In the last five years we’ve seen the worlds of mobile, social, and cloud technologies mature. We’ve come to expect that we’ll be able to share, collaborate, and sync our lives and work from anywhere, anytime, as a matter of course.
Even as enthusiasts trumpet their favor for one software platform or another, to some extent, traditional tech rivalries are becoming irrelevant. iPhone vs. Android, Facebook vs. Twitter, Dropbox vs. Google Drive? For the most part, it’s a matter of preference.
Now that cloud, mobile, and social are commonplace, the stage is set for some really wild stuff. At least, that’s the premise Robert Scoble and Shel Israel are exploring in their upcoming book, The Age of Context: How it Will Change Your Life and Work. In his blog post announcing the book, Scoble shares some of how the technology trends he feels contributing to a new Age of Context.
A new world is coming. It’s scary. Freaky. Over the freaky line, if you will. But it is coming…
First, the trends. We’re seeing something new happen because of:
1. Proliferation of always-connected sensors.
2. New kinds of cloud-based databases.
3. New kinds of contextual SDKs.
4. A maturing in social data that nearly everyone is participating in.
5. Wearable computers and sensors like the Nike FuelBand, FitBit, and soon the Google Glasses.
Personally, I feel like we are already living in an always-connected world and I’m already ambivalent about how much of our personal data is available. I have to admit though, it seems unlikely that the trends Robert identifies will reverse, so as we prepare to step over the freaky line together I’m curious what the Age of Context means for nonprofits.
Nonprofits in the Age of Context
Here are some of ways I can see this playing out for nonprofit communicators. Facial recognition and augmented reality will allow you to see people’s names at your events. No more nametags and no more whispering donor names into your Executive Director’s ear as she mingles at your big event. Google Glass, which is launching shortly, can already show you contextual information, and Facebook can already recognize most people’s faces.
Cars will tell development staff and major gift fundraisers when they are near a major donor's home. Nonprofit CRMs will integrate with GPS connected apps for directions.
“Avi, you’re only a block from Warren Buffet’s house, would you like me to call to see if he wants to meet you for coffee?” “No time now, Siri. Remind me to follow up with him tomorrow about our new campaign.”
Similarly, your development staff will get suggestions from their calendars when they schedule meetings near a community member’s home. If the timing is right, your calendar might also suggest an upscale restaurant for your lunch appointment with the board president.
The company credit card will warn you when your team is nearing its budget limit for event costs.
When the weather forecast reports that rain is likely, the events tool in our nonprofit CRM will prompt you to share a rain location for the next day’s picnic with all the attendees.
The music playlist at your annual dance party will be informed by attendees’ music tastes. “I love this song!” This is doable now with a few apps, but it’s not easy and expected.
The campaign tool in your nonprofit CRM will suggest updates to post to social media when your fundraising total reaches notable milestones like $10,000 raised, or 200 participating donors. With some ingenuity, you could figure out how to auto-post that kind of thing now, but being prompted at the moment it actually happens will allow you to share the excitement in a much more personal way.
You’ll be notified when there’s a noticeable shift in sentiment for our organization’s brand online. This could be a lifesaver if it helps head off a PR crisies before they start.
Project management software will notify you when your evening keynote speaker is going to be late because of a flight delay, so you can rearrange the agenda and update staff about the late airport pickup time. No more circling the arrivals terminal when they are late and no more impatient VIPs left waiting when they arrive early!
Field volunteer captains and canvassers will be able to see the locations for late volunteers so they can reassign important roles and fill the gaps on the fly.
When your hosting a lunch and learn event, the lunch order will be updated and confirmed with the caterer based on the number of RSVPs.
You’ll be more aware of when community leaders are visiting your museum or theater, so you can run down from the office to make sure they get the grand tour. Social CRM will alert us when people check-in on Foursquare or Facebook, or when they post a location identified photo or Tweet to Twitter on the premises.
There’s a lot for causes and nonprofit staff to look forward to in the Age of Context. Predictably, there are also many potential pitfalls and the biggest ones I can see are all about privacy. People are already nervous about how personal information is used. How are donors and community members going to feel when even more is possible?
It seems like Facebook is always getting bad press for the way some new feature tramples our privacy. Congress has repeatedly called Google and other major technology companies to hearings about privacy. There have been recent privacy kerfuffles over the way Apple surreptitiously tracks our location and the way popular smartphone applications abuse our address books and upload our email contacts without permission.
With even more information available, the freaky factor will be fully in full effect. As always, nonprofits will need to respect people’s privacy and protect their personal information. In this Age of Context, organizations will also have to be even more careful responsibility to respect people’s anxiety and privacy boundaries.
How about you?
Do these ideas seem realistic? Are you looking forward to the age of context?
Photo credit to Flickr User Hicham Souilmi