Non-Governmental Imagination


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.

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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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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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Thoughts on the Squidoo/Net2/Get Active 59 Smartest Orgs Online
January 17, 2007, 11:37 am
Filed under: Big vs. Small, Donations, Imagination, NGO Blogs, Resources, Visionaries, Web 2.0

Squidoo, Get Active and Net Squared teamed up to announce the top 59 smartest orgs online. It’s an interesting list, and while there are several orgs that are noticeably absent, all present seem to be doing interesting things and/or have big enough presences that they get to be noticed. There’s no cash prize, and people can vote charities up or down as long as they are, or want to, become registered Squidoo members.

But wait a minute, can’t this system be gamed? Sure. All you need to do is get your friends/colleagues/mailing-list to sign up for a Squidoo account and PRESTO, your charity, as long as it startedsomewhere on the list, is now ranked above Donors Choose, winner of the 2005 Amazon Nonprofit Innovation Award, which at the time of writing was ranked #55 out of #59 with negative one point.

All groups started with (positive) one point. So either two individuals think Donors Choose is doing a bad job of utilizing the internet to affect social change. Or two folks voted them lower because it would improve their own group’s ranking.

I’m not aware of anyone thinking that Donors Choose is either a bad idea, badly executed, or not in a position to utilize the internet to bridge the web 2.0 and philanthropy worlds. So obviously, there is some manipulating going on here.

That’s interesting. Is it ethical? I don’t know.

There’s nothing at stake here except for pride, and there’s no rulebook that says “don’t get your fellow charity staff members to create Squidoo accounts just to vote up your charity and vote others lower”. In fact, some organizations (which are ranked quite highly) are quite obviously pandering to their community to vote for them, even by mistakenly implying that there is a financial benefit for the group to do so.

So that seems wrong to me. Obviously, each of the people in charge of marketing or communications at these orgs got a pat on the back when their bosses learned what happened, especially at small orgs (look, we’re better at communicating online than The One Campaign/Gates Foundation/Greenpeace/etc). But what else is there to be gained by cheating?

I know, there’s no rules, it’s not illegal, blahblahblah. But it feels wrong.

Is your group great? Sure. When I saw that Interplast made the list at #31, I signed up, voted, hit the ‘ole refresh button and watched us jump to #25. My coworker did the same and we were at #18. Pretty good for 15 seconds worth of marketing. It was fun, but it left me with no illusion that we do a better job of empowering people to change the world than Kiva or TakingITGlobal. We eventually jumped peaked at #10, and we never voted anyone else down. Were we unethical? I don’t think so. We honestly believe that we are doing a good job, and I’m sure that Squidoo is more than happy to let us vote in order to bag a couple of new subscribers. We didn’t spend much time on it, got a good chuckle and a warm fuzzy, and went back to work.

But we used to have five points, and now we have four, so again, even though there’s nothing at stake an I shouldn’t really care, someone’s screwing with the system.

It looks like someone who either works for or is a supporter of some group near the top is voting everyone else down. At the time of writing, 12 groups were at -1, which means that two people voted them down.

But here’s the problem with your plan, evil voter-downer-people. If any person familiar with nonprofits, technology, web 2.0, fundraising, marketing, etc sees a list with (all rankings current at time of writing):

Then they will simply dismiss it as an unreliable source and ignore it. If, on the other hand, they see a reasonable list where groups at the top seem to be really innovative, then the story might get picked up by bloggers, MSM journalists, and other chattery types who would catapault the list and all orgs on it onto their radarscreen and into their publications. Everyone wins.

Seth Godin, the founder of Squidoo, made a big hubhub a while back in the nonprofit blogosphere by questioning the way that many charities market themselves, especially the ones that didn’t have a Squidoo lens. That didn’t win him many friends in the NP blogosphere, but it sure garnered him lots of links, discussions and yummy stuff which he probably prefers.

I think Seth Godin is really smart, and although I don’t quite get Squidoo and why it presents a credible alternative to blogs and/or wikipedia, I think that this list is a smart move. Squidoo will garner new subscribers like me or folks who like ferrets, and people will talking about Seth Godin breathlessly as innovative and clever, which he certainly is. (see? It’s already working.)

I’m curious to see what the list looks like six months from now, and I predict that Donors Choose will slowly climb the ranks until it rivals Kiva. What do you think?

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YouTube vs. Blip
December 1, 2006, 7:18 am
Filed under: Ecuador, Web 2.0

Which is better, Blip or Youtube?

YouTube is big. Even before Google bought them, they somehow became a household word. At work, some of The Powers That Be asked that I get us on YouTube. Everyone wants to be the one in a million that becoms huge, and since YouTube snowballed ahead of Revver, Blip, Grouper, etc., they became known amongst the non-tech people as the place to be discovered. Sometimes these non-tech people like things done their way, and that applies soft pressure to join the bandwagon.

Blip seems a lot friendlier than YouTube. When I have a question, I write the main Blip email address and get a response back that sounds like it was written by a real human within 24 hrs. I met Mike, the co-founder at Vloggercon, and he was genuinely nice and helpful, even though I was the least technologocially knowledgeable person in the room.

They are also a lot faster. On the Interplast blog, I have been using both (Interplast on Blip es aqui y Interplast on YouTube es aqui) to upload videos of the visiting educator workshop that I am on right now here in Portoviejo, Ecuador. Tonight I had to upload four videos on my crappy internet connection, and I got halfway done with the fourth one on Blip before YouTube finished processing my first one. Score one for Blip.

I sorta view it as talking to the really nice girl who is sweet, kind, pretty and faithful or the hot chick everyone drools over but probably won’t have time for you.

I resisted using YouTube for so long but broke down before this trip, partly dreaming of Lonelygirl15 fame. But if I can’t load my videos in a timely fashion, then they’re not doing me much good. If the Interplast blog or my YouTube page starts getting oodles of hits/comments will I change my tune? Yup.

Does that make me a whore? Maybe. But I got a job to do, and my time is precious, especially on an Ecuadorian connection.

The nice girl wins, at least for now.

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San Francisco seems like Hollywood
November 19, 2006, 8:38 pm
Filed under: Web 2.0

Bullshit Crotch
Originally uploaded by The Rappaz Horror Picture Show.

Last night I went to the Laughing Squid 11th anniversary, and after being there a full 20 minutes, I came away with some realizations that have been brewing for a while. For me, San Francisco and the web 2.0 scene feels very Hollywoodish:

*  People act excited to see you, and then you have to remind them what you’re name is.

*  Self-promotion is as subtle as a baseball bat to your balls.

*  Lots of parties aren’t really pure fun, but more of a mix of fun and work, conjuring up images of high school with people ostensibly having a good time while actually trying to demonstrate how cool/smart they are.

*  “We should really get together some time” has differing levels of immediacy depending on your Technorati rank or employer.

*  The line between work and play is fuzzy, so both always infect the other.

*  It’s cool to talk about social change, but that usually doesn’t mean more than buying fair trade coffee at Ritual Roasters or including a link to some tech-related cause.

*  Like the idle rich, there is interest in raising money at parties for important causes, but actually getting one’s hands dirty through volunteering is meekly avoided.

*  One’s presence is valued at events becuase they are judged by number of attendees.

*  The person you’re talking to is prepared to abruptly leave your convesation (or do that thing guys do when a hot girl walks by in the other direction with the head turn and the lost train of thought, I actually did that yesterday afternoon) whenever Someone Important walks by.

    These are generalizations, I can think of plenty of folks who don’t meet these criteria, blah blah blah. But for a world that talks a good deal about democratization, there is a lot of bullshit to be sniffed through.

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    How Do People Decide Which NGOs To Engage?
    November 15, 2006, 11:23 am
    Filed under: Interplast, Web 2.0

    Interplast is lucky enough to have Ken Becker as a part of our community. He’s a volunteer, and since he’s not a doctor or a translator, he’s never been to any of our sites (we only work in developing countries, and we don’t take non-essential personnel to minimize our impact). But he’ll go to the mat for us. When we moved, he was huffing and lifting boxes with the rest of the staff (I got to drive the forklift!!!). He drives to the airport at 4am to drop off surgical teams bound for Peru. He spearheads our no-nos project, getting other volunteers to create over 7,000 no-nos which we would have otherwise purchased. He talks to organizations, girl scouts, church groups, lunch clubs, etc. He’s been courted by the Masons for membership and two old women for marriage.

    To put it simply, he’s a raging badass, and his devotion knows no bounds. He heard about us through a story the SF Chronicle did on us a while back. But how do we find more people like Ken? More importantly, how do people find orgs that really speak to them?

    Traditional advertising? There is a chicken/egg conundrum with huge charities like the Red Cross or United Way. Does their advertising keep the millions coming in the door, or do their millions allow them to advertise? They have the name recognition, but they are also viewed as inefficient and bureaucratic.

    Care2? It’s a great way for people interested in a particular cause to get in touch with relevant advocacy groups (or vice versa), but let’s say you want to do more than sign a petition. Maybe you want to volunteer, maybe you want to donate, or maybe you’re just curious what the difference is between two similar groups. I use Care2, but all I do is sign petitions. Fine, but I have no connection with those groups that organize the drives. I’m nobody’s Ken.

    Idealist? They have a new site redesign and aimed at expanding beyond their well-known role as one of the major nonprofit job posting sites. They are tying in social networking tools and trying to further facilitate relationships between users. We’ll see if it works. I’m planning a review of their changes once I’ve actually had time to screw around with them.

    Sidebar widgets? Beth has talked a lot about these recently. I think they’re neat and fun, but I don’t think they build lasting, meaningful relationships.

    Online Social Networks? There’s plenty of stories out there of people using YouTube or MySpace to get lots of people to perform a paticular action, as evidenced by the recent immigration protests.  But do those protesters turn into long-term supporters?

    Brangelina? Not even gonna go there.

    It’s nice to have contacts on Flickr, friends on MySpace, a fat email list and a hot celebrity spokesperson. But what we really need is a clone army of Ken Beckers. And Ken needs us, otherwise he wouldn’t give what he gives.

    The nonprofit blogosphere is always twittering with what the organiztion can do to attract more people, but what I’m curious about is finding out how people find the orgs. How do they differentiate between similar groups and how they decide what to give of themselves. Any ideas?

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