Am I missing the point of my own idea?
April 9, 2009 10:42 AM   Subscribe

I operate a universal wishlist website. It's still in the early stages, but I have a few users and I enjoy tinkering, and hope it will make me a few dollars someday down the road. Recently, I've gone into business for myself as a designer and developer. This has meant a lot of new traffic and a new trend in the types of things being added to wishlists...

I've seen several (unrelated, as best I can tell) people using the site as a sound board for things they desperately need and can't afford on their own; for instance, one user found her way to the site from a newspaper article written about it. She added "new roof" to her wishlist, with a brief blurb about being on a fixed income and caring for her disabled husband. Another person created a wishlist and filled it with only two things: a cheap laptop to go back to school, and gift cards to grocery stores for her infant child and herself. I'll freely admit that both of these tug strongly at my heart.

So now I say to myself, "Self, is this a better purpose for this website than teenagers wishing for iPods and DVDs?" Is there some way (barring these are scams, of course) to try and help these people? Or am I just over-reacting, and are these just "wishes" writ large? Any ideas for how I can branch out into something more socially concious than social networking built around obtaining more useless crap? I've thought of adding something to the app that will allow users to contribute a dollar or two to a specific user via PayPal; is that a slippery slope?

Please help this bleeding heart figure it out!
posted by littlerobothead to Computers & Internet (5 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Option 1: let it grow on it's own, perhaps shaping it by choosing where you advertise the site and now. Stay out of figuring out what's real and what's a scam. You're then competing with other universal wish sites (Kaboodle comes to mind, though it's not as flexible as your site).

Option 2: make it an interesting social service site, but do a proper job of screening all requests. It'll take a lot more leg work, but I think you could get a LOT more publicity if you send press releases to local media about how The Internet is helping someone locally who is down and out. Perhaps work with Habitat for Humanity or other volunteer organizations, so people who don't like the idea of tossing money at an issue can get involved in another way. That could be something pretty interesting.
posted by filthy light thief at 11:00 AM on April 9, 2009

Are you famililar with Modest Needs? That site began with funding from the owner's pocket and has grown to accept donations. Maybe you could contact them for advice?
posted by ferociouskitty at 11:16 AM on April 9, 2009

Wow. Sounds like a really good idea that can help a lot of people.

I think you need organization and then you need volunteers. Get good like-minded people on board. Network on the various groups and forums, put the word out there - and you can't get enough PR. So you might want to get that humming asap - just get the word out. To as many people in the right places as possible but be selective where the word goes out to. You want to expose it to sincere people who need the help and those who have the help to offer but want to be discreet and assured that it's legit.

Maybe the ideal would be a spiritual Craiglist where hearts and minds connect, share and exchange resources and ~also~ have a safeplace to put out the word about what it is they need, what they can offer etc.

The next step would be to connect everything (I mean everything) from the various social sites BACK to your MAIN homebase, so no matter how someone heard of you they can point and click and FIND you.

One last word, I think this has incredible potential for being the next big thing, but it has to be user friendly and it has to be ~wow~. For it to be successful it has to be different from anything else out there - and that probably means going with the heart first and foremost, the money will follow. Helping for helpings sake. Giving for givings sake. Sharing for sharings sake. Being a channel for the needy and a voice for the voiceless - but with major flair and no ego. See if you can do this - and you've got the recipe for something great.

Good luck.
posted by watercarrier at 11:35 AM on April 9, 2009

Abstract the back end code and then offer it at a nominal price to organizations that do this already (but on paper).

For example, my late, lamented aunt was a driving force behind a program like this where I grew up. Someone generous volunteers with the organization to sponsor a family's Christmas gifts, while local social workers are collecting data from their clients. The non-profit matches donors with familes while filtering out all personal data.

Currently it's done on paper cards and in Access. *shudder* Every year they need to scrounge up resources and tech people. If you could put this on a web server (theirs or off-site) and just spawn off a fresh copy, they could concentrate less on IT and more on helping people.
posted by wenestvedt at 12:38 PM on April 9, 2009

Greedy or Needy does something VERY similar to what you're proposing.
posted by divabat at 12:13 AM on April 10, 2009

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