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Summary:A Solid Choice For Qualifying Eco-Social Conscious Groups
Type:Hosted - Specialty
Cost:Free to Qualifying Groups
Cost Info:Free (and ad free) for groups working toward ecological sustainability, economic justice, human rights protection, political accountability and peace.
Pros:Active Leadership Team, Quick and Responsive Support Team, Easy Connection and Sharing of Resources Between Groups, Transparency
Cons:Restricted to Qualifying Groups, Some Areas Need Improvement
Launched on Earth Day in 2007, WiserEarth is committed to providing interconnected groupware for organizations working toward "ecological sustainability, economic justice, human rights protection, political accountability and peace". To that end, your group must meet certain qualifications in order to utilize their free social networking site which currently also happens to be free from advertising. As a 501(c)(3) non-profit they are funded by donations and recently reported raising enough funding to sustain operations for the next five years. Wiser Earth's purpose and strength lies in allowing groups with similar goals and philosophies to connect and share resources and members. That purpose is reflected in numerous tools providing the opportunity for "crosstalk" between groups. This should allow such groups to more readily join forces and focus efforts toward accomplishing their aims.
Despite the focus on global interconnectedness, WiserEarth does allow for different group visibility options from completely open to "invitation only". Additionally, you have the ability to use your own domain name or embed your group into your main web site through i-frame. They also offer some innovative, creative and flexible tools not generally found on other sites. Their "Bulletin Board" is essentially a block for presenting notifications/announcements and multiple instances can be created for various uses. In place of a photo/video gallery, blog and place to store links, they have a creative tool called "Resources". With this tool, you can address all of the above features in one place by linking to or embedding from an external source. This is one of the real strong points of the site in that these resources can then be shared among all the relevant groups. You can even check to be sure someone else hasn't posted it before doing so yourself. Also unique to the site is the "Solutions" resource where users can post potential solutions to challenges of concern, spurring investigation and research by the community at large. There are plentiful tools for finding like minded groups as well as an interactive global map for locating those close in geographic proximity. Other features like the Network Visualizer, which provides a visual diagram of how your group and content is interconnected, seem more like eye candy, but are definitely strong on the cool factor.
WiserEarth's group interconnectedness is for the most part a strength especially if you are trying to spread the word about your cause and involve more people. At times it requires an extra investment of time, however. For example, when you enter events you are required to complete fields like "Country" and "Areas of Focus". If your group is simply having a small local meeting, these are superfluous. It might be nice if these fields were optional. Still, the potential benefits seem to far outweigh the minor annoyances. WiserEarth's platform development is still a work in progress. In fact, they are on a weekly development cycle. This is generally a sign that they still have some distance to travel on their path to addressing all of the functionality they want to provide and bugs they wish to fix. In the case of WiserEarth, this is also a positive sign that they are following through and making solid strides on a regular basis.
If it's in line with your group's philosophy and goals, WiserEarth is well worth investigating as a home for your group or organization. While they are still working out some kinks, the platform appears quite stable and the staff are not only responsive, but very interested in hearing feedback from their users. Where many other platforms are run by companies seeking to make money for their shareholders, WiserEarth is focused on creating a platform that helps them and their users accomplish their goals. This is a refreshing and worthy of attention.
Significant Feature Notes
Resources - Tutorial/Walkthrough for setting up a group. Plentiful community group resources for group administrators. Strong tools for networking - finding other groups and events by interest area or even map location. Help Desk that aims to reply within 24 hours. Very active leadership team. Multiple-language support though some resources vary in language used.
Pricing - Free to all who fit within the mission statement. If storage (currently 1GB) is an issue you can contact for upgrade pricing.
General Use – User friendly with room for some improvement in some areas. Integrated social/bookmark sharing through ShareThis, RSS Feeds, etc. WYSIWYG editor with standard capabilities available when creating content. Easy document, file, photo, and resource sharing. Configurable email notifications.
Admin - Invite up to 10 people at a time. Member management including removal and blocking of members. Can assign Roles, but doesn't appear to be attached to permissions. Only two "member types" (Administrator and Member) available to general users. Involved members with time to commit can become site "Editors". Ability to add/remove modules at any time. Revision/edit history for every piece of content within your group.
Layout - 3 preset templates depending on your group's focus plus a custom build option that allows for two types of 2-column layouts. Drag, drop and rename modules to customize the layout.
Forums - Nice editor for posts. No quoting or threading can make following conversations difficult. Edits only allowed for 30 minutes from original posting of topic or reply.
Events - Allows you to enter a good bit of information about the event. No fields for start and end time (only date). Can attach files and photos to event. Can rate events. No Signup or RSVP. No recurring events.
Groups - Accomplished through creation of 'related groups'. This has the drawback of the subgroup not being directly integrated in the main group, but the benefit of the subgroup having a full set of features.
Blog – Available through the creation of a "Resource"
Chat - No real time chat, but does have "Chatterbox" for quick posting of messages to the group page.
Photos - No gallery but can be uploaded in the File section and attached to all forms of content
Videos - Can be uploaded in the files section (50MB limit) or embedded/linked as a Resource
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