Is the Internet and Web 2.0 technology fueling a move toward people getting more directly involved in tackling tough social and environmental problems? If you can direct where your money goes and see the results it generates in real-time, does this create a feedback loop that gets you more involved in finding solutions to problems you care about?
Is this the next step in a social experiment begun 2,500 years ago on a mountainous peninsula in the northeastern corner of the Mediterranean Sea - a social experiment called "participatory democracy"? What would happen if we use mashups, wikis, podcasts and streaming video to bring together relevant information in real-time and provide forums for interested people to see what's happening and take action?
NetSquared is a philanthropic organization that is exploring these questions. They are sponsoring a challenge where people are invited to submit their ideas for creating mashups to address particular social, political, and environmental issues. Groups of people have already submitted project proposals.
You and I and other citizens of this planet can participate to review and vote on the merits of these submissions. Through this application of the "wisdom of crowds", 20 proposals will be identified as the most promising and those groups who submitted them will be flown out to California to present their concepts to a panel of judges. All 20 projects will receive a share of US$100,000 in prize money to be determined by voting at the conference.
I see some interesting submissions for causes I care about. One is called "Government By the People". It's a mashup that will scrape data from US Library of Congress and a community blog called GovTrack.us to show non-binding resolutions being considered by the US Senate, House of Representatives and Congress. These resolutions are not backed by legislation but they do put forth positions and values that the US Government stands for. In the past "we the people" have not been consulted; now we could make our input known very quickly. Would this actually make the US government more responsive to its citizens?
Another interesting submission is from an organization called KnowMore. They are asking for funding and expertise to help them develop a web browser plug-in to alert you about social and environmental issues related to a company whenever you visit that company's website. If a particular company is involved in clear cutting the Amazon Rainforest or selling weapons to repressive dictatorships, you will see a pop up with that info as soon as you hit their site. And if a company is adhering to good business ethics while making environmentally friendly products, you will know about that too. Then you the consumer can make informed choices about who you do business with. Would this actually influence corporate behavior?
In addition to money, winning submissions will be matched up with people and companies who can supply needed IT skills to make their mashups a reality. Here is a chance for people and companies with IT skills to get involved and contribute something even more precious than money - their time.
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