Aug 9th, 2010
So it turns out, yes, there are are apps for everything! Curious, I decided to road-test a handful of apps that have come out recently claiming they help make the world a better place.
The first time I opened this app the screen said, “Got a few minutes? Do something extraordinary” while also mentioning it was looking for opportunities for you to “micro-volunteer!” (Sounds so much better than armchair activist, doesn’t it? Plus “micro” is just fun to say.) Excitedly, I continued on… Until I got a big “DATA FORMAT ERROR” followed by a big loud exclamation mark followed by a quiet tiny “Please restart the application.”
So I did. A lot. While it was thinking about working, it kept giving me lovely little ideas like:
“Riding on the bus? Tag some photos!’
“Standing in line at the post office? Give website feedback!”
“In an airport? Help build a map of airport heart defibrillators!”
There’s a reason why there symbol is a giant Superman-styled E, because in a teeny tiny second you’re ready to take over the world thinking “YES! I DO want to help! Pick me! Pick me!”… Until it doesn’t work. Again. And again. And again. Hopefully it will work one day and I can save the world while riding the train. Just think of the possibilities! In the carpool line! Waiting for rice to cook! In line for the bathroom where there’s only one ladies room! Genius! Until it didn’t work.
Remember those emails you used to get that said something like “For every click on this page [some foundation, Bill Gates, whatever] will donate 1 [dollar, cent, banana] to [some type of cancer, demographic in need, poor helpless kittens?]” Well this app has been created so you don’t have to individually go to The Breast Cancer Site, The Animal Rescue Site and The Hunger Site to click for good.
“You have the power to make a difference at your fingertips. Touch to Give- it’s FREE. Touch an icon to select an issue.”
So I clicked to help the helpless little kittens.
Touch to Give bar popped up along with some merchandise for “The Animal Rescue Site,” and a notice you should “Touch to Give” daily and that any financial sponsors to this charity will “pay for treats” and “100% of sponsor money goes to charity.” One hopes they mean treats for the sweet pups with mange instead of the people who made this app.
Now… who are CharityUSA.com, the website linked at the bottom of all three sites? According to Wikipedia:
The Hunger Site was started by John Breen, a computer programmer from Bloomington, Indiana, in June 1999. Originally a 501(c)(3) non-profit corporation, the site became popular rapidly. Faced with increasing costs, Breen sold the site to GreaterGood, “a Seattle-based online shopping mall that gave part of its sales to charity” for an undisclosed amount in February 2000.  In July 2001, following the dot-com bubble crash, GreaterGood ceased operations after losing $26 million dollars in venture capital. In 2001, CharityUSA.com, LLC, a privately held, for-profit company based in Seattle, assumed control of the company for one million dollars. CharityUSA owns and operates various click-to-donate-sites. CharityUSA currently claims that 100% of the website’s sponsor advertising revenue is paid to the aforementioned non-profit partners.  The Commercial Fundraiser Profile Report page on the Secretary of State’s web page for the state of Washington  calculates the percentage that CharityUSA returns to its charity clients as being 17% of the company’s total revenue (labeled as contributions, although the company’s explanation on the same page defines this as mix of contributions and sale of products).
Hmm… Not sure what to think of that? That’s A LOT of trading and changing names, don’t you think? And 17%? Think of all the abandoned ferrets that need homes.
This awesome little app won’t open for me. It crashes, but it’s so cute! And inspired by Free Rice.
Happily, however, there is an article over at Addict3d.org that explains how you can actually play the game. Since I am really great at spelling 3-5 letter words, I can’t wait to play so I can dominate… While saving the world. Win win!
Apparently with this I have to “complete a task” and “the same task is assigned to a marginalized person in sub-Saharan Africa, South Asia, or Haiti. When your answers match and the task is verified, this person gets paid for the work you did together.” Seeing that I’m currently looking for writing jobs, I figured it would feel pretty good to help fill someone else’s wallet while mine is bleeding out.
So I clicked on “Tasks,” where I see “Tasks Available,” where I’m able to:
*Get 5 points for “How much do people like The Karate Kid?” [YES! I LOVE THIS ALREADY!]
“We are trying to analyze trends though statements on Twitter. Below are some things people have said on Twitter regarding the movie The Karate Kid. Please tell us if the statement is positive or negative.”
The tweet just said “Cool kid!” and I was given the choice to rate it either Positive, Negative, Neutral or Can’t Tell. So I clicked on my answer, clicked “Give work” at the bottom of the screen, advancing me to the next question where I could do more helping. Yay! Helping! Easy peasy…
Next up I had to analyze a tweet from Chris Brown (who I want to punch) AND Fred Durst (Are you KIDDING me? What f*cked up algorithms are being used here?). Now I’m getting stressed as I want to pick the answers these displaced people pick so they can earn money. Mini panic attack, as the whole point of trying this app was to help. Judging tweets by my least favorite “celebrities” wasn’t making it any easier. So to distract oncoming anxiety, I started counting the number of questions I answered. 40.
40? Will it ever end? How do I get off this ride? So I clicked again to review yet another tweet and up pops up:
RT from ralphmacchio “wax on, f*ck off” whoever RTs it “wins a ’84 Karate Kid DVD signed by me!”
Ah, saved by Ralph Macchio. Seeing this as a sign, I took a break (after so much clicking it was needed) and watched the Ralph Macchio masterpiece Wax On, F*ck Off as mentioned in the above tweet. I will warn you it does have some, ahem, adult language. There is also Molly Ringwald, so it evens things out.
Even though I was feeling refreshed after this interlude, after 40 questions, I caved and hit the “next” button at the top of screen… Which takes me MORE questions! So in desperation to stop the madness, I clicked on Stats, which told me “The more you work- the more you help.” (Yes! I know this already!)
*Points you’ve earned 270.
*5 points: 1 tomato, 1 large banana, a small bunch of greens
*500 points: 1 week of cell phone data plan (enabling access to email)
So I’m guessing this means I earned something like a cabbage, a cinnamon stick, a yo-yo and 4 bananas. But, wait, wasn’t I supposed to be GIVING WORK? NOT FOOD? Eh? Not so sure, but at least I’m giving something to someone, no?
So to recap. Who’s the winner* here?
I really wanted it to be either The Extraordinaries or Sproutster because they seemed like they would be awesome. I’m sure they will be awesome, once they work. [UPDATE! According to the people behind The Extraordinaries, it's working now. Yay!] Which means that Give Work was the clear winner here, mainly by default with thanks to Ralph Macchio.
As for the click-and-donate apps? Just make sure you learn how much of your money you’re donating to charity before you click, okay?
*Clearly the real winner is Ralph Macchio, but I’m not writing about him, so will have to default to the apps instead.
ETA: Tweaked some words, added some links and pics. Posting while sleepy = dangerous.