INTERVIEW: ForGood - a social movement (network) that transcends the Internet...

I spotted a new "social movement" site the other day, piqued my interest. Forgood positions itself as:

"a social movement that inspires, guides and connects different people taking action to make our society safer, healthier, happier, more informed, more compassionate, caring .."

So I set up the following text interview to delve beneath the hood, and get some more insight on what this FNB / IS / SABC etc. sponsored community is all about.

Here's the interview:

1. Hi, who am I talking to?
Samantha & Claire

2. For Good. What is it? And who are you aiming at?
Forgood is a social activist movement using the web and cell phone technology, backed by mass media promotion. It's based on the belief that millions of people who would take action for good, don’t – because they don’t know how to or believe their small actions would be insignificant. Forgood's objective is to support people to take small (and big) constructive actions to impact on the social issues facing South Africa - through guidance based on research/expert input on the most important steps people can take. And to help people feel that because their actions are added to the actions of all the other members of forgood, this creates a significant wave of change around the country.

(ED'S NOTE - It's interesting. I've heard many arguments both for and against event like the Million Man March. Some say, at least you're doing something or making a statement, while others say - so what. I do think there are plenty South African's willing to do something - but facing the mountain/molehill experience. Other's say we "talk kak" and get on with it!)

Later on, as our technology is established, members will also be able to use our network to contact people with similar interests/living nearby to join them in the actions they are organising themselves.

Target: the 80% of South Africans with cell phones and the 10% with internet access

3. You say this is a social networking platform. How are you going to differentiate from the mainstream social networks?

This network is about building relationships for social change. It's informed by serious research and expert input. So it provides both guidance as well as a means for people to communicate and network about issues they care about and which add meaning to their lives.

Also, we have a priority focus on protecting members' privacy (especially as we will have youth and possibly children joining our network). Therefore messages won't go directly from one member to another through the forgood network - they will be moderated by an editorial control team to check for safety of messages. We also will build in the facilities for members to notify us of any dodgy news/info posted on our online bulletin boards (- a future development).

(ED'S NOTE: Pity. I was looking for some insights on the "mobile social network". The site hints at integration to cell phones - and positions itself as a community... Obviously scenes from forthcoming attractions.)

4. Why should people invent another username and password to belong to your social network?
Well, they can't do this yet, but will be able to set up a personal page online in a few months, if not sooner. This personal page will allow members to feed in their Facebook messages but also stay abreast of the action campaigns they're interested in, the action groups they belong to/have created, and get regular updates on the good news streaming in from other forgood members taking action. In addition, because of our principle of research and expert input, we hope that the guidance provided by this network becomes trusted by our members, and adds value to their lives. So if they feel moved to respond to a social issue, forgood becomes the place they go to for trustworthy advice on how to act. We hope that the inspiration, positivity and personalisation offered by the forgood personal page becomes reason enough for members to stay with us and make their personal page their home page.

5. Integrating information push and pull into mobile/sms will open this up to a whole new segment of South Africans. Are you planning to do this?
We don't know enough about this yet and are still exploring its possibilities for our network.

(ED'S NOTE: Awww damn. Still - look sharp chaps, you're sitting on a golden little opportunity here. If Joburg can shut down due to an viral SMS thunderstorm - imagine what you could do for a real social cause...)

6. How are you planning to handle engagement and collaboration between network members with internet access and those without?
I may be reading your question incorrectly, so I've answered this in a couple of ways.

1) All members will be sent SMS messages about twice weekly guiding them on actions to take for good. These messages will be supported by material on the website, so people with internet access can get supplementary material online.

All members who provide us with their postal address will be sent a resource manual booklet, containing a lot of the basic information that is available now on the web. (We hope this will especially be a resource for those without internet access.) In a short while, we should be able to give members the option of receiving their weekly messages via SMS or email (the latter will have links to the website for more information).

2) In regards to horizontal communication between members (those with and without internet access), as mentioned in answer (1) above, in a few months, members can send us information about actions they are taking which they wish to be disseminated to other members with relevant interests/geographic base. After moderation on our part (checking that the event/action sounds kosher, that it is happening in a public place, etc), we can disseminate this message to all members via SMS or email. The email message can contain a link to a bulletin board/event calendar with more detailed information. And we intend to increasingly use USSD menu type messages for cell-only people to access more detailed info than can be communicated in 160-character SMSs (as well as modify certain web pages for cell-enabled web browsing).

(ED'S NOTE: Aha. Now that's interesting. Kind of like the eBlockWatch concept - but to do with social good. I'd be very interested to see how aggregation issues will play out. Social "media" is typically full of shallow crap - the moderation process will be tough, and vital.)

I do need to add that this is a pioneering effort, and we are encountering learning opportunities every day, if not many times in a day. We're building this network to be responsive, and we're having to practice that in these early days, so there's a lot of experimenting and strategy changes happening regularly. One key principle of this network is to use research in multiple areas - from developing content, to testing messaging, to monitoring members' feedback, to evaluating the whole thing. So this will hopefully ensure that we stay responsive and constantly improving our services.

7. Any reason you chose ASP.NET as your development platform? And not something a little more open source (with fewer license fees!)?

a) Internet Solutions, one of our major partners, paid for the early stages of technical development and will continue to cover such costs such as license fees.

b) We needed a system that offered us 90% of what we needed, with only 10% to customise.

c) We needed support providers who offered immediate response to critical modifications/new developments.

(ED'S NOTE: The reason I asked this question, besides my slightly open-platform-centric views of late - was that there really are a preponderance of Web 2.0 community platforms out there, which require very little in the way of maintenance. Their beauty is in how clever implementation and good ideas can turn a vanilla platform into a master community. These guys went ASP.NET. So be it - and good on 'em. Dare to be different!)

(ED'S THANK YOU: Well, thanks Samantha and Claire - great to text-to-you. I think there's room and spirit for a community like this. And you've started out on the right foot - lots of sponsorship and a willingness to include the 49 million people who don't have access to the Internet. I'll be watching this one with interest...)


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