Deep in the Barack Obama platform, there's a reference to "a craigslist for service." It's humbling to see our name in there, but I'd prefer to see that as only a metaphorical reference to the need for greater service to others, with the spirit and culture of trust of craigslist. Obama is inspiring millions of people to consider service to others, and to innovate for service. Check out what Barack says at change.gov
"When you choose to serve -- whether it's your nation, your community or simply your neighborhood -- you are connected to that fundamental American ideal that we want life, liberty and the pursuit of happiness not just for ourselves, but for all Americans. That's why it's called the American dream."
Also check out Inside the Transition: Service at change.gov.
While "a craigslist for service" is just a metaphor, as customer service rep and founder of craigslist, well, seems right to stand up and say something about this. Here's what I think "a craigslist for service" could be in the short term, from my personal perspective. I'll talk more later about this in the context of national service.
(This is very much a work in progress, lots going on here.)
A lot of Americans go into service professions, but most have other means of employment, and need to find ways to help that complement their lives. To be really fair, this requires time and/or money that might be lacking; for example, a single parent putting kids through college is already more than busy. Here, I'm focusing on people who might have a little extra.
Here are four possible aspects of "a craigslist for service."
1. If you have the time and inclination to get out, you might volunteer for an existing service organization, probably a recognized for-profit. There are sites which make this relatively easy, the most effective of which is VolunteerMatch.org.
2. You might have some cash you'd like to pool with others to get something done. Sites which make that happen include DonorsChoose.org, funding classroom projects, or Kiva.org, which provides micro-finance loans to small businesspeople.
3. You might have the time for traditional civic engagement, where you participate in local governance. For example, you might join the PTA, or just attend local city council or board of education meetings, or join the board of a small non-profit. That's traditional grass-roots democracy, an important American tradition.
4. Online, you might get involved in the new grass-roots democracy, where you get increasingly smart about some aspect of national governance.
I'd recommend taking a look at change.gov, specifically the discussion of healthcare. It's a great first step towards real networked, grassroots democracy.
Check out SunlightFoundation.com, which fosters sites which provides checks and balances on government. The Sunlight sites are about government transparency, like how money is used, and abused in government. I'd like people to get smart about some specific area, keep an eye on that, and report... problems.
Also, if you're a technology fan, check out peertopatent.org, an existing program where you can help patent examiners check out new inventions.
5. To make this really happen, people need to declare themselves publicly, to commitment to some form of service, and follow through. This is like the pledge system of the Clinton Global Initiative, or pledgebank.com, or thepoint.com. We'll need something which scales to the tens of millions, which also plugs into the social networking tools people actually use.
(Yes, that was five.)
My suggestions for the Obama administration:
1. Select a volunteering tool, perhaps VolunteerMatch.org
2. Commit to ongoing discussions on change.gov and to whatever it evolves into, and to follow through in terms of actual administration actions.
3. Commit to a private/public partnership to build a site where Americans will commit to some form of service, possibly building on the work of the Clinton Global Initiative.
Suggestions for Americans:
1. Commit to some form of service and declare that publicly on the site suggested above. This could be full-time service, volunteering, or funds donation via micro-finance or similar.
2. Get smart about at least one major issue. Actively participate in change.gov or similar, or innovative efforts like Peer to Patent or transparency efforts via Sunlight Foundation partners.
3. Encourage your family members, friends, neighbors, and co workers, where appropriate to also make participating in some form of service to strengthen America a part of their lives.
I feel that we're entering a new time of civic engagement, where people can help others out in small or big ways. Let's get going.
Follow Craig Newmark on Twitter: www.twitter.com/craignewmark