Thursday, January 18, 2007

NetSquared - remixing the web for social change

For at least the past year I've been thinking about how to get all these really smart Silicon Valley people more involved in shaping the world we live in - as opposed to just trying to their way to their first million dollars, or maybe just their first BMW or downtown condo. Many of these folks, I suspect, are actually horribly selfish people who don't flinch at human suffering, but I also suspect that many are just like me - or like I used to be - not really aware of anyone else like themselves who are interested in changing the world for the better, and so they go on worrying about themselves only. I want to help bring these smart, driven people into the 'social justice' fold. I recently wrote about finding the FLOW people, but now I've found an organization that seems a little more in tune with my thinking - NetSquared.

Netsquared is an offshoot of TechSoup (wiki), which is a massive website and other stuff run by CompuMentor (wiki). What is NetSquared about? From their website:

Our mission is to spur responsible adoption of social web tools by social benefit organizations.There's a whole new generation of online tools available – tools that make it easier than ever before to collaborate, share information and mobilize support. These tools include blogs, wikis, RSS feeds, podcasting, and more. Some people describe them as "Web 2.0"; we call them the social web, because their power comes from the relationships they enable.
Every year, starting in 2006, NetSquared organizes a conference, here is the 2007 Conference page. Nonprofit technology people from all over the U.S. pour into the Valley and try to figure out how to help themselves engage regular citizens. This is all good stuff, but it still seems to leave out from the party many of the true movers and shakers of Silicon Valley - true difference-makers - be they investment bankers, semi-retired now-rich entrepreneurs, or the still-poor, but brilliant and driven entrepreneurs looking for their first million. These people are not non-profit folks. And I don't need them to be. I'm not about to launch into my anti-Capitalism spiel. All I want to do is plant a seed in these folks' heads that it is possible to be a profit-seeker, but to also give a shit what is going on around them - to people less privileged than themselves.

To find out more about NetSquared, just hit their website and do some reading. Their participate page has lots of good info, especially regarding their Net Tuesday events - NetSquared-type meetup events in whatever city you live in (I really like their Net Tuesday do-it-yourself PDF guide). There are apparently already regular Net Tuesday events in DC, Houston, and San Francisco. If you don't have one yet in your town, then try to start one. You can use, you can send an email to Net Squared and have them try to hook you up, and you can use your own means - craigslist, nonprofits you know about, friends, etc.

For a little more info on what this whole Web2.0/Activism thing is about, check out this interview podcast with Alison Fine, author of Momentum: Igniting Social Change in the Connected Age.

For a little more on why Web2.0 and 'internet social networking' are so important, conceptually, to nonprofits - the people who do activism for a living - you might check out the book Bowling Alone, The Collapse and Revival of American Community (wiki) (home page) (I haven't read it yet myself, but I'm already convinced we've got 'social' problems.).

Googling around for 'Robert D. Putnam', author of Bowling Alone, I stumbled onto the documentary Subdivided: Isolation and Community in America. I haven't seen it, but from the looks of this clip, it seems valuable.

...long-ass article in the LA Times about Pierre Omidyar and Jeff Skoll, founders and gotten-very-richers of eBay, and now of the Omidyar Network and Skoll Foundation, respectively. These guys are on the whole 'venture philanthropy' thing, and that's an important piece of this 'remixing the web for social change' idea - I'm just not sure exactly how important it is, or even where it fits into the picture.

An example of the results of 'venture philanthropy' would be Benetech, funded by Skoll. This Palo Alto-based company has a project called BookShare which helps visually-impaired folks access books. Skoll didn't necessarily think Benetech would become the next eBay, but he did think it might have the chance to earn a decent amount of revenue - maybe even pay for its own operation someday, or be very successful and be able to pay back the original investment. And how cool would that be? You create jobs and great social benefit. And hopefully the investment eventually gets paid back so other companies who do social benefit can be started.

Listed in the article are some of the projects each guy has funded through their organizations:



No comments: