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Last Updated: Tuesday, 14 June, 2005, 16:15 GMT 17:15 UK
'I will if you will'
Tom Steinberg and pals have created a clutch of notable websites which aim to get people involved in their communities. He's now turned to a site where, instead of talking about good intentions, people can do something about them. Here he explains how it works and what he hopes to achieve.

Have you ever said to yourself "I'd really like to do something", but then shelved the idea because you couldn't get any support from anyone else to help you with it? If so I hope that PledgeBank might be able to help.

PledgeBank is a site which my colleagues and I have built which lets you tell other people that you will do something, but only if a certain number of other people will promise to do the same.

Some of the sites created by Tom Steinberg and friends include:
For example "I'll set up a residents' association for my street, but only if four other people will come to my house to talk about it." People then sign up, and the pledge either succeeds, or it times out and expires. The certainty of a pledge expiring may seem harsh, but it is essential - it concentrates the mind on finding other people to sign up.

During the site's testing phase, one unlikely pledge led to some new homes for an endangered species. One user said: "I will bury a bucket to create a home for stag beetles but only if eight other people will too."

Paul Stacey will clean-up the banks of the River Taff between Western Ave and Cardiff Castle but only if 5 other local people will too. (26 days left, 5 more signatures needed)
Despite nearly being deleted as a frivolous suggestion, three weeks later the final person signed up, and now there are a series of such buckets buried across the UK.

PledgeBank isn't just about general call to arms, though, it's about getting things done in your local area, or within your organisation. In order to help local pledges succeed, the site combines modern technology with some distinctly tried and tested approaches.

Each new pledge create generates a set of flyers of various shapes and sizes, designed for printing and distribution. These explain what the pledge creator is trying to do, and how to sign up. They've been made so that people can spread messages the old-fashioned way, through post-boxes, on community notice boards, at school gates and so on.

'Sally will spend a full half hour playing a game of my child's choice'
'Ellie will do all my shopping locally and NOT in a supermarket chain'
'Richard will engage in earnest conversation with someone whose views I really despise'
Not everybody who might want to sign up to a pledge has a computer, or wants to use it. So to handle these situations, PledgeBank lets anyone sign up to any pledge via a standard rate text message - the details are on the flyers. A good example of how this can be useful comes from a pledge creator called Nicola.

She has set up a pledge which says "I will give 1% of my gross annual salary to charity but only if 400 other people will too." She is planning to take the pledge to the Glastonbury festival, where she's going to run a mini campaign to get people to sign up via text message.

PledgeBank is all about making explicit a psychological bargain that everyone makes sooner or later, but which it can be awkward to confess we have made. This is the judgement about whether engaging in an activity which is of clear value to our friends, colleagues or neighbours is comfortable and worthwhile from our own perspective.

Technology can't completely change this age-old dilemma, but it has at least provided a tool to lend a hand.

Add your comments on this story, using the form below.

What a good idea! I may be able to visit Britain next year -- and wouldn't it be cool if I could participate in a pledgebank project during my visit? I think it would be great! After all, I can pick up trash from a river bank as well as the next man -- and what a great opportunity to meet some people from the UK that have shared values!
Curt Carpenter, Dallas,Tx USA

I was reading the pledgebank website only yesterday, what a coincidence it's now a featured news item.
Mike, London

"I'll set up a residents' association for my street, but only if four other people will come to my house to talk about it." -- Not very likely if you just post it on the internet!
Kevin, London

I will never seek to design useless websites with no purpose other than to justify their own existence, but only if the rest of the world does the same.
JB, York, UK

I think its a great idea if 5 other people do too.
David Morgan, Durham, UK

Why do pledgers only feel they can do something positive if they publicise the fact? Perhaps what they really want is the good opinion of others?
Chris, Oxford, UK

How about, "I will stop reading the BBC web site when I'm supposed to be working, but only if 1,000 other people will do the same"?
Anthony Gilbert, Leeds, England

Excellent idea - apply it to giving up smoking, controlling alcohol intake, sticking to a diet, tidying up public places
Alick Munro, Twickenham

I will submit a comment once I see 5 others.
Ralph, Cumbria

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