Technology continues to change at a very rapid pace - things that were “out there” just a few years ago are now reality, and are quickly becoming mainstream. While many of these innovations are happening in the personal/consumer space, it’s good to keep an eye on them because organizations are likely to follow - not to mention that we need to stay on top of how our communities want to interact with us.
This blog post will share some major tech trends that I see for 2013 and the next few years. Some of these may be familiar to you, others may be surprising. Of course, just because a technology exists doesn’t mean it will make the world a better place. The more we’re aware of what’s going on, the more we can make sure that these tools are used for good.
Trend #1: Personal Cloud
If you have a tablet or smartphone, you might have downloaded an app for a cloud tool you already use - Dropbox, Evernote, Gmail, something like that. What it means is that no matter which device you are on, you can access the same information/content.
Windows 8 has taken this to another level - not just one program, but a whole account. When I first got a copy to test out, I installed it on my computer and set up my account with the programs and apps I wanted. However rather than be logging in to my computer, I was actually logging into the cloud with a Windows Live ID. I found this out when I went to visit my mother (without my laptop), and was able to log into my account on her Windows 8 computer. Right away, everything (email, contacts, etc.) was set up for me like on my home computer.
The same idea is gradually starting to come in to the business/organization world. With the trend to bring your own device (BYOD), you can access your organization cloud applications (e.g. Google Apps, Salesforce) on your personal tablet or phone, making it easier to work on the go if needed. This is changing how we work and allowing greater flexibility for staff who spend time with clients away from their computer, or who work remotely.
Trend #2: The Internet of Things
We tend to think of computers and smartphones being on the internet - but what about your thermostat, your shoes, or even your car? At my house we have a Nest thermostat, which learns from my behaviour and lets me change the temperature when I’m away from home (online or on my smartphone). It’s relatively affordable and has dramatically reduced my energy bill.
I also use internet-connected objects to stay healthy. My running app, Wahoo Fitness has a device that goes on my shoe and a band that goes around my arm. Together, they measure my heart rate, running route, stride length and various other metrics. The app also keeps track of all these stats and allows me to compare my progress with friends.
In the nonprofit sector, smart devices and appliances could be used for various applications. For example, they could be used to keep track of elderly people who might be at risk of wandering off and getting lost, or to help program participants be motivated to meet fitness goals, or encourage environmentally-friendly behaviour.
Trend #3: Mobile & Distributed Fundraising
Imagine you’re at your fundraising event and you are so inspired by the stories being shared that you want to donate. Then imagine that instead of having to hope you remember to do this later, you can donate on the spot. This is already possible with mobile payment solutions such as Square (now available in Canada). As a nonprofit, all you have to do is get the credit card reader that will plug into your smartphone, and pay a small transaction fee. It’s going to keep getting easier with products such as Google Wallet, which lets you pay directly with your phone (no cash/cards needed).
Another trend in fundraising is crowdfunding - raising a large amount of small donations for a project. Crowdfunding was originally used for startup businesses, but it’s gradually growing in popularity for nonprofits as well, with various platforms available. Similarly, we’re likely to keep seeing more gamification of fundraising - incorporating game ideas into fundraising, and incorporating fundraising into games.
Trend #4: 3D Printing
3D printing - using a special printer to make an object out of plastic, metal or paper, based on a 3D design - is becoming more mainstream and dropping in price (3D printers now cost about $500 - $2,000). There are all sorts of current and future applications of this technology - rapid prototyping, making replacement parts in remote communities where shipping is expensive, making a chocolate mold with your organization’s logo to make thank you gifts, making jewelry and art, and maybe even one day printing human organs. 3D printing is also associated with DIY maker communities who promote the values of using/fixing what you have and learning to make things yourself.
Trend #5: Innovative User Interfaces
The days of only having a keyboard and mouse as your (main) input options are over. Touch screens are now mainstream with tablets and smartphones, and are being incorporated into laptops such as the Microsoft Surface. Voice interfaces are also improving - for example, Siri, iPhone’s voice interface, is now well established and quite accurate.
Gesture-based interfaces are slowly but surely becoming more widespread as well. The Microsoft Kinect isn’t just for entertainment - it can be used for exercise, as an activity in community centres, and with various client groups. One product that’s still in beta but coming soon, LeapMotion, will allow you to control your computer with gestures (watch the video, it’s amazing!).
In the future, we’ll be seeing advances in mind-controlled devices and wearable technology (such as Google Glasses). All of these new types of interfaces will change how we all work, and also open up some new options in terms of accessibility.
At this point, you may be wondering - what about issues of security and privacy? Unfortunately with questions like these, there are no easy answers and it’s constantly evolving. It will be up to each of us to decide how much of our personal information we want to share, and to take a stand/leave a service when we are not comfortable (fortunately, many of us in the nonprofit sector know a lot about campaigning and influencing companies and government!).
All of the trends here offer exciting possibilities - there are some obvious opportunities for our sector, and we’ll also need to be creative in using these technologies for social causes. What examples have you seen of these new technologies being used for good?
Resources & Discussion
I shared these thoughts in a presentation at Toronto Net Tuesday in January. Here is the recording of my presentation, my slides and a Storify of the tweets from the event: