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Online Conferencing.

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During my time in the IPP committee we started doing regular chat meetings - we called them VTMs: Virtual Taskforce Meetings. Too my knowledge, they're still doing it today, and other teams in CISV have followed. However, chats are quite slow, hard to follow, and most people start doing things on the side as not to wast time.

Of course there's a ton of software out there, that can make virtual meetings much better, many of which are quite expensive. They include videoconferencing, sharing of files, presentations and even virtual whiteboards. Personally, I have no experience with any of these but WebEx seems to be a good solution at reasonable cost. Click on the 3min tour to get an idea, what it can look like. Cost seems like nothing, if compared to real-world meetings, though.

A more low-tech solution for video-conferencing - without the magic but free - is offered by tge German startup Sifonr.

CISV Germany has conducted an online meeting recently, where one of the board members gave a virtual presentation and others chipped in - I see some potential there.


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It's been a while since the last CISV Hack, but this one looks cool: Today I stumbled over, which looks like the perfect tool to take minutes of a CISV meeting. It works online and offline, has a one-button option to send it out to everybody, is incredibly elegant and intuitive. Lemme know, if anybody's tried it out.

On Wikis an their looks.

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As Wikis become more popular, they deserve to look better.

A stylesheet ist a technical part of most websites that defines which fonts and colors are used, and how the site is overall designed. The good thing about a stylesheet is, that you can change the "look and feel" of a website, without having to fiddle around all the individual pages of your website: You just change the CSS-file (as it's called) and everything looks different.

In MediaWiki, the system behind Wikipedia and  JBpedia, changing the stylesheet is referred to as changing the "skin". A number of skins are provided, once you have it installed on your server, but most people keep the classic "Wikipedia" style.

Wikis are becoming more and more common to organize work among CISV working groups: Wikis are great to aggregate ideas, links and organize work. They're easy to use, accessible and can be password protected. Setting one up takes less than 15 minutes for somebody with a bit of tech experience. So in Germany now, the national board has one, the AIM planning group has one and we recently started a fundraising wiki - all using the Mediawiki software.

Unfortunately they all still look like Wikipedia. Check out, how Facebook adapted their developers wiki to their own look and feel.
Now, isn't there a smart CISVer out there who would like to create a CISV-Skin for us? To make JBPedia and all the existing and future Wikis look a little bit more like CISV?

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Inbox zero.

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How to deal with massive amounts of e-Mail (CISV-Hacks)

How to you deal with e-mails? I've hinted at this concept before, but now I want to elaborate on this issue: The more people are involved in CISV, the more you are spammed (in the original sense!) with CISV e-mails. When I was still NJR and in the IPP taskforce I was already one step away from e-mail bankruptcy: I was on at least 8 different e-mail lists, not to forget e-mails I received from work, friends, university etc. I easily received about 25 e-mails a day, in 2002. At that time I already found an article on the web that said something like, you should always remove all e-mails from your Inbox and put them where they belong: Archived, in the calendar, on the to-do-list, etc., which I tried to apply. Meanwhile, with the invention of Gmail  handling big amounts of e-mails has become a lot easier, but still remains a challenge.

Today I found this presentation by Merlin Man, who spends a whole (worthwhile!!!) half an hour on explaining how to achieve emptying your e-mail inbox.

A lot of people right now are, for practical purposes, living in their Inbox. They leave their e-mail open all day long, it's auto-checking through out the day. Little bleebs come up, about every minute. An E-mail becomes the access for everything they do with work
They use it as a to-do-list manager, they use it as their calendar [...] scroll through their inbox, to decide what meetings they have to go today.

I'm pretty sure, the following 30 minutes (the rest is discussion, also a goodie!) are easily saved in your future time dealing with e-mail:

I especially like his analogy to a person working in a deli, that keeps checking orders, instead of processing them. I also know a lot of people that are addicted to sorting their e-mail into  folders using crazy taxonomy the way Merlin describes.

So, for the last two weeks, I've been trying to get all e-Mails down to zero by using the delete/archive-defer-delegate-do-respond-system. My aim is to organize my life more through my calendar and to-do-list. I've also disabled a program that pops up a window, anytime a new e-mail arrives. So far it feels liberating: What do I want to do next instead of which of all these e-mails needs my attention right now?


Merlin Man, by the way, is also working on a book, and everything about Inbox Zero can be found on this website.

The funny thing is that while I was trying to divert my attention away from my e-mail inbox, Google introduced Buzz and also integrated the Calendar into the e-mail page - it's if they are trying to suck me back into my inbox!

Sidenote: Other challenges in the age of electronic management are "desktop zero" and "RSS feed zero".

Twitter Widgets.

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How to easily create a multiple users news area for your CISV website.

Some, maybe even all CISV websites are pretty static. Really, content changes most of the time only when a new design is applied to the site. A number of NAs have adopted the OpenCMS system - which is a "content management system" enabling CISVers without in-depth knowledge of HTML to make changes to the website. But even those websites really only rarely make an up-to-date appearance. Now here's a suggestion to make your website even more interesting using Twitter:

Twitter provides users with a detailed intstruction to create a Twitter widget. What's that, you say? Scroll down this page and you will find a new Twitter Widget in the right column - I chose to display all Tweets that  contain the word "cisv". I'm not 100% happy with the layout - for some reason it's very long but narrow, even if I specified otherwise. But it does display the tweets fine.

I could imagine using a Twitter widget to rapidly make news updates to your CISV website. The good thing, is that 1. setting up a Twitter account and posting is really easy, 2. you can collaborate in adding news posts and 3. you can use all of Twitter's functionality like posting by e-mail or phone.


Google Wave.

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How can CISV use this new (overhyped?) communication tool?

In a much-covered move, Google presented Wave last autumn as a brand-new communication tool. As a mix of e-mail, Wiki, Facebook and Chat it may have the chance of becoming the next big internet tool. In my experience CISV has often been fast in embracing new communication tools - no wonder: The organization is world-wide and money is scarce, but almost everybody is well-connected.

If you're not sure, what I'm talking about, please check out this longish video, it is actually quite fun watching.

As a first step, I would like to invite everybody to get an account. It's not open yet, but I have a ton of invites left, so please send me an e-mail (, if you haven't been invited yet. If others have invites left, please leave a comment below.

Then I would like to invite everybody to discuss, how CISV could use Google Wave. Please post suggestions in the comments section. If people already have experiences (I know people at the Writeshop a week ago in Newcastle tried it), I would be curious to learn about how it worked for you.

Paralell Universes.

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CISV on the net - in- and outside of Facebook.

Today I uploaded a new picture to the CISV shirts page, and since I haven't received too many new pictures recently, I thought I'll do a little more promotion for the shirts collection website, which by the way still attracts about 10 visitors a day: I added a link (with the latest picture, check the sidebar) here on the FTB page and created a Facebook page.

It's not only me: It seems as if we are increasingly promoting CISV stuff on two levels in the net: On the "real" internet, and inside Facebook. Mosquito tactics is doing it, the CISV Arrows project is there and of course this website is present on both levels.

 Obviously the two "universes" have their individual advantages:

"Real Internet":
- Searchable through Google
- Accesible to everybody
- Can have any possible design, layout and technology

- Appears automatically on people's updates
- Very easy to set up.
- Is promoted directly to the people interested

It seems silly to go both ways, because it's more work. Also, discussion threads aren't united at one place. Nevertheless, I guess we'll have to wait until new technology (maybe Google Wave?) arrives, before we can spare one universe.

Further Reading: Internet Usability Guru Jakob Nielsen compares RSS and Social Networks.

(I'm filing this under CISV Hacks because between the lines I am in fact promoting the use of Facebook to promote your CISV project. At least for FTB it is working quite nicely.)

CISV Hacks: Weebly.

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Creating and administering websites has always been the domain of the so-called "webmaster". CISV-websites around the world have been entrusted technical geeks, who often created masterpieces with state-of the art web-goodness. So much for the "creating". Unfortunately the "administering" aspect of the website went down the drain. The webmaster was usually the only one with a password and the technological know-how to make any changes, and like with GB's ole website, "Latest News" usually refers to something that's a few years old.

Enter the invention of CMS (Content Management Systems), sometimes also referred to as "back-end" as opposed to the "front-end", which the website visitors sees. The idea is, that not the webmaster, but theoretically anybody with basic computer knowledge can update a website, add pictures, even create new pictures. OpenCMS was installed a few years ago on the CISV server, and many CISV websites including the international ones use it. It sounds great, but unfortunately OpenCMS itself is a bit overwhelming with a million features and actually needs some training before feeling comfortable with it.

The next evolutionary step, I believe, iare services like Weebly. Weebly lets you create a complete website without any technological knowledge, you can even set up a blog. A lot of NJRs have set up websites at - which is similarly easy to work with - but limits you to a weblog. With Weebly you get all the web's goodness, like including Flickr pictures, download pages, etc...

I have to admit, I've never used Weebly for anything too long, but I set up a website once, and it took less than half an hour. 

CISV Hacks: Google Reader.

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I spent a year in San Francisco, USA in 2001/2002 as part of a research scholarship programme. Durig that time, weblogs just started being big, and living near the Silicon Valley, I surely got a glance of cutting edge web-nerdism. Everyday when I came to work I opened my browser and had a list of about 20 blogs (mostly from people living in SF, that recommended restaurants, day trips, or just wrote about their daily lives) that I opened and checked one by one for updates. This process took ages, and often, nothing new was to be found.

Today RSS-feeds alow anybody to subscribe to any dynamic website he wants to: You simply add a URL to a feed-reading software - now all you have to do is check the software for new updates. There are a bunch of Feedreaders you can download to your computer, but I personally am a big fan of browser-based Google Reader.

Google Reader takes one minute to set up, and there you go, with your personal newspaper. You can even sort CISV-related news items into a specific folder. You can also recommend posts to friends, who in turn will have these posts show up in their reader. Or e-mail good items to others (Gmail, if you use it, integrates beautifully).

Best of all, you will never miss a new post on FTB again...!

Here's a list of CISV-related RSS feeds to get you started:

CISV Hacks: Wufoo.

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Usually after the German "Herbsttagung", our national board meeting in fall, we hand out paper evaluations to figure out, what could be done better at this meeting. Last year, for the first time, we decided to use an online version instead: Wufoo offers fantastically easy forms, that anybody, really anybody, can create. You chose the questions, the available answers, and the web service does all the calculations, graphing and creates an overview report. A link to the questionnaire page was sent out right after the meeting to all the participants, and a huge majority actually participated.

There are some draw-backs, of course: Some people aren't as comfortable or concentrated when filling in online forms, but anyway: We used it again at the "Frühjahrstagung" and I really recommend it as an alternative to paper evaluations.

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