Non-Governmental Imagination

Interplast, Creative Commons and “A Story of Healing”
April 18, 2007, 3:05 am
Filed under: Imagination, Interplast, Media

For months and months I have been working on getting “A Story of Healing” re-released under a Creative Commons license (by-nc-nd). Today it’s official, and the film can be viewed on the Interplast website and blog.

I’ve wanted to do this in part because I thought the Oscar winning hook would give Interplast and CC some publicity, but mainly because I wanted to convince other nonprofit organizations to examine the licenses they give their media. We’re certainly not the first organization to use CC licenses, but if we can give the idea a little more credibility, then we’ll have done a good thing.

The film used to have legitimate commercial value. It ran on PBS stations across the country and we sold copies through Amazon. But the PBS stations lost interest and our Amazon orders dwindled to a trickle.

Then we gave it away to folks at open houses, salon events, etc. Steve Rhodes, a guy I met at a geek party a while back and only re-met last week, suggested I slap a CC license on it and host in online somewhere for free. I thought it was a great idea. After all, we were giving it away for free in person, we couldn’t we do the same online? I pushed the idea through with the hope that a few people who would have otherwise never heard of us might become interested in Interplast and spread the word. Or donate. Or both, preferably.

When I met with one of the Creative Commons guys, I asked if he thought that this was a big deal. After all, we chose the most restrictive license on a film that had lost all commercial value. It’s not exactly The Godfather. He said he thought that because it was an Oscar winner, it was a big deal, and maybe in a few years such a story would be un-newsworthy. Maybe in some small way this event will contribute to making CC licenses more commonplace. Or maybe it’s just two nonprofit organizations collaborating through mutual self-interest with the only real payoff being a couple of links from a few blogs within our respective echo chambers.

Either way, CC and Interplast could both use some more publicity, and hopefully this will allow our work and missions to reach a wider audience. In a few weeks I’ll analyze the results, and see if we got any bump in donations or page views.

If any of you work at or with NGOs who are interested in the ins and outs of convincing the powers that be that CC licenses do not open the floodgates of hell, drop me a line.

I’m show-and-tell-ing the film at the CC salon at Shine in SF tonight (Wed 4/18) from 7-9pm. If you want to see the film on the big screen and/or lob softball questions at me, come on by.

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Vote for cool projects at NetSquared
April 11, 2007, 10:36 pm
Filed under: Donations, Imagination, Resources, social responsibility, Visionaries, Web 2.0

My good friends at NetSquared are doing a really cool project. Lots of projects/ideas/websites that have a social benefit have been submitted, and the top 20 vote-getters get an all-expenses-paid trip to the Net Squared conference in May, where conference participants will dole out $100k to the groups that they decide are worthy.

I feel pretty lucky to have a lot of friends and acquaintances who are doing neat and bootstrappy things. They’re all telling me to vote for their project. I haven’t decided who I’m going to vote for or how much time I’ll invest poring over the 120ish projects, but until I figure it out, please vote. Votes are only accepted through April 14.  There sure is lots of talk about changing the world through social tools, and it’s wonderful and rare when someone puts up actual US dollars to back an idea as chosen by a community.

The one thing I will say at this point regarding my vote is that I will not choose projects that already made it big, either in terms of financial sustainability or name recognition. This is an amazing opportunity for the little guys who have no other resources, and I sorta look negatively on the big boys on this list for whom the price of a ticket to the conference is negligible. Ahem.


Photography By Blind People Interactive Game This Weekend In NYC
March 14, 2007, 11:47 pm
Filed under: Imagination, Visionaries

Do you live in NYC? Are you interested in photography, blind people or photography by blind people? If so, check out the Seeing Beyond Sight Photo Challenge and Party this Saturday from 2-5pm in Brooklyn. The idea is to blindfold yourself and wander around your world, taking pictures of what you see/feel. You can always do it on your own, but this event is more social.

Seeing Beyond Sight is a fascinating project by Tony Deifell. Basically, he gave cameras to blind teenagers and taught them about photography:

The students would ask questions about their surroundings, feel their subjects, and listen carefully to the hush and noise around them.

It was as if they were listening for “sound shadows.”

When I saw Leuwynda’s pictures of the sidewalk, I thought they were a mistake. Perhaps she had intended to capture a classmate or one of the large oak trees scattered across the campus. I was wrong. As soon as Leuwynda had her camera, she knew what she wanted to do – photograph the cracks in the sidewalk.

The pictures were proof of the damage, and she sent them along with a letter to the Superintendent. “Since you are sighted,” Leuwynda wrote, “you may not notice these cracks. They are a big problem since my white cane gets stuck.” Leuwynda asked for the cracks to be fixed – and they were.

The fact that I had not noticed the cracks in the sidewalks at Governor Morehead School has stayed with me for years. Leuwynda’s story is about more than cracks in a sidewalk; it is about all the cracks that go unnoticed.

I really don’t know many people in NYC, but if you do, spread the word about this little adventure this coming weekend. I’d go if it wasn’t 3000 miles away.

–cross-posted at NetSquared.

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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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Are Disabled People Only Half As Valuable As Pets?
January 22, 2007, 8:06 am
Filed under: Imagination

That’s the question that ENABLE Scotland is asking in a new ad campaign. They say that 11.1% of the UK donates to animal-related charities while only 6.6% donates to charities that benefit disabled people. While that sounds like a cherry-picked statistic (and no reference or citation is given), I believe it. I definintely see people avert their eyes when I’m with my cousin who has a mild form of Asperger Syndrome more than I do when, say, a shivering puppy whimpers and shuffles along.

I like how the ad hits you in the face and confronts you. No subtlety, no hiding behind excuses, no bullshit. After reading about this on The Intelligent Giving blog (which you really should subscribe to), it really made me think.

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Kevin Bacon’s Six Degrees of Celebrity-Backed Charities vs. ChipIn
January 19, 2007, 8:31 am
Filed under: Big vs. Small, Donations, Imagination, Resources, Web 2.0

Kevin Bacon, famous for the well-known (and really hard) drinking game Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon, has teamed up with Network For Good to create Six Degrees, a charity badge sharing site that lets you give money to the favorite charities of your favorite celebrities or to the charity of your choice. The badges that you or people like Seth Green and Ricky Gervais created can be put on any webpage, and you and your crew can keep track of the donations. The donations are processed through Network For Good, which takes a hefty cut of 4.75% that the donor can choose to absorb or pass on to the charity.

ChipIn is a flash widget that you can also put on any website that allows you to accept and track donations through others’ badges. Unlike the Network For Good badges, the ChipIn widget has a handy-dandy little thermometer that shows you how close you are to your goal, and the donations go through PayPal, which takes only 2.9%. The downside is that you can’t customize the buttons at all, and let’s face it, celebrities’ faces tend to be more attractive than the ChipIn logo.

I think ChipIn is clearly the better project, but Six Degrees has the Network For Good marketing muscle behind it. This is one of those unfortunate instances where the better marketed product is not as good as its lesser-known competitor. Bummer.

The difference in fees is something that really can’t be overstated. And ChipIn supports a clear trend in online philanthropy: the preference of people to support individual projects rather than organizations. You can give to a particular project within an organization, which might annoy many orgs but please the new breed of online donors who abhor overhead costs and worship at the altar of efficiency.

Plus, there are plenty of worthy causes that are not charities registered with the IRS that ChipIn can support. If your kid’s soccer team needs new uniforms or your neighborhood wants to buy the local homeless guy a sleeping bag, ChipIn is flexible enough to accomadate you, while Network For Good will only deal with nonprofits that have been blessed by the IRS.

I gotta admit, Six Degrees is clever and slick. Good site design, a brilliant jiu-jitsu style transformation of a drinking game into a charitable endeavor, and famous celebrities. Not the washed up, B grade ones, either.  It certainly has a bright future, and I hope they can steer the absurd cult of celebrity in this country to support worthy causes instead of fragrance lines and shampoo companies.

But I hope people don’t lose sight of ChipIn, a less glitzy but ultimately more solid offering.

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Chugger Chase Is Awesome
January 17, 2007, 12:24 pm
Filed under: Imagination, Resources

One of my favorite blogs from the creators of one of my favorite websites posted today about Chugger Chase, a hilarious game where the player tried to avoide “chuggers”, the annoying people on the street who ask you to ostensibly for a moment of your time but quickly try to wheedle money out of you for a charity.

One of the charities I dislike the most is PIRG, including all of its evil subsidiaries. They hire bright-eyed and bushy-tailed young people to hang out on busy street corners filled with yuppies and ask if you have a minute for the environment. Who doesn’t? Only jerks, and you’re not a jerk.  So you make eye contact and they launch into an oversimplified version of some environmental bill and ask you to sign a petition or give money to support it. You feel like an asshole for saying no, so you don’t. Once you’ve made eye contact and initiated conversation, you’re toast. And a lot of that money you donated went to paying for the salaries of the privileged college kid who stopped you in the first place, who will spend it on beer that night lamenting the fact that the “summer job to save the environment” seems a little sheisty.

Maybe if I play Chugger Chase more I can get better at avoiding them. I think I scored over 51,000 points.

While I shudder at the resources it took to create this mindless little game, it introduced me to Community Channel, I poked around their site a bit and challenged an easily-distracted friend of mine to beat my high score. So it definitely worked as an attention-getter.

Best of all, I like the big blue button in the right-hand corner that says “Boss Coming” that you can click to open up the legitimate, less-gamefied Community Channel website in a new tab/window, a nice touch to finish off a clever little time-waster.

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