certain a prediction as you'll find in this post.
There are a lot of important cybersecurity threats to watch out for in 2016. But with so many charities and libraries working with children, the weird new security threat in 2016 will be smart toys.
These are toys like Mattel's Internet-connected Hello Barbie that can have a truly interactive conversation with a child. The doll takes a child's words and sends them over the Internet to cloud based voice-recognition software that can create the perfect response.
Children love it. The privacy concerns are huge, though. In November, a Hong Kong-based smart toy company called VTech got hacked. The intruder was able to get names, addresses, genders, birth dates, and even photos of children — more than six million children. Nearly half of them were in the U.S.
Pretty much all major toymakers sell smart toys now. The coming year will be a good time for nonprofits to educate their constituents about the privacy issues surrounding these and other smart objects. And if you're a parent, maybe avoid all smart toys?
Here are a few new things we could be doing with our phones and tablets in 2016.
OK. I may as well just come out and say it — 2016 is the year that the digital divide will finally be bridged. I have my reasons for predicting this. We're not talking about the race to expand Internet access in space here. The U.S. is doing more down-to-earth things to close the digital divide.
The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) voted in June to expand the Universal Lifeline program to include broadband, following a public comment period. This rule change will give more than 18 million low-income Americans $9.25-a-month phone service or home broadband — their choice. This helps to address the problem that 100 million Americans do not have a broadband connection.
Giant carriers like AT&T are on board for this. If this gets implemented in early 2016 as expected, it will, at a stroke, do more to close the U.S. digital divide than anything since the invention of the Internet.
ConnectHome is another new U.S. government initiative that aims to bring accessible broadband access to residents of low-income housing throughout the U.S. The Obama administration means to make universal broadband happen, and it has just one year left to do it. Ladies and gentlemen of the jury, I rest my case.
Amy Sample Ward, NTEN's fearless leader, has a different view. "Closing the digital divide will take more than one year and more than one policy change. I'm thrilled at the forward motion groups like the National Digital Inclusion Alliance and others have supported this year and think that 2016 is looking like a momentous time when it comes to policy change. However, addressing affordable access is only one part of the three core barriers that we need to address.
"Affordable connections to the Internet are critical, but if we don't also address issues around affordable devices and, critically, the digital literacy and life skills to use those devices to go online, we will do nothing but change policy, and not impact the digital divide. Surrounding all these barriers is the need to build awareness as well — for many individuals, having a computer or a smart phone doesn't automatically mean they know why and how they might use the Internet in their lives.
"There are many groups, locally and nationally, making real impact around digital skills and access to devices. I don't think we will close the digital divide in 2016; I do think it'll be a year for more organized local and national support to address the digital divide in community-based, sustainable programs that will better serve all members of a community, regardless of the barriers they may face."
Paul Lamb of Man on a Mission Consulting convened a great discussion in 2006 on Skoll World Forum on the state of nonprofits and NGOs in 2016. Here is what he thinks of the predictions:
"I was struck by how much of what I speculated on was wishful (and often naive) thinking. That said, some of the group predictions that clearly did come to pass include:
"My view now of 2016 is that it seems like we have arrived at a time when, more and more, nonprofits are driving technology, and not the other way around. When major tech players and platforms like Google, Salesforce, Facebook, PayPal, Kickstarter, etc. have all developed solutions for nonprofits, then there is clearly a shift taking place. This trend is likely to continue."
I have to add that one of my favorite and most prescient predictions from 2006 was by TechSoup for Libraries contributor, Phil Shapiro. He said, "By 2016, nonprofits will take their equal place as media creators."
He was so right. We have indeed seen the rise of nonprofits as media creators. In just the field of journalism we now have The Intercept, Global Investigative Journalism Network, ProPublica, New America Media, Internews … need I go on? Nice 10-year prediction, Phil.
We could talk about smart watches like the Apple Watch, which hasn't quite taken off as expected. Or the connected fitness and activity trackers, such as Fitbit, which have. But that is so … 2015.
The wearable I've been waiting for is called the cognitive neural prosthesis. This thing restores and enhances memory function. It is being developed at the University of Southern California to help victims of stroke and traumatic brain injury. Will it become available in 2016? The Harvard Business Review says that it's a trend to watch in 2016.
One of our laureate predictors each year has been Peter Campbell of Legal Services Corporation. Here are his thoughts: "2015 was the year that cloud computing, Microsoft’s Office 365 in particular, grew up, with strong security, stability, and a compelling value proposition for nonprofits.
"Security will (and should) be a big 2016 focus. It's now clear that the cost and complexity of securing internal networks from ransomware and other threats is prohibitive when compared to the cloud.
"Mobile computing has boomed, and usability has improved to the point where tablets will start replacing laptops as the mobile computing device of choice. But what I can’t predict is how nonprofits will invest in tech staffing, strategy, and support. I have some recommendations my What Is Nonprofit Technology article, featured in this month’s NTEN Connect."
My final bold prediction is that we'll forget Millennials in 2016 in favor of Generation X, America’s neglected middle child generation. Though not so numerous or digitally native as Millennials, Gen Xers are now aged 35 to 50; they are quietly slipping in to management positions of power as my Baby Boomer generation goes gently in to that good night. Please just remember. You heard it here first.
Image 1: TechSoup
Image 2: kpgolfpro / CCO
Image 3: Roman Magician / CC BY-NC
Image 4: Gord McKenna / CC BY-NC-ND
Image 5: Amy Sample Ward
Image 6: Paul Lamb
Image 7: Phil Shapiro
Image 8: Peter Campbell