Rob and I are spending the next two days at NetSquared, in the company of 21 outstanding teams working on projects that harness social media tools for social change. We met many of these folks for the first time yesterday, in a pre-conference session that brought the projects together for an afternoon of collaborative idea-sharing and relationship building, and we were incredibly impressed by the commitment and creativity that these folks are bringing to their respective projects. As part of the NetSquared Innovators Support Network we will choose to work with one of these projects on a pro bono basis, providing them with their choice of a customized community participation plan, a recommended community feature set, or complete specifications for a new custom Drupal module.

But one of the themes that emerged in yesterday’s conversation was the desire to foster collaboration not only among the 21 finalist projects here in San Jose, but among the more than 150 projects who participated in this year’s call for Innovation Fund submissions. Like a lot of the folks here, we got really excited about quite a few of the projects that didn’t end up in the top 21, and we started thinking about how we might support their work.

That’s why we’ve decided to extend the same offer of pro bono support to one of the projects that isn’t in the room today. Next month, we’ll start working with Newscloud, an open source media platform that combines news sharing and social networking. Jodie Tonita of ONE/Northwest recently introduced us to Newscloud’s founder and driving force, Jeff Reifman, and we immediately saw Jeff’s work as exactly the kind of technology innovation that non-profits need now.

Using Newscloud, an organization’s members and supporters can identify the news stories that matter to them, annotate those stories with their own reflections, and collaboratively create a window on the day’s issues that reflect their interests and priorities. Individual users may find Newscloud compelling too — quite apart from the social benefits of collaboratively surfacing interesting stories, it’s got a great interface for reading blogs and news sites that displays stories as they appear on the originating site, rather than as plain or reformatted text. The best way to understand Newscloud’s value is to visit the Newscloud site, sign up for an account (it’s very quick!) and take it for a spin yourself.

Our clients and colleagues in the non-profit sector often ask us to help them integrate news into their online communities. They want a way to bring their members and supporters the news that is relevant to their issues and interests, and ideally, they want a way for their audience to interact with those stories and engage in meaningful conversation around the latest news. Newscloud offers that potential, but right now organizations need to either convene on the Newscloud site itself, or install their own version of the Newscloud platform.

We’re going to work with Jeff to make it easier for non-profits to integrate Newscloud’s features directly into their own web sites. Working from our own experience developing non-profit sites on the Drupal platform, we’re going to help Jeff develop a Newscloud Drupal module, so that the thousands of community sites now running Drupal can integrate Newscloud-enabled news sharing directly into their sites. We’ll use our own clients’ needs as the basis for developing the module’s specifications, but we’d love to hear from other organizations about their own needs for news sharing and commenting, so that our specifications can reflect the needs of as many organizations as possible — just leave your comments on this post, or e-mail me directly (alex at socialsignal dot com) to get involved.

We’ll keep the NetSquared community posted on how this experiment evolves. And we hope that other members of the NetSquared community — technology assistance providers, developers, funders, and participating projects — will think about how they might help or collaborate with one or more of the 150 projects that have profiled their needs on the NetSquared sites. The time, advice and support of this community can help each and every one of these projects move forward, and advance the state-of-the-art in using social media for social change.