Karma 2.0

Being at the 5th Ave. Apple store during the Product Red launch was an experience. From the newly red Apple logo on the cube to the newly red employee shirts sporting the words “Pocket Karma” to the newly Red iPod Nano, everything was going according to plan. So much to plan, in fact, that they’d sold out all the Red iPods (folks were buying them 10 at a time).

Product Red, of course, is Bono and Bobby Shiver’s AIDS charity that focuses particularly on Africa. And their plan to get the tech-savvy to contribute a bit to their fund via Apple’s super sexy products couldn’t have come off better. But it also got me thinking.

My question is: If technology gets folks excited about a cause, how far can we take that? What other ways can we use these technology to make aiding the underprivileged cool? How can we use it to engage those who wouldn’t think of giving $10 to a charity but would buy a $200 iPod Red ($10 of which goes to charity)? What’s the magic switch to make taking a more active role in helping the underprivileged as likely as buying something branded Red?

One answer may be Web 2.0. After all, Web 2.0 has an allure that rivals the iPod these days. What would it mean to make Product Red Web 2.0 compliant? How do we encourage the development of super cool gotta-play-with-it web properties that just happen to be aiding the underprivileged?

Of course, at it’s heart, web2 is all about being open, lowering barriers to participation, and making the most of that participation. And certainly, web2 technologies are being appropriated by a whole variety of folks in order to aid those with less than they have and give voice to those who live under oppressive regiemes. (Take a look at Global Voices for just one of many great examples.)

What I’m talking about, though, is the mainstreaming of social activism using web2 as motivator and facilitator. Can web2 applications make the idea of helping the disadvantaged exciting in the same way that Product Red makes donating to charity exciting? What does it mean to have a Newsvine focused solely on the poor, pointing out opportunities to help? What kinds of Google Maps mashups could get folks interested in exploring the troubles and successes in the third world? How could MySpace change to encourage kids to work a community soup kitchen on the weekend? Or travel abroad to assist with immunizations? What does the Karma 2.0 killer app look like?

Perhaps it will come from a new use of an existing web2 service or, more likely, a combination of services. Or perhaps it will come from an entirely new web2 invention. “Architectures of participation” has been part of the web2 mantra from the beginning, but there are so many kinds of participation yet to explore. I can’t wait.

image grabbed from flickr

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