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The Tipping Point or The Hundredth Monkey .com

FROM: Jim O'Connor

What NEED does this meet?
Many people would like to help their world or community in some way, such as by using public transport instead of driving, or contributing to a charity, or helping in a local scheme, or voting for a certain political party, or protesting against something, BUT, they know that doing so on their own without massive numbers of other people also following the same course of action would be a waste of time and/or effort and/or money.

In this way, even though large numbers of people would like to do something, enough to make a difference, they never do it due to the absence of some mechanism by which they can co-ordinate their activities.

What is the APPROACH?
This site would help by allowing people to pledge to carry out one of the actions above (or something else) IF a certain number of other people do the same. They will enter the pledge, or pick an existing one and specify the threshold number of other people that they would require to also make the same pledge before they would be prepared to actually carry it out.

The system would hold all the pledges, email addresses and thresholds in a standard database and when the threshold was reached for a particular pledge/group of people, it would email all the people to let them know so that they can begin carrying out the action.

The system would need a database, a bit of math and an intelligent way of categorising pledges so that people can find the one they are looking for. Some pledges would be global, some local.

The site could also contain sections with expert analyses outlining how many people would be required to carry out some course of action to make it beneficial. This would allow people to make an intelligent choice of threshold for any particular pledge.

To answer the question, I think the approach is distinctive not only because it could co-ordinate any conceivable beneficial activity but because it will allow everyone to set their own personal threshold level. You could, for example, say I will begin to "recycle household waste in the London area" but only if 2 million other Londoners also do it. You don't then have to begin recycling until 2 million other people also agree to do it - and of course if that many people did agree to do it then the government would be forced to make recycling in London much easier than it is now. So by setting the threhold figure you are basically stipulating a level of inconvenience that you are willing to experience.

What are the BENEFITS to people?
More participation in beneficial activities as people know they are not doing it alone and therefore wasting their time and/or money.

I remember once reading something by Noam Chomsky in which he said that if one person were to make the decision to use public transport instead of driving to work they would put themselves at great inconvenience and therefore lose out, but if everyone were to do it together then the extra investment would allow such an improvement in services that we would all get to work in half the time and in greater comfort. BUT, it needs everyone to do it together for the benefit to arise. This is the type of thing that the site will facilitate. Co-ordinated action. He said it had something to do with Game Theory.

What is the COMPETITION?
I don't know.

What BUDGET & LOGISTICS are required?
The system would need a database, a bit of math and an intelligent way of categorising pledges so that people can find the one they are looking for.

System would be pretty cheap I think. Some bright student could probably knock up a prototype in a couple of days.

Would need an administrator.

November 2, 2003 in Connecting People, Helping Your Community, Matching System, NGO Tools, Pledge Banks, User Created Content | Permalink


Wonderful idea. I know I have that syndrome all the time. I still do things because I think it will be better if I do my part, but overall I lack confidence that it matters since only a handfull of others are. I think if we all witnessed that our thresholds of expectation were met that others wish to do the same, it would change our impression of what WILL get done!

Posted by: Tyler Zetterstrom at Nov 8, 2003 7:32:30 AM

A possible extension to the basic idea is to use a similar mechanism for collecting
money for charitable causes, but instead of specifying a threshold consisting of a
certain number of people, the user would specify a) a monetary amount that they would be
willing to contribute to the cause, and b) a threshold amount that would
need to be pledged in total by all contributors before they would actually part with
their hard-earned cash. This would be for those people who want to contribute to
charity but feel unless large numbers of others do the same, their contribution will
not be worthwhile. Maybe this part of the site could even hold credit card details
and debit accounts automatically once the threshold has been reached.

Another possible extension to the basic idea is that pledges could be owned
by other organisations or individuals, who could then provide a link to the pledge
from their own site.
For example, say Amnesty International were to use the pledge functionality
outlined above to allow people to make donations to their organisation.
To do this they could set up a donation pledge on the site and provide a link to it
from their own webpage, thus providing a more user-friendly way of making the
pledges available to the general public.

Posted by: Jim O'Connor at Nov 9, 2003 7:47:37 PM

One instance of this which I can think of which works is BT's scheme for upgrading ADSL exchanges in order to get broadband. They set a trigger level, e.g. 500 people, and those interested sign up.

In many cases one or two people have taken it upon themselves to persuade more people to sign up so they can get broadband. It's a wonderful example of using self-interest for the public good.

Posted by: Pete at Nov 17, 2003 5:59:03 PM