Clay Shirky, a Code for America advisor and an author on the social effects of the Internet, likes to talk about “the people formerly known as the audience.” These people aren’t content to sit back and observe, he says. The “people formerly known as the audience” want to comment, donate to causes and share information with their friends. In part, what Shirky is trying to make sense of in his books “Cognitive Surplus” and “Here Comes Everybody” is that a computer connected to the Internet merges the power to communicate with others and the power to broadcast information to others in a way that increases the number of possibilities for self-organized collaboration.
Today, the Craigslist Foundation launches a brand new project called LikeMinded that aims to take advantage of the power of online organizing to inspire people to volunteer to make their communities better. LikeMinded is an online tool to “connect leaders with ideas for local change” by recognizing local heroes’ efforts and helping news of their good work travel.
“People are already doing really awesome things for their communities and we wondered whether people were learning from each other, ” says Arthur Coddington, director of online programs for the foundation. “If I do something in Philadelphia, can someone in Charlotte learn from me? Or do I have to start from scratch?”
The question sprang from some work the Craigslist Foundation staff did on refining its mission. The 10-year-old foundation is a 501(c)3 organization, with a separate staff and distinct vision from the corporation Craigslist.org. Originally focused on nonprofit capacity building, the foundation decided a few years ago to shift its efforts to “empower people to strengthen their communities by connecting them to the resources they need to effectively engage in community building.”
By way of research, the foundation hosted a dozen discussions with nonprofit, city, and community leaders in Oakland, San Francisco, Washington, D.C., New York, Minneapolis, and Portland to ask: Are stories of good work already being shared? And could an online application help make it easier?
The feedback was universal, says Coddington. “Everyone agreed a lot could be done to improve communication flow between communities,” he says, “and that one way to do that was to harness the power of the Internet.”
The Craigslist Foundation subsequently received a three-year grant from the John S. And James L. Knight Foundation’s Technology for Engagement Initiative — the same program that supports Code for America — and began building LikeMinded last fall. Developers at Exygy, a San Francisco-based company that works with social innovators, and Jordan Kanarek, a user interaction designer, collaborated with Coddington and Mathew Dryhurst, the program manager for the project.
In its current form, Likeminded users — anyone from city staffers launching an initiative to a neighbor concerned with a vacant lot — are first invited to explore the site to discover projects that could be addressing issues they care about. If they don’t see a project they can join, they can create a new one, filling out fields that ask them to state their problem, process, who was involved and the results of their efforts.
Coddington sees LikeMinded as more of a platform than a destination. The idea is that the Craigslist Foundation will maintain a curated database of resources and projects and then invite other sites — nonprofits, social networks, etc. — to discover and broadcast stories in order to help connect civic leaders to other civic leaders, to existing opportunities to give back, and to solutions to help them address local issues.
LikeMinded’s premise is that people are more likely to make a difference in the world at the local level, and that by making it easier to follow in the footsteps of others who have succeeded in making meaningful change, more people will pitch in. The hope, to put it in Shirky’s terms, is to leverage the power of the Internet to create a “community of practice” for those interested in volunteering their time. Now that the platform is launched, the next challenge will be to build a robust catalog of success cases, and for that, Coddington is counting on “the people formally known as the audience” to share their expertise online.
To add your story, go to likeminded.org.