Posted by: Nancy | June 6, 2010

Tiny things

Are we becoming more specialized or more fragmented? More connected or more isolated?

In the corporate world, I used to marvel at the degree of specialization in the workforce. Tasks were split into smaller and smaller bits and assembled across silo’ed organizations. And leaders wondered why it was so hard to get everyone focused on the same mission.

In technology, we continue to break everything into tinier and tinier bits. Think of network technology (packet switching, dissembling and reassembling bits right this instant!), and the increasingly specialized areas of research and academics. We keep slicing our focus smaller.

It’s the same with time. We’re driven by the clock, to make use of every minute. Too bad that too often we’re just satisfying ourselves with an illusion of activity.  Hmm, do I really need to check the stock market again? Or Facebook? Am I making a connection or avoiding one?

This week I found a nice way to connect. Individually, working alone but as part of a world movement. Another form of crowdsourcing, there’s a movement to make it easy for the app-carrying masses to spend a few seconds contributing money, time or intellect to others.

It’s a kind of hive-help to museums, schools and libraries. Called The Extraordinaries, it’s an app for micro-volunteering from your mobile phone. You can select a program to support, and within seconds, you can be helping with a project — for example, translating film dialog, tagging items from historic photo collections, supporting research.

Some of The Extraordinaries’ projects:  for Cornell University, collect data on urban birds; for the Smithsonian, help build a search engine for vintage photos and artwork by tagging images; help the Bibliotheque de Toulouse or the Brooklyn Museum tag their photo collections. You can help Greenpeace or the Library of Congress. Non-profits can apply to add their work to The Extraordinaries’ portfolio of projects.

The Extraordinaries, backed by a strong investment team featuring Kapor Ventures of Silicon Valley and Esther Dyson, among others, has secured $1.135 million in funding.  The company describes itself as for-profit social enterprise and is applying to become a B-corp.  (More on that later.)

Tiny bits of time, given to a bigger cause. This can’t help but catch on.

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