Yesterday I wrote a blog post critiquing The Extraordinaries, a micro-volunteering mobile application.  That post was picked up by the Chronicle of Philanthropy and has sparked a conversation on this blog, the Chronicle's site, and Twitter, with people both agreeing and disagreeing with my position.  The CEO of the Extraordinaries, Jacob Colker, wrote the following response in the comments section of my original post.  In fairness to The Extraordinaries, I wanted to bring their response front and center on my own blog.

Thanks everyone for taking time out of your day to offer a critique of our work. We welcome and appreciate the input and feedback.

There are a few points we would like to make.

(1) The field of crowdsourcing is still in its infancy and so is our company. We're just getting started.

(2) We're already providing value to organizations via image tagging -- the first of many tasks to be offered on our platform. For museums, cataloging images is a real need. It costs money to hire curators. Brooklyn museum helped to pioneer this space a few years ago (http://www.brooklynmuseum.org/opencollection/ta...), the Steve Project took it one step further with their project (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Steve.museum), and even Google has taken advantage of image tagging in their own form (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Google_image_labeler). For organizations, making thousands of images searchable provides a tangible benefit to staff, the public, and more. But there exists no system to facilitate image tagging for organizations that don’t have a software development budget, until The Extraordinaries.

But image tagging does much more than deliver an archived photo database. Image tagging (and other tasks in our system) strengthen relationships with supporters.. Keeping even the most devoted supporters engaged is a touch point that organizations work hard to achieve through email blasts, Facebook messages, tweets, and maybe even direct mail.With our platform, supporters do actual work for something they are passionate about, and feel closer to the organization’s mission in the process. For some organizations (like museums and libraries), it’s one of the first opportunities to *get information back* from patrons… please read the Steve Project research for how much value this channel creates.

(3) We're just beginning to explore possibilities that others have proven in the marketplace.

For science, NASA used an early form of micro-volunteering in 2000 with the Clickworkers program (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Clickworkers), Galaxy Zoo took that process one step further (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Galaxy_zoo), and the Cornell University Lab of Ornithology has had several amazing advancements for bird research using this method (http://www.birds.cornell.edu/NetCommunity/Page....).

For graphics, iStockPhoto (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Istockphoto) and http://www.99designs.com has saved nonprofit organizations tens of thousands of dollars in design costs.

The list goes on. In summary, we’re not the first to prove that crowdsourcing works, nor the last. But we’re the first to make it easily available to organizations.

(4) This is not a replacement for traditional volunteering, it's another way to give back, and we're already proving it. For example, each year about 1.1 million people in the United States have heart attacks, and almost half of them die (http://www.nhlbi.nih.gov/health/dci/Diseases/He...). An organization called First Aid Corps came to The Extraordinaries and built a mission that asks people to help build a mapped database of public heart defibrillators (shock pads). With our system, people can snap a photo of a defibrillator in an airport, government building, or other public place, record the GPS location of the device, and beam it to the map. So far, with only a limited number of users, we've had over two-dozen defibrillators submitted through our system. See for yourself (http://app.beextra.org/activityfeed/show/orgid/...) scroll down to where it says, "mapped a defibrillator" in one of the lines and click the orange arrow.

(5) What we’re replacing here is actually idle entertainment. We spent nine-billion hours in 2003 playing solitaire (http://www.businessweek.com/innovate/content/no...), 1800 hours watching television in 2008 (http://blog.nielsen.com/nielsenwire/online_mobi...) and 74% of Americans *did not* volunteer in 2008 (http://www.bls.gov/news.release/volun.nr0.htm). The Extraordinaries is working to make it meaningful, for someone to do actual work for an organization, cause, or community they care about, in a few minutes of spare time. See for yourself: http://app.beextra.org/activityfeed/show. And for a great read on how our so-called “cognitive surplus” can be applied to good causes, see Clay Shirky’s piece:http://www.shirky.com/herecomeseverybody/2008/0...

(6) True, one in five children in the United States *does* lives in poverty. What can you do about that with your mobile phone? At the moment, you can help Christel House deliver messages of encouragement to underprivileged students. That's a start.

Down the road:

-- You might be able review and critique the resume of a parent of one of those kids looking to find a job, while you're waiting for a latte in Starbucks.
-- You might be able to help map food resources using your camera and GPS and ensure that assets reach their destinations, on your way home from work.
-- You might be able to help a distributed phone-banking service make a few phone calls to identify kids in need, while on your lunch break.
-- You might be able translate brochures into other languages from organizations looking to service those impoverished communities.

The possibilities are endless if you can dream them. And, The Extraordinaries is nearly finished with the first iteration of our platform that will enable you to start making some of those dreams a reality. Come see how: http://www.BeExtra.org

Thanks for taking time to read our response.

Sincerely,

Jacob Colker
Co-Founder and CEO
The Extraordinaries
Jacob@beextra.org