Remaking the charity biz, Web 2.0-style

Austin Hill — a smart guy who founded the company that eventually became Radialpoint, and writes a venture-capital oriented blog called Billions With Zero Knowledge — has put together what he hopes will become a Web 2.0-style charity called Gifter, and launched it with a “million-dollar blog post.” For every wish that is submitted, $1 will be donated to charity.

You can also sponsor a wish by donating $1 or more to Gifter (props to Austin for keeping all the vowels in the name, unlike most other Web 2.0 outfits). There’s an explanation of how things work here, including a description of how you can use online charity tools such as Tom Williams’ excellent GiveMeaning.com, as well as CanadaHelps.org (another of Austin’s ventures, called Project Ojibwe, has sponsored 2,500 wishes).

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Coincidentally enough, Muhammad Saleem of The Mu Life and a partner just launched a website called Socially Given, where they are also hoping to use Web 2.0-type community tools to bring together people who want to contribute. Their idea stemmed from a post on Digg, in which Valleywag said it would donate $10 every time its “Diggbait” posts made it to the front page — and Muhammad calculated that this would bring in far more in advertising profits than would be given to charity.

Cambrian House, the Calgary-based “crowdsourcing” software-development company (which I wrote about here), also has a socially-driven charity effort of sorts called Robinhood Fund, in which people pay $5 to submit a wish, and then the community votes on who should receive the money collected each month. Past recipients have included a woman who needed medication for her sister’s Parkinson’s disease.

Is Digg getting better, or worse?

If you like things like podcasts, video and a widescreen look to a website, then Digg has just launched a site redesign that will be a nice ChristmaHanuKwanakah present for you, as described by both Om Malik (at NewTeeVee) and Mike Arrington at TechCrunch. But will all of these new additions help to broaden Digg’s appeal, or will they just further dilute that appeal?

If you’ve been following the blogosphere, there has been a fair bit of controversy about Digg — not about it broadening its reach into general news and other areas (in fact, there’s been surprisingly little comment about that) but about it being rigged, about submitters taking money under the table (which I wrote about here), and so on. Jason Clarke has argued that Digg is useless.

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It’s obvious that some of this is getting to other people too. Over at TechCrunch, one person says they hardly go to Digg any more because the comments are cluttered with morons, and that “As Digg gains more and more momentum to be mainstream we will see that it no longer becomes a barometer of cool but just another established website beaten by fragmented niche sites.”

There are definitely both risks and rewards to the way Digg is going. On the one hand, video is becoming more popular — and Digg’s crowd-voting system can no doubt bring its value (positive and negative) to that as well. But at the same time, adding podcasts and video streams and other features takes away from the streamlined focus on Web links that made Digg so popular (StumbleUpon, which got its start in Calgary, has also launched a video service).

As Digg-style voting tools get worked into other sites, it’s also possible that people might desert Digg for other, more focused sites in particular areas (the way Digg used to be for technology). Meanwhile, Pete Cashmore over at Mashable says the changes are “ridiculously overhyped as usual.” And Neil Patel at Search Engine Land notes that Digg has also made some changes that will affect submitters in subtle ways.

Yes — but a smaller, less frothy bubble

Bubble-ology has become a more popular topic than ever now that Time magazine has named You as its annual Person of the Year (no, not you specifically, but the collective you — or us; oh never mind). In fact, there’s quite a bubblicious debate going on between my friend Paul Kedrosky and Josh Quittner of Business 2.0.

Josh wrote a piece for Time that boils down to the old “it’s different this time” argument. Yes, it’s kind of bubble-rific out there, but it’s okay because it’s different. As Paul notes, the most ominous words in the investment business are “it’s different this time” — words which are usually a prelude to all the same mistakes being made, but with different names and by different people.

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Paul counters that, if anything, this bubble is actually worse than the first one, because “it’s cheaper this time to get yourself in just as deep — and this time there is no IPO market to bail you out.” And he is right — but then Paul is also the one who told our mesh conference back in May that as a venture capitalist, he is a big fan of bubbles because they speed up the pace of development, and that it “takes a lot of dead bodies to fill a swamp.”

In the end, the debate over where we are on the bubble-ometer comes down to a debate over what was wrong with the first bubble. Was it that entrepreneurs got taken advantage of by venture capitalists eager for a big-dollar IPO exit? Or was it that the combination of those two factors wasted billions of dollars of investors’ money? If you think that VCs and Wall Street brokers were to blame (as I do), then the lack of IPOs is probably a good thing.

Then the only ones losing money (assuming they are losing) are big companies like Google and eBay. Does the current bubble make it easier for entrepreneurs to get in over their heads? Sure it does. But I don’t think they can get as far in, because there isn’t as much incentive, and because it’s a whole lot cheaper to scale up to acquisition size than it was before.

Finally, PayPerPost changes its tune

Anyone who has been following the debate in the blogosphere over “blog payola” — under-the-table compensation for a positive review of something — knows the name PayPerPost.com. The company emerged earlier this year and was instantly vilified for paying bloggers to write about clients, but not requiring them to disclose that compensation. Pete Cashmore of Mashable said that PayPerPost was unethical, and Shel Israel called founder Ted Murphy “the devil.”

Now, the company has decided to change its approach, and — according to a press release Mike Arrington has reproduced on TechCrunch — will require bloggers who take part in the program to disclose that they are being compensated. As Mike notes, it isn’t a perfect solution, since bloggers can choose to have a site-wide disclosure policy rather than disclosing which specific posts are paid for, but it is a whole lot better than nothing (Scott Karp doesn’t think it goes far enough).

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It’s not clear whether this change has come about because PayPerPost decided its initial policy was wrong, or because it wasn’t getting enough uptake among bloggers or advertisers, or because of the recent FTC ruling on word-of-mouth marketing and the requirement to disclose, which I wrote about here. It’s possible that it was a combination of all the above.

In any case, I think the move is a good one, and would like to believe that PayPerPost finally saw the error of its ways (although I would much rather that each post involving compensation was disclosed as such). Allowing bloggers to write positively about clients without disclosure amounts to deception, and that isn’t a proper basis for any kind of relationship, financial or otherwise.

Facebook to Yahoo: Please (don’t) buy us

Did Peter Thiel have to practice in a mirror saying that Facebook is worth $8-billion, so that he didn’t smirk at the wrong time, or worse yet, burst out laughing? I wonder. The venture capitalist and former PayPal founder certainly seems to have pulled it off, since he got Bloomberg to publish that number with a straight face. Rupert Murdoch is going to kick himself for only saying MySpace is worth $6-billion.

As Mike Arrington has noted at TechCrunch, and Carlo has likewise pointed out over at Techdirt, this is exactly the kind of thing that companies say when they are looking to be acquired. Call it a combination of playing hard to get and fluffing up your feathers so that you become more attractive to the other birds. A kind of mating ritual.

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Could Facebook actually be worth $8-billion? It all depends on your math. There’s no way in a million years that Yahoo (or anyone else, for that matter) is going to pay $8-billion in cash money for it — but will they pay a billion or $2-billion and then claim that they got $8-billion in value from it, as Rupert and his minions continually claim about MySpace? That’s got a better chance of happening.

As for the talk of Facebook doing an IPO, that is likely also posturing. If they actually try to do one, it will only prove — as Vonage’s IPO did — that their backers are nervous and want to get out as soon as possible.