Non-Governmental Imagination

SearchKindly Has A Different Model Than Goodsearch or Goodtree
February 23, 2007, 12:44 am
Filed under: Donations, GoodTree, Imagination, social responsibility, Web 2.0

A few months ago, I compared the business models and apparent legitimacy of GoodSearch and GoodTree. Recently, thanks to an email from one of the founders, I became aware of SearchKindly.

To recap previous posts about GoodSearch and GoodTree (the comments are a great read and have lots of interesting perspectives, including a response from GoodTree’s founder), GoodSearch lets you pick a charity and search either in your browser’s searchbar or on their site. Your search donates one cent to your charity of choice and you get Yahoo search results. GoodTree gives you the same search functionality, except that your choice of charity is limited to 50 or so large NGOs and instead of Yahoo seach results you get that of Infospace, a public company with an ugly history that creates private label search engines. While those are big negatives, you can create your own personalized homepage, which you can’t with GoodSearch. Both are for-profit companies that donate 50% of their revenue to the charities specified.

SearchKindly is similar to the other two in that it allows you to direct someone else’s money to charities via searching. Unlike the others, however, SearchKindly is an all-volunteer nonprofit organization that says it donates 100% of its revenue to charity. Instead of Yahoo or Infospace results, you get Google search results, which I regard as top notch.

The catch is that their money comes from banner ads on the cluttered SearchKindly site. The charity of the month (picked by the founders from user suggestions) gets about 1/3 of a cent from each page view of the SearchKindly site, and nothing from the search results themselves. When you search through the downloadable SearchKindly browser searchbar and press enter, it takes you to the SearchKindly site, where you have to wait for the ads to load and press enter again to get to your search results.

They certainly have an interesting idea. Google search is the best, and the fact that GoodSearch and GoodTree didn’t have Google search powering their sites is a big downside for them. And you certainly can’t argue with 100% of revenues going to the charities, even if it seems a little too good to be true (who pays for hosting/bandwidth/coffee?).

I’m not terribly bothered by the theoretical annoyingness of the SearchKindly ads. The more advertisers they can draw there to give money to charities, the better.

But waiting for the Flash ads to load so I can press enter the second time to get to the results is surprisingly bothersome. It’s just a couple of seconds, but it seems much longer. I’ve gotten spoiled on instantaneous search, and by making me wait until the ads load, the site reminds me of The Hunger Site.

I like The Hunger Site, and I should go there every day, but I don’t. I like to feel that I’m helping the world by my actions, not by my patience, and while searching seems to be an active part of my life, visiting websites for the express purpose of being advertised to does not sound appealing.

I want SearchKindly to thrive. It has the best search results and zero overhead. I want them to keep striving and innovating. If their ads loaded as automatically as lower-paying text ads, I’d be a humongous SearchKindly supporter. As it stands now I’m pretty ambivalent about all three offerings. I have SearchKindly’s searchbar in my browser right now, and I’m going to give it a few weeks to see if I get used to the waiting and clicking twice. Although GoodTree and (especially) Goodsearch have built up name recognition by going live earlier, there is little barrier to changing search providers, so maybe SearchKindly will gain a footing.

From a business perspective, it will be interesting to see how SearchKindly does in comparison to GoodSearch and GoodTree. Per use, SearchKindly generates only 1/3 as much money to charity as the other two. So for it to become a major player in the charity search field, people have to find their service three times as useful as the others. And by “their service” I mean Google. So are Google search results worh three times as much to people as Yahoo’s or Infospace’s? Or do people even notice a difference? I do, and I’m going with SearchKindly, at least for now.

From a philosophical perspective, these are similar groups doing similar things. One is a nonprofit, the other two are for-profit, social entrepreneurial activities. Both have their pros and cons, and it will be interesting to see if one of the two revenue-distribution models gives a clear advantage to any party.

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GoodTree Founder Responds to “Pointed Scrutiny” and Scam Allegations
November 7, 2006, 9:17 am
Filed under: GoodTree, Imagination, Resources

James Currier, the founder of GoodTree, responded to two of my posts about GoodTree in the comments. I thought I would put his comments, verbatim, in a post so they can be read more easily by all. I’m tired so I won’t analyze it tonight, but here is the response from An Open Letter To GoodTree:

Hi, this is James Currier, the founder of GoodTree. Sorry we didn’t get back to you. We’ve been suprised by the popularity of the site, and have been rushing to put the infrastructure in place to make it a real company that responds to emails and/or blog posts in a prompt way. We now have a person answering emails, which we didn’t before.

I’ve responded, finally, to your post, it’s comment #14 and it’s long. I’ve tried to address all the concerns. The basic story is you were the first to blog about us and we’re not ready for scrutiny, so my apologies.

We hope to build a valuable and respected service, and I hope we can soon bury these negative posts with positive posts.

and from Goodsearch vs. GoodTree:

Hello, this is James Currier, the founder of GoodTree. We are indeed legitimate, although we are not yet fully up to speed as a company, which accounts for the problems you’re having finding out more about us, the typos, etc. We’re still only three guys. We are not ready for your pointed scrutiny! My apologies.

We detail GoodTree more here: The site includes full disclosure about how monies are earned and disbursed, it includes our address in San Francisco, and several places to email us. We’re responding to email much faster now. We’re also adding to the About Us and the FAQ everyday.

As we say on our website, we give 50% of the money to charity, not 25%. We have our address on our site, and you can email us anytime. We don’t yet have enough people to answer a phone number promptly yet, so we haven’t put one on the site, but we hope to in as soon as we can handle it.

We’re sending out the first checks to the charities this month (from activity on the GoodTree site in July – August) totaling close to $9,000.

We’re hiring independent auditors so you can know we are accounting properly and paying the charities. We will also be publishing our financials on the site so you can see we are being totally transparent about what goes on and how it works. Until the last few weeks, we didn’t have any financials to publish or audit. We’re just getting going.

We are not using any of the charities’ names or logos in our promotional copy or marketing and any charity that doesn’t want to be included is free to opt out.

We are contacting each charity by phone and with a check in the mail, although we haven’t reached all of them yet. Every charity we’ve talked to so far is happy to be involved and receive checks. Iamgo, which non-profit do you represent?

We will be developing a set of UK charities for the UK, Canadian charities for Canadians, Australian charities for Australians and Indian charities for Indians. We’ll add other countries as requests come in.

There is no press on us because as you have pointed out, we are not ready. We’ve just been proving to ourselves that the concept will work and we can provide the right software systems to support it. Once again, the blogging community is scooping the traditional press. But there is a reason I have refused to talk to journalists: We’re not ready!

As the GoodTree website explains, our results are the combination of Google results, Yahoo results, Microsoft results and results. The aggregation of those results and the backend work is done for us by InfoSpace, a public company based in Seattle, WA, USA.

We are working to build different displays for search results so people can choose the format that feels right to them. If you don’t like the results layout the way we have it now, we hope to provide you with alternative in the coming weeks.

We will be publishing a blog, describing the ongoing efforts to bring GoodTree to life, and do good in the world.

We have 3 ways of letting people spread the word. One of them is to send an email to the people in their address book on Yahoo, Hotmail and Gmail. In order for people to access their address books, they need to log in to those address books, so yes, they enter their email and password, but we do not save anyone’s passwords. This is a very common practice used by many online companies. We are not a phishing site, we are not trying to get your information.

We are trying to build a very useful and safe web service that lets lots of regular people contribute to charities without it costing them anything, and hopefully encouraging them to get more involved in doing good (we’re coming out with more features by the end of November so people can find each other and take inspiration from each other).

I hope our slow start doesn’t turn too many people off in the future. We are taking action on the things you are questioning here, and we ARE sending money to charities in exactly the formula we present on the site. Thank you for your patience,

James Currier

Even though I commented today that I thought GoodTree was probably a scam, it seems to me now as though they are legitimate, albeit remarkably slow to respond to their community.  Let’s hope they build a tool that’s worthy of their buzz that does well for them and for the bureaucratic large charities which they support.

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An Open Letter to GoodTree
October 23, 2006, 8:01 am
Filed under: Donations, GoodTree, Imagination

I just wrote this email to GoodTree, let’s see if they say anything back:

Dear Goodtree,

Last month, I discussed GoodTree on my blog, Non-Governmental Imagination, and I am currently getting lots (for me) of comments about my review. I said I thought Goodtree was legit, but I expressed some doubt. Many of the comments on my site raise valid concerns about some of your practices, namely asking for people’s email passwords, having vaugely worded policies and displaying odd search results.

After considering their points, I am inclined to agree with their skepticism about GoodTree’s legitimacy. I thought it would be fair of me to give you the benefit of the doubt and let you respond to these issues.

My post is currenlty #3 on google’s ranking of “goodtree” and #2 on goodtree’s, so you may want to reconsider your policy of ignoring my emails. I’d be happy to post any response from you.

Seth Mazow

Update: James Currier, founder of GoodTree, responded.  See the comments below or this post:

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