This is fantastic… potentially, maybe, I think.
It’s like a distributed, mechanical-turk-style application where people can spend a few idle minutes, hours (whatever) doing some small bit of voluntary work… via iPhone
It sucks because it’s via iPhone. Everything else about it is great.
There are a couple of reasons why I find this so interesting….
1) In my experience, people are really reluctant to hand over money, but will volunteer time. Lots of it. I can’t quite figure this one, but it seems to be what happens. Asking for donations (in my experience) is a total waste of time compared to “could anyone help me with”… some actual bit of work
2) I think we need to get away from debt-based currency. Back in the late middle-ages, they had grain/corn-exchanges – grain being a commodity that absolutely everyone needed and used. I don’t think such a thing exists today. I’ve come across a guy trying to design a system based around energy… joules instead of dollars – but he’s so verbose that I can’t figure out what he’s on about. And so it won’t work.
Micro-volunteering offers the distinct possibility of exchanging labour for labour… in an arena which isn’t automatically a zero-sum game. A bit like the Japanese granny-care setup that Douglas Rushkoff occasionally goes on about. This isn’t what this app is set up to do, but it has potential.
3) I think there is huge, powerful potential in one-to-one communication from the walled-world, to the outside.
I think that conscious attention… the knowledge that it’s there, the act of giving it, is going to be a LOT more powerful than simply punting money at charities once a month etc. Eventually, something is going to do to the big global charities, what P2P did to the RIAA et al – and I think that is going to be a real world-changer.
Theoretically, the mechanisms for this already exist – but there’s something about working together that really pulls people together. Social apps doing nothing but chattering doesn’t have quite the same effect.
And I don’t think it’s a one way street. The West is suffering from chronic existential problems and depression. I think value is going to flow both ways. Big time.
And I think this app is an example of how it could start… just someone sitting at a bus stop helping out with a bit of translation… giving some advice, saying “hi, what’s the weather like where you are?”
4) This is also a mechanism that would support the Crowd-Sourced Eco-Monitoring that I was on about earlier. I think there are fairly huge benefits to this as well.