Saturday, December 20, 2008

Charity creativity - tapping into the collective

With the approach of Christmas and Year End, it is time for personal reflection and review. As such, I will go back on some topics of interest and provide some updates. continues to impress me. For a while, I was inundated with Facebook requests to join different sites that were linking into Freerice.

The site has now expanded their offering quite a bit by now providing different categories for those who want to go beyond words. New categories include areas such as famous painting, languages, math, grammer and geography.

Freerice depends on the masses and social networking to click correct answers to give rice to the poor. The site indicates that since its inception,
55,442,745,510 grains of rice have been donated (20 grains per correct answer) by people around the world who answered questions correctly. This translates into approximately 60 containers of rice. Pretty impressive when they will be delivered.

Other charities have followed suite with a click to give approach. You can help women get free mamograms by clicking on . They additionally solicitate donations and purchases. for the 6 months of 2008, 1,460 free mamograms were donated through clicks and another 1,803 by purchases.

Technology allows charities and non-profits (and companies obviously) to tap into the collective power of the masses. Small activities add up pretty quickly when you are on the web. The first time I came across a similar approach was the seti@home project which used idle computers to do calculations. A couple of months ago, I came across a downloadable game from which biologists learn better ways to build protein molecules by folding, unfolding and nudging them.

Another brilliant application was using security captchas to scan books. This is described in the article "You might be digitizing books on the Web without knowing it thanks to this stealthy anti-spam technology". The article states that the creator estimated that people solve 60 million-plus CAPTCHAs a day, amounting to 150,000 or more man hours of work that can be put to use for the digitization effort.

There are two ways to look at this. The first would be to state it is amazing how many hours are wasted on a global basis on non-value added activities. The other is to find creative approaches to use the collective brainpower and click time to solve problems!