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Last Updated: Friday, 31 October, 2003, 14:02 GMT
Hunt for 'Napster of good causes'
Computer mouse and keyboard, BBC
A mouse can be a powerful force for change
Good ideas that use technology to improve life offline are being sought by a new non-profit organisation.

MySociety is looking to turn the ideas into working projects that help people get involved with their community or make a contribution to civil society.

The organisation will also recruit and pay a living wage to computer programmers to ensure that the ideas get tested in the real world

MySociety plans to have chosen the first two ideas to back by Christmas.

Get involved

Tom Steinberg, MySociety founder, said he wanted to try to find Napsters of civil life that, like the music-sharing system, prove enormously useful to people who want to get involved with their community or want to help make society better.

He said that the e-democracy type projects and tools MySociety wants to find and fund rarely emerge spontaneously online.

He said businesses were unlikely to produce these tools themselves as they tend not to make money. He added that central government was usually bad at small scale projects that met diverse needs and the voluntary sector rarely had the technical or financial resources to do the work itself.

E-voting in Saint Albans
E-voting could help people engage with politics
The tools, sites and projects that have emerged before now, such as FaxYourMP, Time Bank and Tactical Voter, are usually put together by committed amateurs in their spare time.

MySociety is motivated by the idea that the advantages technology can offer to people should not be limited to those with a strong technical background. Instead they should offer the same opportunities to everyone.

Mr Steinberg said MySociety was looking for good ideas, programmers willing to work on the ideas and funders who can provide cash backing.

Sample ideas might be a system that sends text messages to people the night before recycled goods are collected in their area or a way to match locals concerned about the same issue or with time to commit to a community project.

Though only two days old, Mr Steinberg said already more than 50 ideas had been submitted and several hundred people have expressed an interest in helping.

In the run up to Christmas MySociety is soliciting the first batch of ideas with a view to selecting two good ones to start work on. He said it would aims to collect ideas a couple of times a year.

The basic criteria for ideas are that:

  • They must be internet based
  • They must have a real world impact
  • They must serve many people for the same cost as they serve a few

Mr Steinberg stressed that MySociety was not just for people who can crank out working computer code.

Instead, he said, it was for anyone that had an idea of how technology could help people engage with civil life but did not have the skill to get the project up and running.

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