Contribute Magazine has posted an interview with the co-founders of Facebook Causes, Sean Parker & Joe Green. The duo has founded a company called Project Agape, which seeks to spread the practice of micro-philanthropy through social networks. According to their website, the word Agape is ancient greek for "brotherly love, or a selfless regard for other human beings".
Facebook Causes is the first and only project of Project Agape. The application allows any Facebook user to raise money for a nonprofit or U.S. politician by posting a fundraising widget on their Facebook profile and inviting friends to join the cause.
With three million users, Sean and Joe appear to be succeeding in spreading brotherly love. But their brotherly love project is limited to Facebook users. Considering that Facebook tends to appeal to well-educated upper-class over-achievers, I wonder how much love can actually spread before the system begs to overflow onto the broader world wide web.
Here's an idea: Why doesn't Project Agape publish a RSS feed of new causes created through their Facebook application? If they did this, Social Actions would be able to aggregate new causes alongside social change campaigns created on other social action platforms. New causes would then start showing up in the Social Actions search engine. Everyone would beneifit. Sean and Joe, are you out there? Can you hear this request? Or should I post a message on your Facebook profile?
Below are a few excerpts from the interview with Contribute Magazine:
So why Causes?
SEAN: I think it’s a pretty natural evolution.The perception that social networking has been frivolous, I think, has existed amongst non-core Facebook users for awhile, and certainly most of the applications up until now have been pretty frivolous. They’ve been about socializing, not socializing for a cause.
JOE: When you look at Facebook and social networking in general, it sort of heralds a fundamental change in how community works online. Before social networking, before Friendster, community online was very niche and very disconnected. You had StarWars fans, and they got online and found other Star Wars fans, and their identity was sort of a handle. They were Hans Solo, or whomever. But it wasn’t them and there was no real connection to their real life. Then Facebook came along, and it’s about real people and real lives. A person’s profile contains his or her real photo and a real name. To convince your friends that I’m you would be pretty much impossible.Facebook creates this very trusted identity. And so what you’ve got now with Facebook is what (cofounder) Mark Zuckerberg likes to call the social graph — people connectedto other people’s friends. It’s a map of social connections. What that allows you to do is to take things that are real-world and put them on this space and have them work far, far more efficiently.
This is a for-profit business, right?
JOE: Both of us have come to this primarily for social reasons. We did consider being a nonprofit but to do this at the scale we wanted to do it, it had to be for-profit. But our primary motive is to empower individuals and to make the nonprofit process a lot more efficient. So our business model right now is that we can raise money very cheaply. Nonprofits are spending a lot of money hiring firms to do direct mail and phone. It’s costing them 30 to 40 percent of what they take in — and it’s locking out smaller nonprofits who don’t have the institutional machinery to raise money in that way — and then it also locks out smaller donors, especially young people who can afford to write a $50 check once a year, but nobody ever asks. We, though, take a very small percentage of the transaction. The entire transaction cost on Facebook Causes is 4 percent, which, compared to what nonprofits pay now, is a pretty good bargain.
So where do you both see this going?
JOE: We’ve been very focused on growth right now — just getting the application used by as many people as possible. We’re also going to be working on building out a lot more types of actions people can take and various ways to raise money around a cause. One of the real powers of the Internet, though, is rich media. You have the power to make a cause real for someone. Instead of saying, ‘end malaria,” you can show someone what it means to give a bed net to a child. You can say, after watching a video, ‘Give us ten bucks, and you’ll save the life of one child by buying one bed net.’ You’re much more likely to get someone to give that way.
SEAN: What’s interesting about Facebook, and distinguishes it even from My-Space is that it’s so incredibly real. Causes is all about sort of broadening that concept of identity to include one’s higher calling, if you will — what you think about, your values, your beliefs, your sense of social purpose and mission. Second Life is about virtual identities. Facebook is about real identity, real relationships. There’s a much deeper social capital on Facebook than, say, something like Second Life.
JOE: When I was a student at Harvard, we did a study twice a year about college student civic involvement and what we consistently found was that this generation of college students cares incredibly deeply about changing the world, and probably has expressed more interest, infact, in that of any generation since the 60s but doesn’t understand how to do it and feels that the existing institutions really are not responding to them.
We think we can show people that young people can make a difference. I mean you look at this one breast cancer cause now on Facebook. It has amassed more than a million members in seven or eight weeks. I mean, it’s pretty hard to argue that this young guy who started it hasn’t made some kind of impact. He’s not the Susan G. Komen foundation. He’s one guy trying to get a breast cancer study funded at Brigham and Women’s Hospital up in Boston. He’s already raised something like $40,000 so far for that cause. It’s not big money — yet. But by exposing people to the power of their social networks, it can be.
Anybody can create what we call a cause; a cause can be about anything —Save The Whales, Pave My Street, Elect John Edwards, whatever. People are donating $10, $20, and there are some who have given thousands of dollars so far.