The GoodSpeaks Project: Finding a Home for Nonprofit Videos

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Image by AJ Cann.

How do you get nonprofit videos in front of the right audience?

Kristin Milhollin might be onto something. She is the founder and executive director of the nonprofit SpaceforGood, soon-to-be rebranded into The GoodSpeaks Project, a community-based nonprofit video news forum and distribution network.

Kristen recently unveiled a rough design of her work-in-progress website, built on Drupal 7, inviting feedback from an audience of technologists, nonprofit communicators, activists and other technology and social change advocates at a NetSquared DC meetup in Washington, D.C.

The “Extreme Makeover” format of the meetup aims “to help an organization solve a pressing web site or online strategy problem.” For Kristen, the challenge is creating a platform for “good” news, so often missing from the mainstream news cycle.

“You might have a distorted view that many bad things are happening,” she said. “But there are nonprofits that are providing solutions to the crises we’re reading about.”

To give these nonprofit videos - and solutions - a home in front of an engaged audience, Kristen envisions GoodSpeaks: a video aggregator (pulling from sites like YouTube and Vimeo) that uses semantic information that would allow for contextually linked and clickable videos that direct viewers to take action or donate to a cause or issue they care about.

THE BIG IDEA

The primary audience of the service would be web publishers, such as Daylife (a partner of media giants like Forbes, USA Today and NPR), who want to provide viewers with the option to watch “good news” videos related to “bad news” stories about crises, disasters, and environmental and societal problems.

In geek speak, this means using the RDFa (Resource Description Framework) to embed rich metadata within multimedia content, so that machines would recognize information from videos not just limited to keyword searches. As one audience member said, it would be like creating a Pandora or Netflix of nonprofit videos. So, you’re into women’s reproductive rights? Great, check out these other videos that might interest you…

For example, consider the breaking news of an earthquake in Haiti. Publishers would be able to provide all the news that they usually provide, plus a separate space to display related videos on a topic like disaster relief, giving viewers the option to watch augmented video content to learn how to get involved in helping the crisis.

This would change the relationship of viewers to videos. “You are no longer passive,” Kristen said. “You are potential activitists or agents for positive change.”

Of course, the nonprofit-produced content would be a “strange cross-section between self-promotion and news,” as one audience member noted. But at the same time, since nonprofits are often the first-responders to major events, especially crisis situations, Kristen says, then that “strange” combination is not necessarily a bad thing, especially if the nonprofit producers are trained in how to tell good, compelling, fact-based stories.

It’s a way to “catch people while they’re already paying attention and give them an opportunity to choose nonprofits to support,” Kristen says.

WHAT DOESN’T WORK

Kristen often has to answer the question, “Why not just use YouTube?” She says there are several limitations with the current YouTube model of video aggregation and distribution. It may be a great resource for hosting videos but not necessarily for providing an organized and easy-to-search community platform designed specifically for nonprofits.

First, although the company offers a dedicated “Nonprofit” channel, content providers must apply to get in, and this can be hard for some nonprofits, especially small organizations.

Second, YouTube videos aren’t easy to navigate. Most content is organized by “most popular.” But this makes it hard to find videos related to a specific cause, topic or event, thereby limiting the visibility of nonprofits that have compelling stories to share. Also, YouTube offers limited search functionality. Content is dependent on “free-tagging,” mostly from individuals. The entire taxonomy of the YouTube platform isn’t necessarily interesting or relevant to most nonprofit organizations. “Nobody who is not already looking for you is going to find you there,” Kristen said. Point taken. The top videos of the day on Friday included the words “SEX” and “Justin Bieber.” Keep in mind, this was the same day that other more important things awere going on, like, um, President Mubarak’s resignation.

Finally, the YouTube audience is too big. Same goes for sites like Vimeo and even Jumo, the nonprofit and cause-oriented social network. There are other video channels that are specifically for nonprofit videos like DoGooder.tv, Ourmedia and Channel G, plus some specifically human rights-oriented sites like Witness Video Hub and Global Voices Online’s new pilot project. Apart from DoGooder, the sites are not very well-designed. And they all attempt (but fail) to do what video giants like YouTube and Vimeo are already good at - being video repositories. At the same time, GoodSpeaks could benefit from a partnership with an organization like DoGooder, which has phenomenal expertise in good storytelling, thanks to the leadership of CEO Michael Hoffman.

There’s a lot of potential for GoodSpeaks but also still a lot of unanswered questions:

  • What resources (or people) do you need to build the site’s category taxonomy?
  • What’s the revenue-generating scheme?
  • How would you work with international publishers?
  • Would content be translated into different languages? How?
  • How do you engage end-users who don’t have access to Web or video technology?
  • Could you organize and search by content type (i.e. two-minute shorts), not just subject area (i.e. education)?
  • Could you browse by multiple search terms?
  • Could you download video file footage? Who would pay for hosting?
  • How would you monitor the impact of the videos?
  • What’s the process for curating content?

By the end of the night, Kristen got more feedback about her value proposition then about her website design, but both are hopefully mutually reinforcing. If you want to get in touch with her directly, contact her at khmilhollin@spaceforgood.org.