Yesterday Akvo Foundation and Skoll Global Threats Fund co-convened a meeting in San Francisco on the subject of online services for the development sector. We had a great turnout and some very interesting discussions. The organisations represented at the meeting were:

1%CLUB, Akvo Foundation, Blue Planet Network, Cisco Foundation, Conrad N. Hilton Foundation, Craigslist Foundation, Google, Inc., IRC International Water and Sanitation Centre, Pacific Institute, Participant Media, Skoll Global Threats Fund, Skoll Foundation, Water for People and Water.org.

Thomas at Skoll GTF

Thomas Bjelkeman-Pettersson, Akvo’s Technical Director presenting the concept of a shared online services platform for the development sector in San Francisco.

The funders were interested in seeing if we could create synergy and collaboration around the creation of these tools. They were also interested in the use of the tools themselves, such as FLOW, a field project monitoring application for mobile phones, created by Water For People, which has received quite a lot of attention in the last couple of months.

The organizations that were present discussed what a shared online services platform could look like, which tools were available today and what would be needed to make them easily available to everyone.

1%CLUB , Akvo and Text to Change have been discussing this concept of a shared web application store for a while, as part of an overall transparency and collaboration effort which is part of our work at Open For Change, the Dutch Network for Transparency, Collaboration and Impact in Development.

Yesterday Thomas presented the current state of our joint thinking. In short the idea is to create a web application store for our existing applications. The web app store would be a thin service layer which would enable data exchange between the applications, allow the existing applications to communicate with each other, and provide other shared facilities such as authentication and billing services. The web app store would enable others to create their own web applications that would use this services layer. On top of that we would collaborate around the development processes, testing infrastructure, sharing skills and helping each other.

There are several reasons why we would like to do this:

  • Critical mass: by having a number of core web applications available under the same umbrella we can more easily reach out to the users of the applications and get them to use them.
  • Efficiency: by collaborating around the infrastructure components we have more resources to spend on the core of the web applications. The stuff that matters.
  • Costs. It is expensive to build software, but it is even more expensive to maintain, update, support and improve what you have built. We need a sustainable software and online services strategy that will enable us to make the best use of the potential a global network society offers at low costs.
  • Innovation. The creation of this service layer will lead to the creation of new amazing applications we cannot even imagine at this point. We believe this to be the most exiting aspect of this project.

anna-taxi

Anna Chojnacka, 1%CLUB, in a cab on the way to Skoll Global Threats Fund.

What next?

The creation of the web application store made a lot of sense to all that were present. During next week we are continuing the discussions to see exactly how this is going to happen.

Finally we would like to thank everybody at the Skoll Global Threats Fund who helped us organize this meeting at very short notice.

This post was co-authored by
Anna and Bart – 1%CLUB
Thomas and Peter – Akvo Foundation

Updated 17 Feb: Organisation links added by @charmermark