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Crowdsourcing Activism
March 3, 2009 4:42 PM   Subscribe

A startup is proposing a new model for harnessing the power of the web for activism that gets results: bite sized actions, under written by corporate sponsors.
posted by Bango Skank (37 comments total) 3 users marked this as a favorite

 
But ... I thought governments were supposed to solve all the world's problems?
posted by ZenMasterThis at 4:48 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


where's Pol Pot when you need him...
posted by geos at 4:55 PM on March 3, 2009


Will there be delicious nougat in these bite sized actions?
posted by fleetmouse at 5:03 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


A similar idea out of Vancouver: Urbantastic.

Disclosure: I'm a friend of one of the founders, Heath, and hold a great deal of respect for him.
posted by Lemurrhea at 5:08 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


If this works, it will be really cool. Fingers crossed.
posted by GrammarMoses at 5:13 PM on March 3, 2009


WFT is this? A press release for Coca Cola?
posted by footnote at 5:30 PM on March 3, 2009


Davis and Gallop hope to make money on this humanitarian enterprise -- and why not? Corporations will participate in the system for an annual fee ($200 to $10,000, depending on their size), in order to build action platforms or encourage their employees to help out with certain platforms.
a press release for the apocalypse.. bring it on.
posted by geos at 5:34 PM on March 3, 2009


"If I ran the world I would...."

maybe make it illegal to collect information about consumers through social networking sites?

Can Coca-Cola help me make this happen?
posted by Hammond Rye at 5:40 PM on March 3, 2009


Coca-Cola's Consumer Social Responsibility agenda is 'bring fresh water to the world,'" explained Gallop. "Coca-Cola might say, 'for this period of time, we're going to reward everybody working on this agenda above a certain level activity with Coca-Cola points.'

OK, what if your project involves something Coca-Cola doesn't like, or any of the other corporate sponsors? What if your project involves policies which may run counter to the corporate sponsors' bottom-line objectives? It seems the ceiling on how effective this becomes is placed wherever the sponsors want it to be, companies like Coca-Cola, for instance. I'm not expecting anything earth-shattering.
posted by krinklyfig at 5:41 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


If I ran the world I would stop people from posting links about unlaunched websites.

(Oh, and increase the number of kittens)
posted by sien at 5:48 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I'm not expecting anything earth-shattering.

You didn't go to TED, you don't understand their vision. For crisakes they studied WOW...
Davis and Gallop studied World of Warcraft to create a structure in which a rotating cast of leaders might direct a given project at different stages -- the same way WOW teams self-organize around different people, depending on how their areas of expertise stack up to the task at hand.
posted by geos at 5:48 PM on March 3, 2009


isn't Coca-Cola (and PepsiCo) partly responsible for the drought down in Georgia? Not that Coca Cola doesn't have a track record of stealing water from people around the world or anything.
posted by liza at 5:50 PM on March 3, 2009 [4 favorites]


"Coca-Cola might say, 'for this period of time, we're going to reward everybody working on this agenda above a certain level activity with Coca-Cola points.'

Oh yes please give me some Coke points how could I have lived without them.

I'm gonna save up a lot then enter my initials into the nearest soda machine.
posted by JHarris at 5:59 PM on March 3, 2009


Awesome. The example of building a community garden makes a lot of sense. That one application alone would be worthy, but obviously this is much bigger potential. It's sort of like Wikipedia before anyone knew what the concept of community editing was. It's all in the software design. Hard to explain until you see it in action. The most vocal anti-Wikipedians are those who never used it. "Anyone can edit? It will never work." - but it does, because of the design. That's cool they are taking designs from WoW.
posted by stbalbach at 6:03 PM on March 3, 2009


Hard to explain until you see it in action.

I think the software concept is pretty cool, and the idea of using it to create incremental steps in activist efforts is very interesting. I hope it can be utilized well, because the potential is great.

The business/sponsorship model - that I'm not so sure about.
posted by krinklyfig at 6:09 PM on March 3, 2009


I'm not sure I understand the corporate hate here. If Coke wants to sponsor a given program, great. If it interferes with their business model, they won't support it. Maybe someone else will. If not, it doesnt get done --- but it wasn't getting done before either. I see no way this can HURT activism, it simply enables activism that corporations are willing to support --- which there is an awful lot of.

If you join the site, you agree to a certain amount of ad-related disclosure of your activities, in exchange for getting money to do stuff you want to do to help people. If you're not OK with that, you don't join. Seems pretty straightforward to me.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:21 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I see no way this can HURT activism

It can't hurt "activism," because "activism" is not really a thing thing that can be hurt. "Activism" some kind of trendy behavior or meaningless exhortation, like "change.

But it could hurt real causes -- for example, by encouraging an apparent disdain for supporting existing organizations in favor of making "activism" more "fun."

It could also hurt real causes by giving corporations a cheap ways to make it seem like they're doing good (sponsoring one community garden; 20 lbs of tomatoes for the homeless, wow!) and thus obscuring their true anti-social behavior.

And then there's this, which is just plain irritating: "She and Davis believe their site's reality-based user profiles will lead to merit-based online dating."

And finally, the tone of the blog post seems slavishly adoring, but I admittedly don't run in those breathless wired.com circles, so maybe that's a normal tone for those people.
posted by footnote at 6:33 PM on March 3, 2009 [2 favorites]


Oh wow. So some marketinghead was actually sitting around and actually had the thought cross their mind: "How could we co-opt online slacktivism and synergize it with the most intrusive social networking user tracking and viral marketing. And! Futhermore! How can we do it in a way that destroys the community-making instinct as effectively as World of Warcraft keeps people indoors day in and day out?"

Makes me think of a Bill Hicks routine: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=gDW_Hj2K0wo
This one's pretty good too: http://www.facebook.com/ext/share.php?sid=80378550992&h=ANoCH&u=5b3qc

Wildcrdj: The reason this is offensive is the same reason that all life-style marketing is offensive. If you want to sell me sugar water, FUCKING sell me sugar water and tell me all the benefits of sugar water. Don't fucking tell me that I have to be a certain type of person and I should only like other certain type of people who buy sugar water with the same color of label as me.

This is greenwashing by definition. To say greenwashing isn't allowed by sponsors is a downright fantasy. Part of solving the water problem is to tear down Coca-Cola in the first place: http://www.commondreams.org/views06/0307-30.htm ... Either IfWeRanTheWorld will fail at acquiring sponsorships and their very good idea of connecting community leaders with relevant skills with causes will fail with it, or they will sell out and begin policing their most radical causes in order to not jeopardize their funding. A better idea: Just stop trying to fucking co-opt people and their passions. When you co-opt people's passion to sell meaningless commodities, you taint the original cause every time.

In other words, IfWeRanTheWorld might as well secure the domain name: DeFactoConflictOfInterest.net
posted by Skwirl at 6:35 PM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


If you join the site, you agree to a certain amount of ad-related disclosure of your activities, in exchange for getting money to do stuff you want to do to help people. If you're not OK with that, you don't join. Seems pretty straightforward to me.

As far as I can tell, the money (i.e. ad revenue) would go to the owners of the site. No one is suggesting that people are to be paid for doing anything (except in Coca Cola points).

While I think this idea has some potential, the business model is just squicky and will keep many away.
posted by ssg at 6:45 PM on March 3, 2009


Well, I don't think this site is intended for those who support more radical actions, such as tearing down Coca-Cola. This is for people who want to plant a community garden, etc. I know they TALK about the grand vision stuff, but I agree that it won't work for that. I DO think it can work for small-scale stuff that does actually help people.

But then, I'm not offended by marketing or advertising. I don't hate large corporations (in fact, I work for Google -- a large corporation funded entirely by advertising). This puts me at odds with a lot of people who would normally call themselves "activists" (which footnote rightly points out is a meaningless term).

I don't think this is going to "fool" anyone that isn't already "fooled" by advertising. It's entirely possible to support a corporation's actions is some areas and not in others. But to those who believe the remedy is grand social change, this site of course looks like greenwashing/corporatism. A lot of people are more interested in incremental change, which corporations can participate in.
posted by wildcrdj at 6:46 PM on March 3, 2009


I'm not sure I understand the corporate hate here. If Coke wants to sponsor a given program, great.

The problem is that corporations are not people. A person might donate money to a cause because it makes them feel good, or because they want to make the world a better place. A corporation is by definition required to only spend money on things that will (even indirectly) result in even more money at some point in the future.

So even though Coca-Cola employees are all people who might genuinely care about how many people around the world have access to fresh water, Coca-Cola as an organization does not give a shit. Every fiscal quarter their stock goes up and down based on how much money they made, not how many people they helped. To an organization designed completely around maximizing profits, the only reason to participate in any kind of altruistic behavior is for PR benefits, so I tend to assume that any corporate-sponsored charity initiative will be more about public image and branding than it is about actually using money to do good.
posted by burnmp3s at 6:58 PM on March 3, 2009 [5 favorites]


I find it intriguing and will be watching it. The idea of crowdsourcing concrete tasks to move worldchanging projects forward is pretty fantastic; we'll see if it works in real world models, where geography and user density in a given area will contribute much to local success or failure for all non-digital tasks. It'll be interesting to see whether this is more or less successful than meatspace grassroots activism - it strikes me that the type of person who might visit this site and be willing to do a task is already the type of person who gets involved in local grassroots activism, and that this might not add any value.

For those of you fretting over the corporate connections - I'm not thrilled, either, but I can't say it's a horrendous thing. Don't you know that this is already going on in the entire world of volunteerism and mission-driven organizations? Corporate sponsorship and personal data sharing is happening, and nonprofits that you know and love are taking money from corporations who are members and supporters and sponsors, because the corporations and the nonprofits both stand to benefit. In fact, this is one of the very reasons we have special statuses for nonprofits - so they can accept that sort of support and use money raised privately to do public good. I wouldn't want to be so knee-jerk about it - few forms of activism, even of the grassroots type, are totally untainted by commerce.

I'm a member of a community garden. It's free to participate and we give some food away to local food pantries and a homeless shelter. Awesome.

The garden was built by a group of grassroots volunteers who wanted a community garden.

They applied for a community-garden funding grant from Share Our Strength, the nonprofit which works to end child hunger. Using the few thousand dollars in grant funding, we purchased lumber and soil, a set of tools, a tool shed, seeds, and a sign. We did the work to install the garden.

Share Our Strength is supported by ConAgra, American Express, The Food Network, and Tyson, among others.

The funds built the garden and then they were gone. Since then, for more than five years, the garden has been run as a collective, spending no additional money, providing twenty separate plots to people of all ages and backgrounds, contributing food to the gardeners, those who need food assistance, and building community. Through the garden (all organic) a few 'generations' of gardeners have been educated from 0 to knowledgeable about organic practices, heirloom plants and seed saving, and how to raise a portion of their own food.

Was this city better off before we had the garden? I don't think so.

In a society set up like ours - where government does abrogate a lot of responsibility and corporations are left to operate with few restrictions - nonprofits play a vital role in meeting the needs of people. One part of that is by using the government's tax exemption and special charter status to channel surplus funds from private purposes to public. This stuff is multifaceted - refusing to deal with corporations at all would rob this country, at least, of much of the good that's done. Can it be problematic? Sure. But don't dismiss the corporate partnership in a knee-jerk hate-on. The proof will be in the pudding - is this system effective enough and upright enough to be worth the dealings it has with private companies?
posted by Miko at 7:28 PM on March 3, 2009 [3 favorites]


the only reason to participate in any kind of altruistic behavior is for PR benefits

It also confers some significant advantages in the accounting department.

This isn't an accident - it's part of how the third sector was set up.
posted by Miko at 7:30 PM on March 3, 2009


corporations and the nonprofits both stand to benefit. In fact, this is one of the very reasons we have special statuses for nonprofits - so they can accept that sort of support and use money raised privately to do public good. I wouldn't want to be so knee-jerk about it - few forms of activism, even of the grassroots type, are totally untainted by commerce.

Yeah, re-reading my comment above it sounds more anti-corporate than I meant it to. My point was not activism = good and corporations = evil, but that corporations have an almost pathological obsession with profits, and that anything that doesn't end up saving or making them money is a side-effect from their perspective.

If a non-profit can raise capital by taking corporate sponsors, while at the same time those corporate sponsors can get some good press and save some money on taxes, everyone wins. But this system seems to be setup to give the corporate sponsors a relatively good chance of micromanaging the activities that get done, which in my opinion is a terrible idea. I know that in reality sponsors already have a lot of pull with the non-profits they fund, but I think keeping the goals of the non-profit and the goals of the sponsor distinct is important, and this idea seems to blur the line quite a bit.
posted by burnmp3s at 8:06 PM on March 3, 2009


But this system seems to be setup to give the corporate sponsors a relatively good chance of micromanaging the activities that get done, which in my opinion is a terrible idea.

I guess I don't see that. Do the sponsors originate the ideas? A lot of it is hard to tell without being able to see it in practice.

I know that in reality sponsors already have a lot of pull with the non-profits they fund, but I think keeping the goals of the non-profit and the goals of the sponsor distinct is important, and this idea seems to blur the line quite a bit.


Certainly their goals are often distinct. But not always. Workforce housing, for instance - some nonprofits exist to promote workforce housing to improve community diversity and shelter people. But some for-profit companies exist to build low-to-middle-income homes using public money. Their goals are basically the same: to build workforce housing -- though their motivations could be different.

This is the whole thing behind social entrepreneurship - understanding that business motives may not be entirely evil. Some businesses create a lot of social good, while also providing a living and profit potential for owners and workers.

Meanwhile, there are nonprofits that are kind of evil. Advocacy groups that are really lobbying arms working to change policy to be more favorable for corporations, for instance. Or nonprofits that try to curtail access to information, like sexual-health information for teens, for instance.

And then in reality, even when both a sponsor and a nonprofit are benign, in these times, sponsors often get to write their own tickets. They can shape programs, kill programs, support staffing changes, rename buildings and programs, institute new programs -- with enough money, lots goes onto the table.
posted by Miko at 8:22 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


And then there's this, which is just plain irritating: "She and Davis believe their site's reality-based user profiles will lead to merit-based online dating."

All I could think about when I read this was the Jamie Zawinski essay about how all successful social software has to somehow result in your users getting laid.

To wit:
So I said, narrow the focus. Your "use case" should be, there's a 22 year old college student living in the dorms. How will this software get him laid?

That got me a look like I had just sprouted a third head, but bear with me, because I think that it's not only crude but insightful. "How will this software get my users laid" should be on the minds of anyone writing social software (and these days, almost all software is social software).

"Social software" is about making it easy for people to do other things that make them happy: meeting, communicating, and hooking up.
At least they've got their eyes on the prize.

posted by Kadin2048 at 9:21 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


I have done what these two are doing: You have the core of a very good idea, which you then junk up with all the extra possibilities. Sure: There could be massive corporate sponsorships or online dating services, but maybe there won't be. How about just making it work first, then finding out where it grows?

If this one doesn't do it, something like it will. People have a powerful drive to be useful, to play a meaningful role in a social structure, and they'll scratch that itch more deeply than they do playing WoW.
posted by argybarg at 10:02 PM on March 3, 2009 [1 favorite]


The real question is, how can I get Wired.com to write about my startup ideas? Can I crowdsource that out too?
posted by banished at 10:48 PM on March 3, 2009


Until they can get your average soft-drink-swilling beverage consumer to spend a third of their time de-clotting dried dirt and carrying water for irrigation at the behest of strangers a hemisphere away then this is nothing.

Marketing "Social Action via Social Networks" is--ah, whatever. Dehydration, starvation, and Diphtheria being a thing of the past is not just "a click away".
posted by sourwookie at 11:10 PM on March 3, 2009


So this is a for-profit corporation that will sell people's personal information based on the pretext of having them help out with some corporate pre-approved "activism"? Man, sleazy.
posted by delmoi at 12:05 AM on March 4, 2009


Funny that marketing people use a questionable example of how their ideer could work. I admittedly skimmed the article, but this idea seems to also have value, potentially more value with smaller, locally owned companies who don't have the corporate stigma, are willing to pay in the $200/year or less, help get things done in their neighborhoods, towns, cities.

I could be wrong, but even less than $100/yr multiplied by a whole lot could = a respectable amount of money.

I know from my grandparents' experience that small-business owner are often extremely busy with running the business, willing to help, but pressed for time and without clear, easy, trustworthy avenues to go beyond writing a check--not that it's a bad thing--to give something back to the community.
posted by ambient2 at 12:55 AM on March 4, 2009


I thought this was going to be about The Extraordinaries: using smartphones to let people complete small tasks, like translating a micro-finance application for Kiva or tagging photos for a non-profit, while they're on the train or waiting in line for something. No corporate underwriting of the project, as far as I can tell.

It's a nifty idea, I just can't seem to figure out from the site if they're going to be set up for non-US people to participate as well.
posted by harriet vane at 1:33 AM on March 4, 2009


This sounds exactly like the flavor of Kool-Ade a marketing exec and a geek would come up with together. Harness the power of the internet to leverage corporate feelgoodism. Profit!
posted by Thorzdad at 4:11 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


I spent a reasonable amount of time last year talking to small UK charities about crowdsourced volunteering, as part of research for a website for a Major UK Broadcaster.

What do charities want most? Money. What do they want next? Committed and reliable volunteers who will turn up regularly and reliably. We did come up with some ideas for how flash mob volunteering, or microvolunteering, could work, but from the soup kitchens, homeless shelters and mental health people, money and reliable volunteers came at the top of the list.

Of course, you can do good works without charities, but to build something up and keep it running, you do need people who will be committed. Once you have something big, then perhaps you can harness more casual volunteers. And all of this is not to say that there is some new way of crowdsourcing activism, but I haven't seen it articulated yet.
posted by adrianhon at 5:33 AM on March 4, 2009 [1 favorite]


We did come up with some ideas for how flash mob volunteering, or microvolunteering, could work, but from the soup kitchens, homeless shelters and mental health people, money and reliable volunteers came at the top of the list.

Yeah, that's true from my point of view, at least with projects that are meant to be ongoing (like running a museum, soup kitchen, tutoring service, etc). There is a limited amount that can be accomplished by an untrained, ad hoc volunteer. We just don't have all that many quickie tasks that anyone can walk right in and do - and they happen to be just exactly the tasks that volunteers don't really want to do, either, because they want to do something more interesting and personally rewarding than our scut work.

I could really see this working best for either very small projects, such as planting a native flower landscape on a highway median and then leaving it to nature to take care of, or very large charities, like the Red Cross, where they have lots and lots of envelope-stuffing and package-sealing and stuff like that to do and not enough paid staff to do it.

It'll be interesting to see what happens with it.
posted by Miko at 8:41 AM on March 4, 2009


This is completely baffling. I kind of hate the way people have been co-opting the word "action" away from Alinsky-type activism into the soft-light community organizing of the garden-patchers.

Actually, fuck this. The day a major corporation is aware of an action prior to this action being carried out is the day the word "action" loses all meaning. I lose ALL of my grant funding if I am, in any way, even slightly associated with any major corporation that makes kids fat - and this is coming from Robert Wood Johnson... not some small, shadowy funder.
posted by Baby_Balrog at 9:02 AM on March 5, 2009


Which is awesome, but RJW is in a position to do that only because they're a private foundation set up as the philanthropic project of the Johnson & Johnson fortune. My nonprofit isn't in the position to be that selective. We have many funders and all their requirements vary. From a pragmatic point of view, if we restricted ourselves to sources of funding we could see as pure, we would be unable to do the good work that we manage to do.

I think it's really important for people to realize that in the U.S. at least, nonprofits don't stand alone existing as something pure and untainted by commerce and politics. THey are part of the same economic system that the other entities are, and to a large part, exist interdependently with them. People in charge of nonprofits do have choices about what funding sources they pursue and accept, and so some have single funders or no funding and can be very very pure in intent and deed, but not all. If your mission is clear and you do the work you're chartered to do well, and a funder wants to support your mission, most nonprofits with a pragmatic emphasis on getting things done will try to work with that funder. If we only supported nonprofits that were completely untouched by corporate funding, we would have very very few. Of the few we have, lots would be touched indirectly because that's where their donors made their money. You don't have to worry about corporate funding for your project, Baby Balrog, but that's because your grant money already comes from corporate funding.
posted by Miko at 3:31 PM on March 5, 2009


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