Building a Platform for Good

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When you’re going about your everyday life – walking down the street, riding the subway, shopping at your favorite store, sitting at a neighborhood café – what you are guaranteed to see? People with their phones in hand, heads down, completely zoned into a digital world.   We’re all guilty of it at one point or another.  Not surprisingly, psychologists fear that we are losing the social skills to properly interact with one another human to human.  All of our technological connectedness is making us less connected in “real” life, which will make us awkward, unfeeling people. 

Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.
— Helen Keller

But our relationship with technology doesn't have to be all evil; some apps out there help real people work together, albeit digitally, toward a common goal.  On one end of the spectrum we have Good360, a non-profit that is developing an app to help disaster relief contributions travel from the donator to the recipient in need faster and more efficiently.  This app clearly solves a real problem – currently about 60% of items donated during disasters end up in landfills.  But this app also promises to bring together real people from little towns and big cities across the globe to serve a common purpose of getting relief victims what they need, when they need it.

Admittedly, not all of us will use our technology to help save lives on a regular basis, but apps can also bring people together to enrich smaller, more lighthearted (yet still important) parts of our everyday lives.  Take Waze, the very popular traffic and navigation app purchased by Google last year that allows drivers to “share real-time traffic and road info, saving everyone time and gas money on their daily commute.”  Users of the app take time out of their drive to caution other people about debris in the road, upcoming collisions, and even hidden traffic cops. 

Then there are fashion apps like The Hunt and Wheretoget, where users can post photos of a celebrity, model, or random person on Instagram wearing an outfit they like, and other users on the app scour the internet to tell them exactly where to snatch it up and how much it will cost.  Note there are no fashion experts or retail buyers involved here, just everyday people like you and me helping out their fellow fashion enthusiasts.  And help they do – a third of questions are answered in about 30 minutes, and most people get an answer within a day.

Apps like these encourage selflessness in an otherwise narcissistic digital world.  Sure, shortening someone’s commute or enhancing their wardrobe might not sound as generous as donating to charity, but users of these apps have probably helped hundreds in their community make it to their grandma’s birthday party on time, or find that perfect dress for their engagement party. The little things matter, too.

Beyond the altruism of these apps, there’s an element to these services that any brand can employ. At their core, these apps are platforms that empower users to do the “work” for a brand. The Hunt could have staffed thousands of expensive style consultants to receive and answer each user’s style query, but instead it created a compelling and easy to use platform that encourages its users to do the work for free. Same with Waze, Wheretoget, and Good360. This has always been the promise and power of crowd sourcing and it doesn’t just apply to philanthropic brands. Alibaba, eBay, Github, Kickstarter, Uber, and Airbnb have all created compelling and profitable platforms that draw people in to contribute to the quality and success of the community. Are there areas of your business that could be more efficiently served by outsourcing to your own savvy users looking to garner a win-win?

photo credit: Lachlan Hardy