The web 2.0 hype is beginning to make an impact in the political and activist sphere. Two examples are dotherightthing.com and change.org.
Dotherightthing.com is the capitalist’s approach to changing the world, relying on markets and information to make all the difference. Here, people gather to rate the impact of a company’s actions on the world. It’s an interesting approach and may work well in some cases. Then you have examples like Philip Morris getting a positive impact rating for a $50K charity project in Vietnam. Given that their core business is to kill people by selling addictive substances, I wonder whether the “let’s reward them when they do good and punish them when they do evil” approach is really applicable to all companies. Market forces also make little difference when we’re not talking about domestically mass-marketed products but, say, the international trade in land mines. At some point, the discussion needs to go to another level, political regulation and control.
With dotherightthing.com itself being a for-profit, we also have to wonder how they will behave if they do become successful, and how susceptible the whole thing is to PR. That said, it’s certainly an innovative platform, and I wish them well. The market principle is complemented nicely by change.org, a navigation tool for finding ways to make a difference — and connecting people with NGOs which are already working to do so. In true web 2.0 style, the page opens with a tagcloud, but one which is actually useful, showing the issues most people care about. For each issue, there’s a page which allows people to post blogs, videos, images — and importantly, links to relevant organizations and networks. I’m not seeing any meetup.com style features, which could make things even more exciting.
The whole thing seems pretty well thought out, with a clean UI that makes the gimmicks unobtrusive. The software itself does not appear to be open source, nor do I find any information about the organization that runs the project. But they support donations through JustGive.org and get their NGO list from GuideStar, so they seem to know what they’re doing.
These are some very important first experiments, and I think things will get very interesting soon. Once we have a good idea what works and what doesn’t, open source components to replicate the success models won’t be far off, no matter what the originators do. There are two areas where similar experimentation has yet to happen on a large scale: direct democracy, and distributed fundraising.