Convio launches an Open Initiative

Last week, Kintera launched the previously announced Kintera Connect, publishing their API documentation and listing the first partner organizations. Today, the news is around the Convio Open Initiative. On the surface, it’s granny smith vs. red delicious…apples to apples. One might think that Convio is playing catch-up here, because Kintera was “first.” I don’t see it that way at all.

This isn’t about two companies making similar moves into the now-hot “Open API” dialog at the same time. It’s about two companies hitting a similar target audience with very different mindsets and visions.

Kintera Connect

To be fair, I can only go by the publicly available information about Kintera Connect since I haven’t spoken to anyone at the company for the view from the inside like I have at Convio. If anything I’m saying is incorrect, please feel free to jump in and set me straight.

As I understand it, Kintera has opened their API to developers who make tools for nonprofits. The API documentation is freely available, but developers have to jump through some pre-set hoops to be listed in the partner directory. Once a product clears Kintera’s application process, the developers can build inroads to (and outroads from) Kintera Sphere (the Kintera constituent database). Nonprofits who are customers of both Kintera and the partner product can have integration between those tools in ways that weren’t possible before.

Of course, the organization can go out on their own and build tools that work with the now-open Kintera API. Only organizations with big budgets and/or serious techies on staff will probably be able to go that route. The rest will have to rely on their relationships with vendors in the directory for implementation.

That’s the beginning, middle and end of the Kintera Connect story.

Convio Open Initiative

Convio’s approach to the open API movement is very different. It’s more of a strategy and a vision than a marketing line. It includes, of course, the API, but also client-ready extensions (first is a Facebook application), database connectors and what they hope proves to be an active client/partner community.

I spoke to senior Convio folks last week who laid out a high-level overview of where this is heading for them. The “open API” buzzword is their way of making integration happen in a low-cost way and build community, it’s not the punch line. It appears that Convio is more closely modeling their initiative after the wild success of software-as-a-service giant Salesforce.com. Closed platform. Completely open community within that platform that allows data to freely move in and out. Let your nonprofit customers leverage both open and closed networks to create a unified online application for their organization that costs less overall than managing multiple systems, and works off a central database.

This isn’t about bringing two closed islands together (as in Kintera and the partner system). It isn’t about tapping into the latest “Web 2.0” buzz. It reaches further than that. Nonprofits don’t care about buzz words, unless we can serve our mission with them. It’s about the mission. It’s about finding people who care about our mission and engaging them…financially and emotionally. I don’t care about APIs, interfaces, or databases. I don’t care about the profit margin of the companies that bring me the tools I use. I care about our mission and how the tools help us get there. Today it’s Facebook, YouTube and blogs. Who knows what the next new shiny will be? Does it really matter? It’s about opening the possibilities and let the nonprofits take it from there. Convio seems to get that in a way that Kintera does not.

What’s the difference?

The difference to me is that Kintera is thinking

Kintera<->Partner/Developer<->Nonprofits<->Constituents and calling it a day. If the nonprofit has or establishes a relationship with the partner/developer, Kintera will allow the partner product to communicate with Kintera Sphere. Public free open APIs like those from Google, Facebook or Plaxo? You’re on your own…or you can wait for a company to want to get in on the Kintera Connect network.

Convio is thinking

Convio<->Nonprofits<->Constituents and is playing host to a variety of integration technologies, not gatekeeper.

Nonprofits use many different tools to help us communicate with constituents, stay accountable, and analyze our programs. Not all of it is online. Excel files, Access files, emails, phone message logs, web analytics, etc. The tools are just that…tools. They aren’t the goal in themselves. Convio is building a community of people around these tools. The tools themselves are not the community.

The piece de resistance

And…this is music to my ears…Convio is building database connectors to sync their eCRM constituent data with other donor databases. Including a connector to Salesforce! I have to hope my near constant nagging to anyone who would listen at GetActive/Convio had something to do with this. Yes, the magic words I’ve been dying to say for the past year: Convio and Salesforce connected at last. What will I do with the extra 5-6 hours a week I’m not importing/exporting between the two? Sleep?

The big picture

Think of all the tools out there with open APIs that we’re already using as nonprofits to broaden our reach…Plaxo, Facebook, Flickr, Google Maps, blogging, forums…and then start imagining the possibilities that can be built to combine and share data with those tools so we’re communicating and building relationships more effectively. Salesforce is already doing this for the forprofit world. Convio is taking a bold move to do this for nonprofits. I can use Salesforce as the hub of my organization, and Convio as the hub of all my organization’s online interactions, and the two databases talk directly to each other. Amen!

The downside? Like Salesforce for businesses, you have to buy a ticket to ride. Implementing Convio (or Kintera) so you can build your eCRM solution and have all this open API goodness is not cheap. It’s likely out of reach for the really small organization. Regardless, I think we’re a much better organization for the investment and have saved in the long run.

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4 thoughts on “Convio launches an Open Initiative

  1. Having worked with Kintera for almost three years, I was pleasantly surprised to hear about their ‘Connect’ initiative recently, but disappointed when few specific details were available. Kintera is now planning a conference call for Nov. 14 to hopefully provide more information.

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