October 12, 2009

The Extraordinaries: Building the ‘micro-volunteering’ movement

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JD LasicaAt Net Tuesday last month and the recent gathering of social change organizations at Chronicle Books, both in San Francisco, participants heard from Jacob Colker, co-founder and CEO of The Extraordinaries about their ambitious effort to kick-start a “micro-volunteering” movement of people who help worthwhile causes in their spare time through the use of their mobile devices.

Who knew that “the power of spare energy” held such potential?

I continue to be impressed by the breadth of projects being supported by The Extraordinaries — whose name, co-founder Ben Rigby told me at NetSquared, is a bit tongue in cheek but also points out that each of us is capable of contributing to the greater good in extraordinary ways. Last month Time magazine, in a listing of New Ways to Make a Difference, cited the Extraordinaries as a prime example of using new technologies to advance the social good, “from using your smartphone to view and label photos (to help digitize museum archives) to snapping a picture of a local park (to help build a map of places where kids can play).”

It’s simple to participate: Download the free “The Extraordinaries” application to your iPhone (or to a similar smart phone) or use a Web browser to peruse the list of micro-volunteer opportunities. Follow them on Twitter at @extraordinaries. Sundeep, a principal in the organization, taught an online class about micro-volunteering last week on eduFire; look for others in the near future.

Earlier this year the organization won a grant from the Knight Foundation to launch the project in San Jose, Calif., and work with NGOs and community organizations with limited resources. (I shot the photo at right after they took the top prize at NetSquared 2009.)

There are many small actions you can do: translations, register places with potholes, identify birds for the Lab of Ornithology, transcribe texts or verify data.

Colker says the work of the new mobile platform is geared toward empowering citizens to “help community organizations facilitate collaboration through crowdsourcing.” Most of us don’t have a free Saturday to dedicate to a cause, but we do have free time — lots of it. Despite busy schedules, we often encounter downtime: waiting for the subway, in line at the DMV, in the doctor’s office, bored at work, or when a friend is late for dinner. What can we do right now instead of playing a mobile game?

There are many small actions you can do to help, from doing translations, registering places with potholes for the city, identifying birds for the Lab of Ornithology, transcribing texts or verifying data, and more.

For a Spanish language version of this article, see the citizen journalism site Periodismociudadano.

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JD Lasica, founder and former editor of Socialbrite, is co-founder of Cruiseable. Contact JD or follow him on Twitter or Google Plus.

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