Tool Tips

This is a list of tools that I've used in some aspect of our online engagement activities and found helpful. It's a personal list - plus, currently work in progress - and therefore obviously not comprehensive. Please share your opinions and experiences.

WikiMap - Trying to fill a gap in the world of online mapping

Map_of_Organizations___WikiAssetMap_1254416980137Ever since Google Maps was introduced and the first mashups evolved I've been fascinated by how these mapping tools can add to our work in civic engagement. But even years later, collaborative or community mapping with Web2.0 tools is somewhat challenging. We recently hosted a Community Asset Mapping effort around education in Biloxi with a website as repository and channel for participation. But since our needs were more complex than what Google MyMaps and Web2.0 web applications offer in terms of the data that we wanted to collect, we had to build our own website on Drupal.


This approach worked fine, but highlighted the gap that exists between free and easy hosted mapping services and labor- or cost-intensive custom mapping platforms (even though Drupal does makes life a lot easier - I'm a big fan in case you haven't noticed).


Some of the free mapping services that allow users to create maps, like, Google MyMaps and others do enable you to invite others to contribute. But each marker only has a title and a description field, that's it. What if you want to build a database with more information, like a url for each marker or contact information? Of course you can ask participants to squeeze that into the description field, but that usually gets messy and will require extra manual labor on your end. Or what about updating inaccurate information on other's markers?


And finally, what happens if some of the items you are collecting don't have a location? None of these mapping services will allow you to enter items that just appear in a list but not on the map.


I'm sure we're not the only ones that experience this gap, any asset mapping project, stakeholder analysis, spatial survey or any other kind of repository that requires specific input (more data fields than a simple description) from many contributors will face the same issue.

Earlier this week I actually discovered an approach to build a customizable collaborative map that only requires minimal web-savvy, is quick to set up and is completely based on free web services: Zoho Creator, an online database tool that allows us to build a flexible input type, Yahoo Pipes to map that input and Weebly, for the base website. All these services are free and in combination create a powerful and highly customizable mapping tool that fills the gap I outlined above pretty well. And best, it really is easy to replicate and won't take more than a half hour to set up. 


I created a demo at that is fully functional and outlines the 10 steps necessary to build your own.


I'm curious to hear your feedback!

Tool Tip:

logoThis one is on a personal note. We are in the process of putting together an exciting Twitter add-on called GuerrillaTweets and are looking for beta testers. 

GuerillaTweets is a powerful mobile marketing solution that extends Twitter by making Tweets accessible via SMS. With GuerillaTweets, you can promote your products, services, or events to more people by making your posts instantly available to anyone with a cell phone. No Twitter subscriptions or smartphones required - just a simple text code and easy-to-remember keyword is all they need to get your latest update, anytime, anywhere.

Tool Tip: Google Moderator

moderator1Google Moderator is a simple tool that helps groups determine which questions should be asked at face-to-face meetings, conferences, Q&A sessions, etc.

Moderator gives participants a way to submit questions and vote for the ones they want answered. And thanks to the scale that App Engine provides, this application can now support tens of thousands of people at once. This gives everyone the chance to be heard in a way that gives priority to the issues that matter most to the broader group.

The White House used Moderator, to determine which questions for President Obama to answer at an online Town Hall meeting in March 2009, with mixed results. While a lot of great topics rose to the top, interest groups like the Legalize Marijuana lobby hi-jacked the conversation. 

Tool Tip: Ning

ning_logoWe have successfully used niche online social networks as a way for participants to stay involved and discuss next steps after face-to-face workshops and events. By providing a shared online space, all participants can connect, keep the conversation going, and share resources and information. is a hosted service that allows organizers to create their own social network online. It lets creators of networks determine the site’s appearance, features, and whether the site is public or private. In general the functionality is similar to that of more well-known online networks, such as Facebook and MySpace. Net­works on Ning can include features such as photos or videos, lists of network members and events, groups within the network, and communi­cation tools such as forums or blogs. Users can join, create their own profiles and participate in the network.


Barely any technical skills are required to set up a social network. Ning offers no-cost hosted networks, which are supported by advertisements, or a premium service without ads which also lets users choose network URLs that are separate from the Ning domain. ­

Tool Tip: MixedInk

MixedInk is a document editing site that allows large groups to democratically create a shared collaborative document. The service fuses concepts from social news sites like Digg and popular wiki sites to create a unique document creation tool that is ideal for groups far larger than feasible on other collaborative writing platforms. This could well be the next generation of collaboration tools for government, think shared statements or summaries of deliberative efforts or even policy-making.


Tool Tip: - Streaming video from your phone

qikWith new video streaming web services, broadcasting a live event or workshop is finally possible without a huge price tag attached to it (that is if you don't need high-end video quality). ­is a remarkable software application that allows users to seamlessly stream videos straight from the phone to the web. Users to utilize their cell phones like a camcorder to capture interesting events for hours without worrying about the storage capacity of the cell phone. Streaming works best with a wi-fi connection but even when connected via 3G the delay is minimal, even though video will be streamed at a lower quality. The software requires installation on the phone and having an unlimited data plan is important, as a substantial amount of bandwidth is consumed while streaming video. Qik currently supports a wide range of cell phones like Nokia 3250, Nokia 5500, Nokia N-series, Nokia E-series, iPhone and some selected windows mobile phones. And it is constantly adding support for new mobile devices.
Give it a try at >> ­

Tool Tip: - Summarize outcomes in word clouds

This is the first post in my new Tool Tips series, hopefully a weekly best-of with tools that I found helpful to support eParticipation efforts. 

Today I want to introduce a small but interesting web app that allows you to quickly visualize results of workshops or online dialogues - While summarizing dialogues will always be a human task, Wordle parses text or web pages and quickly outputs a nice graph of the most frequently used words, thereby highlighting emerging themes.Very useful for on-the-fly report-outs and easy to embed on your web site ( I also found it works quite well with our message boards ).

A similar alternative is, less visually compelling, but doesn't require Java.

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