Lately I’ve been thinking a lot about how the worlds of marketing and social change converge. In particular, I’ve been interested in how the web enables us to flip the traditional, top-down model of advocacy and apply a more open, crowdsourced model of change-making.
We see great examples of this model in the environmental sector, where the likes of 350.org or Avaaz work to empower, not control, their supporters. We applied a similar philosophy on the TckTckTck campaign, where we provided broad messaging, simple branding and lots of online tools to the flotilla of partner organizations, community leaders and zealous individuals behind the campaign.
I stumbled onto this slide show by (I think) a German design firm which uses TckTckTCk as an example of “Branding 2.0 for NGOs”. Tellingly, the Tck campaign didn’t have anything to do with the creators of this slide show. They discovered it, liked the approach and built the thing all on their own. It’s a great example of this kind of “open source campaign”–a slightly abuse of the term ‘open source’, but forgive me–in action.
Bottled water is bad for the environment. The alternative, carrying around a water bottle, is becoming more common outside of college campuses and Commercial Drive. One (admittedly small) challenge of carrying your own water is finding locations to get the bottle refilled. Blue W aims to solve that problem:
Driven by a genuine appreciation for the hard work of municipal water providers, and motivated by success of the U.S. company www.tapitwater.com, we’ve developed the BlueW as a not-for-profit program for providing information on where to find healthy, safe municipal tap water – anywhere. Registered businesses represented on our map have agreed to refill your reusable container with water from their tap, without compelling you to make any additional purchases.
When you are thirsty, just look for the BlueW decal in participating shop and restaurant windows
It’s a great, worthy idea. However, it’s also classic top-down thinking. In order for a business to get listed on the site, you need to fill out a fairly bureaucratic registration form. Once you do, you receive “a Blue W information package containing the Blue W window decal and localized promotional print materials”.
This is a common approach for these social enterprises–the organization wants to build and manage a database of approved vendors, and establish itself as the arbiter of green. As another example, consider the Vancouver Aquarium’s Ocean Wise project. The latter approach actually makes more sense–there’s legitimate due diligence to be done in identifying sustainable sources of seafood. But tap water?
The Blue W site–slick, with plenty of groovy animations–reflects this controlled, top-down philosophy. It’s neat and pretty, but rather buttoned-down. As a side note, this is the second site this week that’s had a splash page. The other, even flashier (or, perhaps, Flashier), was The Pixel Train. It’s 2010, folks, just let the user get to the goods.
Shepherding, not Dictating
What’s the right approach? Anybody could probably produce a richer data set more quickly using Twitter, Facebook, a custom Google map and a little crowd-sourcing. For starters, add a user-submission approach beyond businesses, where people can add water fountains, recreation centres and other public water directly sources to the map. Bonus points for building a mobile app that enables them to pinpoint a water source, describe it, snap a photo and have it magically appear on the site. Even more bonus points for seamless integration with Foursquare, Gowalla and Yelp.
Plus, if it were my project, I’d find it hard to resist the pull of a cheeky pun for a URL, like, I don’t know, TapThat.ca?
The result would be a messier but more useful and richer tool. The project owner’s role becomes that of shepherding or guiding, as opposed to administering and dictating. By giving up control, they’d gain influence. The latter is much more valuable in the long run.
For more on this approach, consider checking out Web Thinking, a great manifesto by a couple of colleagues in the social change world.
Last February, I wrote about the dying business model that is printed phone directories. Like Lee before me, I argued for a shift from ‘blanket the country with 30 million phone books a year’ to ‘let people opt in to receive them’.
You can now choose to receive more copies or to be removed from the distribution list. At all times, you can also consult our online directories YellowPages.ca and Canada411.ca. In addition, you can select gadgets and mobile applications to access our Yellow PagesÃ¢â€žÂ¢ directory content on the go.
The deadline to opt out of the next delivery is November 19, so if you don’t want the Big Useless Stack of Yellow Paper, get thee to this web page and decline your copy.
I’m not going to fall all over myself giving credit to Yellow Pages Group for this because:
It’s 2009, and they could have easily implemented this five years ago. Heck, they could have done it 25 years ago by including a comment card in the physical directory.
You’re not declining delivery permanently. From their frequently asked questions (PDF): “Your registration is valid for two directory deliveries. After that time, you must register again at www.ypg.com/delivery.”
It remains an opt-out system, meaning that waste will be reduced, but it certainly won’t be eliminated.
The Devil and the Details
I wanted to explore a few of the nuances of how they’ve implemented this program. The home page for this section is interesting in and of itself. There are two text links in the introductory text which are far more visible than the ‘Continue’ button, which is buried unobtrusively in the bottom righthand corner. It’s surprising, but we often see links in text receive higher clickthrough rates than graphical buttons:
Why are the frequently asked questions presented as a PDF? Is there a more effective way to discourage people from reading them? Additionally, the page doesn’t render correctly on my version of Safari (BroswerShots confirms that it’s not just my machine–note the overlapping text and oddly placed field):
That’s a bit ironic, if user stereotypes hold true. It seems to me that your average Mac user is far likelier to want to opt out than your average Windows user.
Lower down on the page, after you’ve entered your details, they offer some alternative apps for your mobile device. I don’t care to marketed to when I’m engaged in a customer service experience, but that’s their prerogative. What I do object to is the explanation-free captcha at the bottom of the page:
You need to complete this captcha to move to the next step in the opt-out process. To veteran web users, the captcha’s function is obvious and it’s easy to complete. However, I’d guess that many (a majority of?) Canadians have never completed a captcha, and has no idea what to do with one. Yellow Pages Group offers no context or instructions regarding what it’s for or how it works. It thus presents a significant barrier to the opt-out process.
Why do they need a captcha in the first place? Otherforms on their site don’t include captchas. Do they really think they’re going to get a ton of spammers opting into or out of receiving directories? And isn’t it rendered unnecessary by the subsequent email confirmation step?
Finally, there’s the confirmation step:
The heading is oddly worded, considering that I have declined, not ordered a delivery. And they’ve included another commercial offer, despite the fact that I was viewing the page with Safari.
Am I picking on the Yellow Pages? Yes, and I probably shouldn’t, because I want to encourage sustainable behaviour. I’m obviously underwhelmed by this effort, though. In web design and usability, the devil is in the details and the mistakes I’ve outlined are pretty obvious ones.
This opt-out process seems designed to create barriers between the a site visitor and their desired outcome. Here’s the fundamental question: have they made it as easy as possible to opt-out? I’m afraid the answer is obvious.
Welcome to Walden Pond, Fifth Avenue style. IsabellaÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s parents, Colin Beavan, 43, a writer of historical nonfiction, and Michelle Conlin, 39, a senior writer at Business Week, are four months into a yearlong lifestyle experiment they call No Impact. Its rules are evolving, as Mr. Beavan will tell you, but to date include eating only food (organically) grown within a 250-mile radius of Manhattan; (mostly) no shopping for anything except said food; producing no trash (except compost, see above); using no paper; and, most intriguingly, using no carbon-fueled transportation.
I’m rather late getting to this, but I wanted to express my happiness about a successful conclusion to the Save the Great Bear project. Regular readers will recall that we were helping with the online outreach for this effort to ensure that the BC government kept its promises regarding protecting the Great Bear rainforest on BC’s central coast. From the Vancouver Sun:
Agriculture and Lands Minister Ron Cantelon said the Great Bear plan is an example to the world on managing human activity while protecting biodiversity. “The war is over. Now we can move on in a positive way,” he said in an interview.
The 6.4-million-hectare area is roughly the size of Ireland. The plan sets aside 2.1 million hectares of land as parks and conservancies. Over the rest of the land, resource development, specifically logging, is to be based on ecosystem-based management.
Environmentalists say the new logging rules will require streams, grizzly bear habitat and half the old-growth timber to be protected.
I confess to being reasonably naive about the politics and backroom dealings that presumably get these deals done. Most parties seem happy with the outcome, which is, inevitably, a compromise from everybody’s initial position.
We can only accept a sliver of the credit for this result, but it’s one of my proudest moments for Capulet.
The Great Bear Rainforest is a huge swath of the land–the size of Austria–on BC’s central coast. It’s home to three kinds of bears, six million migratory birds, 3000 genetically distinct salmon stocks and many species of plants unique to the region. Most importantly, it’s the largest tract of intact coastal temperate rainforest left on Earth.
As you may recall, there was a landmark agreement in 2006 among various stakeholders–the provincial government, logging companies, First Nations and environmentalists. They agreed to a new approach to resource planning developed by an independent team of scientists, and committed to its implementation by March 31, 2009. But we’re not (ahem) out of the woods yet. From the petition:
A couple of years ago, Premier Campbell made a very specific commitment to preserve this precious rainforest. The final countdown is on for the BC government to make their promise a reality by the March 31, 2009 deadline. Premier Campbell needs to hear from you.
We are down to the wire. Unless all elements of the promise are kept, the ecological health of the rainforest will be in jeopardy once again. We’ve come so far towards the rare success of having a vast unspoiled forest safeguarded, letÃ¢â‚¬â„¢s not undermine all this good work by not reaching the finish line.
Give Me an Early Christmas Present: Sign This Petition
If you can spare 37 seconds, I’d really appreciate it if you would sign the petition urging the government of BC to keep their promises regarding this precious region. You don’t have to be from BC, either–support from other parts of the globe really helps.
If you’re keen to help beyond signing the petition, consider any of the following:
For the past couple of years, I’ve advocated to anybody who would listen that I thought there was great online opportunity in forming a green ad network. Something like The Deck or Federation Media, but for a group of vetted, popular environmental and sustainability sites. There has, of course, been an explosion of such sites on the web in the past few years. A few such networks exist, but they all feela littlehokey.
They haven’t got a list of publishers up yet. This seems fairly crucial, so I’m going to email them and enquire about that. Regardless, I think that such a network might be able to weather the economic downturn better than most.
UPDATE: I got a prompt response from goodsense founder and CEO Adam Wood: “We’re just finalizing our list of publishers and expect to have one we can share publicly in the next couple of weeks.”
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I was doing a bunch of online research yesterday, and encountered a bunch of heretofore-unknown blogs. These five intrigued me for one reason or another:
Full Bodied – Nice (wine) rack! Keep abreast of vintner trends! The A, B, Cs and double-Ds of wine culture! “Two hot fat chicks on wine and other good things in life.” Features reviews and photos of wine nestled in cleavage. I don’t drink, and I kind of think the wine industry is a big scam, but I’m sure plenty of others will dig the wine plus boobs strategy. Thanks to The Vancouverite for the find.
Green as a Thistle – Vanessa is a journalist at the National Post, and is spending “an entire calendar year, doing one thing that betters the environment.”
Kitchen Witch – This looks like a popular and witty blog. I like any blogger who frets over the gender of her chickens: “Pepper is still gender-indeterminate. Curses. Looks slightly different from Liquorice, but then it’s not as if they’re identical twin chickens, now is it? I continue to think henly thoughts, pushing all roosterish inclinations from my mind.” Mostly, I liked the total absence of a header graphic. The first blog post starts at the very top of the page–quite unusual.