and the future of philanthropy

28 07 2009

Two months ago, Bernie Michalik kindly set up a virtual card-blog for my IBM farewell, complete with a donation widget from ChipIn, raising $165 as a parting gift. After scratching our heads for a few weeks, we finally figured out how to cash that amount via PayPal (after paying quite a hefty fee).

Inspired by Jamie Alexander, of Pass It Along fame, I then decided to use the opportunity to try out Kiva was recently featured at as one of “10 Great Ways To Spend Your Tax Refund”.

Kiva’s mission is to connect people through lending for the sake of alleviating poverty.

Kiva is the world’s first person-to-person micro-lending website, empowering individuals to lend directly to unique entrepreneurs around the globe.

I divided the amount among 5 entrepreneurs, and you can follow the progress of those loans here.

Conventional wisdom suggests that good deeds should be kept to oneself, but the more people know about services like Kiva and MicroPlace, the better. Kiva’s success led to an unusual supply-demand situation last year: having more money available to lend than people asking for it, according to this New York Times article. But just to keep things in perspective, take a look at some of the possible shortcomings too, so that you can make a conscious decision.

In the next few years, I expect more and more institutions who depend on public donations to follow Kiva’s “data-rich, transparent lending platform” model, showing exactly what happens to your contributions throughout the whole value chain. Donations are scarce resources, and being transparent goes a long way in gaining credibility and loyalty.

On being off-grid and Byline for your iPhone

26 07 2009

The first 7 weeks after I left IBM were a trip back to my pre-Internet days, as I had problems with both my Twitter account and my Bell Sympatico High-Speed connection at home, and didn’t spend much time in front of a computer at work. Not being connected has its bright side, especially during summer time, so I’m not complaining too much. There’s plenty to do in our non-virtual lives, and an excuse to stay away from the computer is welcome, especially in the sunny days of Toronto’s short summer – by the way, the only reason I’m writing this now is that the weather is pretty bad outside and my golf plans were ruined 😦 .

In my case, Bell Sympatico High-Speed was a bit of a misnomer, especially in early July, when I was getting a download speed of 0.25 Mbits per second and learned from Bell that as far as my connection is up, they are charging for service. Last week I switched all my services to Rogers, and so far it’s been good. I’m typically getting very close to 10 Mbits, a 40 times improvement. Just in case, I’ll keep my fingers crossed, as consumers typically don’t have the upper hand in a de-facto ISP duopoly landscape.

In those 7 weeks off-grid, my iPhone became my online lifeline, but while the small screen is good to consume content, it’s less so to create stuff. Going down the Social Technographics ladder led me to discover a great tool for my iPhone, one that I highly recommend: Byline, by Phantom Fish. Here’s what their website says about the app:

Read the latest news from your favorite sites and blogs on your iPhone or iPod Touch, even when you’re offline.
Simply use your free Google Reader account to subscribe to websites you’d like to keep track of. Byline will automatically bring you new content, putting thousands of RSS and Atom feeds at your fingertips.

Stay in sync
When you read an item, it stays read. The same goes for the items you star: Byline will let Google Reader know the next time you have an internet connection.

Browse offline
Even when you have no internet connection, Byline’s offline browsing feature gives you instant access to complete web pages.
Perfect for flights, subway journeys, and (if you’re an iPod Touch owner) those long dry spells between Wi-Fi zones.
Byline will cache the web pages linked to by your notes, starred items, and (optionally) new items. This allows you to save any news item you read and any website you visit for offline browsing.

Here are some screenshots:

The offline capability is great for consuming comics in the subway ride or during those long, boring flights:

Byline is now the most utilized 3rd party app on my iPhone. To save on the meager data plans available in Canada, you may want to turn the “Cache by Wi-Fi Only” on. I typically synch it a few times a day, just before leaving home in the morning and whenever I drop by a coffee shop during the day. If you work close to the CN Tower in Toronto, the Timothy’s store there now offers free Internet for patrons.