The Extraordinaries: Will Microvolunteering Work?
July 1, 2009
by Linton Weeks
The microvolunteering movement aims to convince those with big hearts and little time to use their spare moments for the common good. The idea is among a slew of do-good efforts popping up on the Web, including:
NPR.org, July 1, 2009 · Got five minutes? Got a cell phone? Want to do good?
The Extraordinaries can help. It's one of a number of newly hatched social-media enterprises that champion speedy cooperation. Here is the 30-second elevator pitch: The Extraordinaries delivers microvolunteer opportunities to mobile phones that can be done on-demand and on-the-spot.
Shazzam! Charity meets brevity. Crowdsourcing for the common good. Turning ADD into AID.
Through The Extraordinaries, you might be able to use your smart phone — while waiting in the dentist's office or standing in the DMV line — to:
• translate a foreign-language document into English
• add identifying tags to photos and videos for a museum
• give advice to a college applicant
During your lunch break you could snap a picture of a pothole that needs patching and zap it to the proper authorities. You could report a dying elm to the parks-and-recreation department or spot a rare woodpecker for the Audubon Society.
"This is an organization that changes the paradigm," says Jacob Colker, 26, co-founder of the San Francisco-based Extraordinaries. "We hope people might look differently at that ride on the bus and not just play video games."
Fresh off the drawing board, The Extraordinaries is part of a new movement that combines tiny technology and huge social goals. The jury is still out on whether these sites will have large, and long-lasting, effects. But the microvolunteerism movement is undeniable.
It's all part of the micro world. What began with microscopes and microbiology has morphed into microeverything: microchips, microhousing, microjobs. And now: microvolunteerism.
Kiva.org, a microlending site, allows people to easily lend money to the working poor. So far, some 520,000 people have loaned more than $80 million to people in 184 countries, according to Kiva's reports. Using PayPal or a credit card, a visitor to the Kiva Web site can loan a struggling entrepreneur in a developing country $25 or more. The site says the money is usually paid back within a year. Other microlending sites include DonorsChoose and GlobalGiving.
New cause-oriented sites, such as Causecast, which helps people find causes to support, and Amazee, which showcases various social-advocacy projects, are popping up on the Internet all the time...