Non-Governmental Imagination

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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Anyone got any get-well better recipes?
February 13, 2007, 8:24 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m back from India (I’ll post all about it) but I’m sick.  I have had a cold for the last week.  Sneezing, runny nose, and a nasty cough.  And I’m very tired from a crazy trip back.  Anyone have any tips for getting better?  I hate being home alone sick.  Know of any place in SF with mean chicken noodle soup?  Any “stand on your head and drink the blood of a virginal goat upside down” cures passed down through your family?

India Tries My Patience
February 3, 2007, 6:20 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

I really don’t have much more to say than that.

Is It Wrong For Development Workers To Live Nicely?
February 2, 2007, 6:03 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I’m in a country with hundreds of millions of poor people.  And I don’t mean the kind of poor people who have TVs and expensive jewelry.  I mean poor, poor people.

Yet I’m staying at a Radisson, which is nicer than any hotel I would ever stay at on my own dime.  I eat three ginormous meals a day that are either buffets, catered or home-cooked.  Everytime I walk into the hotel I am saluted.  I drive in cars and vehicles chauffered by others.  I eat at the nicest restaraunts in town and am doted on quite frequently.

I’m supposed to be here helping people.  Or at least helping an organization that helps people.  But I can’t help feeling like I’m becoming one of those development imperialists who live like the rich while helping the poor. 

When I was in Laos a few years ago all the UN workers parked their badass 4-wheel drives outside the nicest restaraunt in town and lived in the old French colonial mansions.  I snottily looked down on them, but it looks like I’m turning into them.

I’m very uncomfortable with it.  I feel much more at home in rickshaws, eating at darbars, not being saluted by a doorman, not having a doorman, etc.  Hopefully I don’t get too used to this pampering.  It definitely doesn’t feel like I’m in a poor country.

Indian Food
February 1, 2007, 4:03 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

I have often heard the expression “one xxxx was better than the next”.  It always seemed weird to me, that the best thing ever could consistently be trumped, time and again.

Well, now I’m in India, eating Indian food cooked by or picked out by Punjabis at every meal.  Literally, every meal is better than the previous.  Can you imagine? Every bite is unbelievable.  I love India.

I’m in India, finally
January 28, 2007, 11:45 am
Filed under: Uncategorized

After a breezy 37 hrs of travelling, I’m at the hotel in Jalandhar, India.  I’ll be here for a week, other parts of India for another week and then back to the US.  Coming here was a string of annoyances and near-disasters, but now that I’m here in a near comatose state due to lack of sleep (6 hrs out of the last 48) and a full belly of Indian food (buffet!), everything is peachy. 

Our plane from London to Armritsar got rerouted to Delhi (too much fog), where we sat on the tarmac for hours before flying successfully to Armritsar.  We had a pool to see who could guess closest to our actual arrival time, which I lost.

I’ll try to update this when I can while I’m here, but no promises.