DonorsChoose announced the winners for their Hacking Education contest today and unfortunately Print & Share, the app I developed with my coworker Billy, didn’t win. The consolation prize is all of the positive feedback I’ve received from teachers who are using Print & Share:

Now this is probably just sour-grapes writing, but I am disappointed by the nature of the applications that won: most of them are based around automated referrals:

  • a Wordpress plugin, and TwitterAPI app that use geographic location to suggest DonorsChoose projects,

  • an email signature generator that suggests projects based on the projects’ funding needs

  • a browser extension that suggests DonorsChoose projects when you search

The one winner I do like sends automated press-releases to local news outlets. The content of the release isn’t much to work with (though Print & Share shares that problem), but it could be an effective news peg for general school issues (not that “Local schools must turn to the internet because of waste/fraud/abuse” is the story I’d want to see run).

My criticism of those automated referral tools is that they all require an advocate to install the tool—but that advocate has little control over the projects they refer people to. In other words, these winners require someone to really care about DonorsChoose as a whole, not necessarily any specific project. Do those individuals exist, en masse? I’ve learned there is a big network of teachers who promote eachother’s DonorsChoose projects, but since they can’t specifically suggest a friend or colleague’s project, will they adopt the winning tools? It’s the sizzle of social networking without the (tofu-) steak .

The fact that these tools seem in search of an audience is what disappoints me most. As attributed to thinker Seth Godin by  Richard Millington: “Find products for your audience, not audiences for your products.” We built Print & Share as a tool for teachers to better promote their own projects—because teachers are the audience that cares most about their projects’ success– which is why the tweet I just received while writing this post cracks me up: