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Here's our look at the most interesting and fun things that happened in nonprofit technology this year. For more #nptech news, check out part 1 of this blog series.
This was the year that Slack became a thing in our offices — it certainly did at TechSoup. The MIT Technology Review deemed it a top 10 breakthrough technology even though the app has been around for a few years. Slack is freemium software that provides a centralized place to communicate with our colleagues through instant messages and in chat rooms. While that's not earth shattering, it is native for mobile and computers both, and it reduces our reliance on our overburdened email.
Probably the most amusing mobile story of 2016 was the overnight success of the Nintendo Pokémon Go scavenger hunt mobile app and how nonprofits attempted to use it for a hot minute. The craze was over before we knew it. It did herald the coming of something called augmented reality — overlaying digital images on the real world.
Lithium ion battery failures were big again this past year. The most spectacular fiasco was the Samsung Galaxy Note 7 and its famous igniting batteries. The product lasted just three months. Even though it was sensational news, the Note 7's battery defect affected less than 0.01 percent of the 3 million Note 7 phones sold.
That's fewer than 1,000 defective phones worldwide and under 100 in the U.S. The effect? Even though Samsung could have a loss of $17 billion in revenue, the Galaxy S7 and S7 Edge are still top-selling premium smartphones. Lithium ion batteries will continue to power our mobile devices — and continue to catch fire now and then, but not that often.
The MIT Technology Review listed "conversational interfaces" as a top 10 breakthrough technology for 2016. Swipes, taps, and tiny keyboards are so 2015. This is the year that speech recognition became reliable and our mobile devices became something we could really talk to.
We're now talking to our mobile devices with Apple's Siri, OK Google, Samsung S Voice, and Microsoft Cortana. We can talk to our cars with voice command systems like the Ford SYNC. We're also starting to talk to our houses with voice-activated smart home devices like Amazon Alexa–powered voice-controlled speakers, the Echo and Echo Dot.
These things play music, control smart home devices, provide information, read the news, and set alarms. Don't forget Google Home and Apple HomeKit. The next frontier? Probably gesture-controlled systems like the Fibaro Swipe that let us control our homes and offices with hand gestures.
Now the perpetual horror story of nonprofit tech and all of IT for that matter. Security of our IT systems and data will be a worry for the foreseeable future. The latest scare this year is about how the Internet of Things could kill people.
The idea there is that the growing multitude of Internet-connected home and office devices like smart thermostats have pretty much no security against cyberattacks. I recommend the clever NPR story on how crime fiction writers are already killing their victims with IoT.
Never fear. We did a couple of common-sense articles this past year describing actions charities and libraries can take to be more secure:
The migrant humanitarian crisis has been rocking governments and dominating NGO humanitarian work for the last two years. The UN refugee agency estimates the number of forcibly displaced people worldwide is now over 65 million. This number is higher than the largest human displacement of the 20th century, which occurred following World War II.
Nonprofits have been doing some interesting technology work through projects like Digital Promise Global, which is doing job training in refugee zones. In the U.S., Project Hive is running targeted Facebook and Instagram ads to transform the way Americans engage with the refugee crisis. I recommend Mashable's list of additional nonprofit tech and aid NGOs doing sustained humanitarian work to alleviate the crisis.
GuideStar launched gold and platinum tiers this year so charities have much more opportunity to make their performance case to donors and funders.
We announced in March the U.S. Federal Communications Commission (FCC) expansion of the Universal Lifeline Program to include affordable $9.25-a-month home broadband for nearly all low-income Americans. It is arguably the single most effective thing that anyone has done to finally close the digital divide in the United States.
TechSoup's annual Storymakers winner videos show the importance of telling your story well. Check out the 2016 winners here.
Among Apple Store's Best Apps for 2016 is Prisma, the free new photo app for iOS and Android. It lets users transform their photos into images that look more like paintings and drawings, with dozens of different styles to choose from. I love my new Jimi Hendrix psychedelic style look.
I always admire the NTEN Award Winners each year, but I have to say that the choice of Leon Wilson of the Cleveland Foundation for the Lifetime Achievement Award is inspired. He is one of the rare people who truly bridges the two sides of philanthropy. He is an unsung hero of nonprofit tech no longer. Good job, NTEN community!
Image 1: Wes Holing
Image 2: Gines Romero / Shutterstock
This work is published under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 4.0 International License.