Archive for March, 2010

Green hosting with Soapbox: carbon neutral and efficient

Green hosting seal - largeHosting means much more to us than providing powerful and reliable servers to run Soapbox sites. It’s an opportunity to make real our triple bottom-line focus on people, planet, and profit by providing green hosting through the quality services of our data center.

We focus on the following concrete steps to make Soapbox sites as green as an envious tree frog in a rainforest:

Carbon Offsetting

Our data center has partnered with Green Mountain Energy, the leading provider of cleaner energy and carbon offsetting solutions, to purchase carbon credits to offset the emissions of our hosting operations. On behalf of our data center, Green Mountain will invest in renewable energy sources like wind and solar power as well as biomass facilities – many of which have been setup as a result of their initiatives. Funding will also provide support for reforestation projects through Green Mountain’s relationship with the Pacific Forest Trust. Emissions levels are reviewed annually and carbon credits adjusted accordingly.

Reduced Energy Consumption

While overall emissions may rise as business grows, the long-term game plan is to actually reduce our data center’s emissions on a per client basis across all operations. This means that the carbon emissions generated by delivering service to a client today are less than they were a year ago and going into the future we hope to reduce them further. Many steps have already been taken on the technology front to achieve this such as investing in more expensive but far more power efficient computer processors, like Intel’s latest Nehalem line of CPUs. Likewise, where in the past the data center would install sixteen 1GB RAM sticks in a server they will now install four 4GB RAM sticks instead, giving the same computing power but reducing power usage by around 30 watts per server. This adds up to a lot of savings across an entire data center. With the rising cost of electricity, reducing our energy consumption makes both business and environmental sense for our data center.

Data Center Cooling Improvements

It is a little known fact in hosting that for every amp of power used to run a server in a data center it takes on average another amp of power to run the climate control systems that cool it. Our data center has been working to reduce the amount of power consumed in cooling operations in several different ways. Firstly, they have installed filler panels in all cabinet slots that are not actually filled by servers. This means all of the cold air is forced through the servers instead of passing through gaps above or below. It takes lot of energy to cool the air in a data center, especially in the summer months, so not passing all of the cool air through the servers is wasteful which is what the filler panels help to prevent. Secondly, the data center’s exclusive server hardware vendor, Supermicro, designs the best rackmount system chassis available in terms of air flow design. By deploying servers with the best possible air flow it actually raises the ambient air temperature of data center floor by around two degrees Fahrenheit without compromising service in any way at all. By raising the floor temperature slightly, the load on the climate control systems is reduced. Lastly, our data center also invests heavily in other technologies to improve airflow and cooling like raised flooring with perforated tiles throughout the facility and efficient hot / cold isle cabinet layouts on the data center floor.

Recycling and Reducing Wastefulness

Where possible all of the packaging our data center receives with new servers, switches and other items in is fully recycled. Vendors like Supermicro are also working to reduce the amount of packaging their servers require as well. Our data center works to reduce wastefulness by keeping printing to a minimum.


Soapbox Site Launch: The Smart Campaign

Picture 1Earlier in March, PICnet launched a new site for ACCION and their new program called “The Smart Campaign.” They needed a simple site that would be eventually be available in Russian, Spanish, French, and Arabic.  The site also needed to host ACCION’s toolkit of resources, available in all languages.  Users will be able to find valuable information that serve as guides and best practices to those looking to participate in micro-finance.

What I like best on this site is the humanistic feel the homepage design presents. Lisa Mattei-McDonald, my client contact at BI, was introduced into this project midway.  After her predecessor left, Lisa did an extraordinary job catching up quickly to all things web related.  I applaud her success at keeping the project cool and calm even during her own discovery of her role and the unforeseen requirements that the project took on.

It was a full blown effort with four vendors involved! Boston Interactive hired PICnet to implement their design.  Strategy and communications firm  M+R was also involved.  And Democracy in Action came in at the very end to help The Smart Campaign’s constituents active on the site.

Read more »


Wufoo forms smarter, more flexible, still don’t take out the trash

Tired of boring old static webforms? Feeling restricted by limited confirmation emails you can send after form submissions? Sick of taking out the trash all the time? Well, the gang at Wufoo has great news for you — they’ve introduced conditional logic and branching to make their webforms smarter and more effective!  Sorry – still waiting on that trash bit, though.

“Whoa, whoa, whoa, hold up. Whofoo? Conditional What?” For those of you out there asking yourselves these questions, let us take a step back. Wufoo is a super easy and affordable webform solution that we’ve found works well to fit many of our clients needs – as well as our own! As they’ve put it on their FAQ page:

Wufoo is an Internet application that helps anybody build amazing online forms. When you design a form with Wufoo, it automatically builds the database, backend and scripts needed to make collecting and understanding your data easy, fast and fun.

We at PICnet are big fans of Wufoo and the great work that they do over there. For more information on why you might want to look into using Wufoo (hint: 50% discount for nonprofits) check the Tips & Tricks in our Help Desk.

Wufoo recently announced some awesome new functionality to make forms even better. With conditional logic and branching, you can now:

  1. Set the form to hide or show fields based on a user’s answer in another field. For example, you could set it to ask the user for their spouse’s name only if they’ve selected “married”.
  2. Skip entire pages if they don’t apply to a user depending on their answers. Say somebody wants to pay by check for a purchase handled through the form, well now they can skip a credit card processing page you’ve setup.
  3. Create customized confirmation emails based on responses. For example, instead of sending everybody the same “Thank You” email, you could send one message to new members, and another to renewals.

Even better, they’ve managed to make constructing the conditional rules as easy as we could have ever imagined in our wildests dreams (trust us — our dreams about webforms have been wild). Want to learn more? Check out their conditional logic blog post for more information and how-to screencasts.

Not yet using Wufoo? Unsure if it’s right for you? Check out Wufoo’s site to get the get the lowdown.


Soapbox Site Launch: Government Accountability Project

The Government Accountability Project (GAP) wanted an update to their outdated website – for being the greatest representative of whistleblowers in our nation’s capital, they wanted to have a site that demonstrated their force when reckoning with the bullies.

Dylan Blaylock, my point of contact at GAP, was a very proactive client. He was so prepared that he delivered the site’s wireframes to me instead of the other way around! While these provided a great starting point on which to consider layout, we worked extensively on the site navigation. I once again was confronted with a communications challenge – I didn’t initially present the solution in a visual way. (This is becoming to be a common thread among my clients. I can’t help it- I’m not visual! I see things logically. Forgive me, people!)

In addition to the common website hurdles, Dylan and I had to reckon with DC Snowmaggedon RIGHT. BEFORE. DEADLINE. And this deadline was extremely important:

“On February 17, 2010, GAP teamed up with Participant Media and the Paley Center for Media for a fantastic and unique event – the first-ever televised, long-format special that details and analyzes what whistleblowers are, the six stages of whistleblowing they typically experience, and their lack of legal protections.”

Read more about this event on GAP’s Blog.

So while all of Dylan’s coworkers were at home trying to organize the event when all DC offices were closed, Dylan trudged into work amidst the horrible weather to make this site complete — all by himself! He really did a great job. Between his iPhone and my ski vacation breaks over President’s Weekend, we worked hard to troubleshoot and resolve all outstanding issues before the big event. Dylan gave us some props himself: “Thanks for everything with the Web site again. You and Ryan did an amazing job.”

Through the new website, advocates and constituents alike can contact congress on initiatives, using an advocacy platform through DemocracyInAction (DIA). Online donations are processed through Network for Good.

About GAP The Government Accountability Project’s mission is to promote corporate and government accountability by protecting whistleblowers, advancing occupational free speech, and empowering citizen activists.

GAP is a nonprofit 501(c)(3) organization with an operating budget of around $2.5 million. Gifts to GAP are tax-deductible. The vast majority of our funds come from over 10,000 individual donors and foundations such as the Carnegie Foundation, CS Fund, Ford Foundation, the Open Society Institute and Rockefeller Family Fund. Additional support comes from legal fees, settlement awards, and services provided. GAP is compliant with standards set by the Better Business Bureau, and we enjoy that organization’s stamp of approval.

Founded in 1977, GAP is the nation’s leading whistleblower protection and advocacy organization. Located in Washington, D.C., GAP is a nonpartisan, public interest group. In addition to focusing on whistleblower support in our stated program areas, we lead campaigns to enact whistleblower protection laws both domestically and internationally. GAP also conducts an accredited legal clinic for law students, and offers an internship program year-round.


Soapbox Site Launch: Prevention Institute

The Prevention Institute wanted to overhaul their website, which was a combination of a few different sites, but all had different site architectures. Working with our design partner and neighbor, FreeRange Graphics, PICnet streamlined the site’s navigation, making it more SEO and user friendly.

Prevention Institute was founded in 1997 to serve as a focal point for primary prevention practice—promoting policies, organizational practices, and collaborative efforts that improve health and quality of life. As a national non-profit organization, the Institute is committed to preventing illness and injury, to fostering health and social equity, and to building momentum for community prevention as an integral component of a quality health system. Prevention Institute synthesizes research and practice; develops prevention tools and frameworks; helps design and guide interdisciplinary partnerships; and conducts training and strategic consultation with government, foundations, and community-based organizations nationwide and internationally.

The entire staff at Prevention was super during the development process. I especially worked well with Annie Lyles, my main point of contact on the project. Annie is much more of a visual person than I am, so in order to communicate effectively, we even set up our own language to refer to the tools on the website. Because the timeline of the project was quite long, I definitely was able to establish a fun relationship with the team at Prevention.

Read more »


Lots and lots of webinars for you!

I wanted to share some great webinars for you to look into – check out the details below from Idealware.


Ready for a spring lineup of live online seminars?  Idealware has a great slate scheduled for this month, including a NEW session on Getting Started with Mobile Outreach. Don’t see what you’re looking for in the schedule?  Make sure to check our library of on-demand recordings, offered for only $20 each.

Our live seminars are capped at 25 participants, so you’ll have lots of opportunity to ask questions and get just the information you need. All you need is an internet connection and a phone line to participate.  Each of these seminars are only $40 per participant for a 90-minute workshop. Getting Started with Mobile Outreach Thursday March 18th, 1:00 – 2:30 EST It’s easier that you might think to broadcast text messages to your supporters’ cell phones, to ask them to respond to a quick question, or even to ask them to donate right through their phone. We’ll talk through the principles, software packages, and best practices that can help. Getting Started with Email Fundraising Thursday March 25th, 1:00 – 2:30 EST How do you design and write an email campaign that will work?  What tools can help you send emails and collect online donations?   We’ll walk through what you’ll need to know to design your own email fundraising campaign. Getting Started with Online Conferencing Thursday April 1st, 1:00 – 2:30 EST What tools can help you conduct meetings or training over the Web? We’ll talk about the features that can help, and compare some of the free and affordable options.

Check out for more information and more seminars, or for a full list of on-demand recordings. Idealware is an awesome nonprofit service organization that provides technical capacity building to other nonprofits and publishes consumer-style reports on software targeted to nonprofits.


Soapbox 2.0.11 Released: Seven tools to better manage your site

We’re happy to unveil the latest release of Soapbox 2 and introduce you to seven handy tools we dropped into the toolbox in the wee hours of the morning.

Manage standard content more efficiently, reduce spam, mix up slideshow transitions, alert folks when they’re leaving your site, monitor the disk space you use, customize page not found errors, and maximize Google Analytics.

Whew! That was a mouthful for just the overview. For the full details, check out our Help Desk and Happy Soapboxing!


Soapbox site launch: Weatherize DC

weatherizeIn February, PICnet collaborated with our design partners and DC neighbors Free Range Studios, to launch a new Soapbox site for Weatherize DC. The campaign is part of The DC Project, a DC non-profit founded by former leaders of the Obama for America campaign. The DC Project advances economic and environmental justice by creating clean energy career opportunities for people who need them most. Staff are trained in grassroots organizing techniques rooted in metrics-based, data-driven field methods that empower neighborhood volunteers to affect systemic change.

Here are a few highlights from the project and the website:

  • Integration with Democracy-in-Action (DIA) donate, events, and e-newsletter subscription
  • Real time Twitter updates
  • Facebook Fanbox widget that allows for dynamic display of current fans and provides option for end user to become a Facebook fan from the Soapbox site
  • Embedding of WeatherizeDC YouTube channel
  • Custom design for new Soapbox Slideshow on home page
  • Use of new Title Manager

And now a word from Free Range Studios designer Kathi Bahr: “It was truly a pleasure collaborating with an organization that’s doing positive (and tangible!) work for the DC community. We were given complete creative freedom in order to build the new WeatherizeDC brand from start to finish, beginning with a logo design and then website design. It’s rewarding to know we were part of a team that established a creative tool that community members will see and interact with directly.”

In summary – great project, great partner, a great success. Excellent job, team!


Another PICnet Soapbox Salon!

These days you can’t roam far in our non-profit world without hearing the buzz about “social networking” or “social media”.  Wherever you go, you can’t help but overhear people talking about Facebook, Twitter, and other social networking tools.

These services provide organizations a great way to connect with supporters and provide new channels for fund raising, but how can you best integrate these tools into your Web site for the maximum impact?  What are the best practices in tying your social networking strategy with your Web site communications strategy?

We’ll answer these question and more at the next Soapbox Salon!

PICnet’s Soapbox Salon Social Networking 101: Successful Strategies Connecting Soapbox with Twitter and Facebook

When: Thursday, March 18, 2010 Time: 12:30pm – 1:30pm ET Where: PICnet’s DC Office – 1605 Connecticut Ave. 3rd Floor, Washington, DC (across the street from the Dupont Circle Metro station’s north exit) What:  You bring your questions, ideas, and lunch, and we’ll bring answers and refreshments.

Please RSVP by Wednesday, March 17 by clicking the link below and registering for the event.

Questions?  Contact Julie Dennis at or by calling (202) 585-0273.

**************************** Registration — ****************************


Thanks to all who attended the Soapbox Salon today to learn about successful strategies for connecting Soapbox with Twitter and Facebook. We’re happy to share the slides for the presentation here:

Our next Soapbox Salon is scheduled for May 13th. We’ll share more information here as the time approaches!


Webinar: Get Started on Facebook

What: Webinar – Get Started on Facebook When: March 11, 1pm EST/10am Pacific Sign up!

Many nonprofits and libraries are using Facebook to interact with their constituencies and reach out to new audiences – but what’s the best way to get your organization started on this hugely popular social networking site?

In this webinar, Kami Griffiths will interview social media consultant John Haydon, who will walk through the essential steps to establishing and managing a successful Facebook presence for a nonprofit or library.

We will also hear from Gabe O’Neill of Kids Are Heroes, who will share lessons learned from developing their own Facebook page.  Get practical how-to information, learn best practices, ask questions, and leave with action items that will help you create an engaging Facebook presence for your organization.

This webinar is for people who are beginning to explore Facebook and have questions on how to get started.

Sign up now.