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Zazengo and the Social Resume

By Tom Watson on February 19, 2009No Comment

Last month around the inauguration of President Obama – and the day of the service centered on the celebration of Dr. King’s life  -  there was a ton of focus on creating a lasting online movement for citizen-powered change. As the economic crisis deepens and the new Administration deals with that challenge on a day-to-day basis, some of that January enthusiasm has been tempered by the reality of February – but during a recent conversation with the CEO of online social venture Zazengo.com brought back a bit of last month’s spark.

“This concept of challenging others, of making people do something, of a very focused call to action – that’s a big part of this call for national community service,” said Vicki Saunders, a serial entrepreneur and chief of the two-year-old online social change platform.

I think Vicki is exactly right, and that there’s an opportunity – even in the downturn – to create that “focused call to action” on the Web. And Zazengo is a very interesting platform: its motto is “What happens after the call to action?” and the emphasis is very much on impact. In Zazengo’s case, impact of members – in volunteering, raising money, taking actions and the like – is measured through a handsome user interface that favors graphs over pure numbers. This recognizes, I think, the idea that activism isn’t always about pure metrics (dollars raised, for example) but about impact over the longer term. Zazengo’s cool graphics offer a kind of friendly and light feedback loop that emphasizes encouragement over spreadsheets.

But Zazengo is also highly cognizant that the world may not need another destination website, with actions focused on a single URL. “People looking at destination sites, but that’s old thinking,” says Saunders. “It’s really all about getting your unique value proposition out to other sites, to where people live. We really want to be about tracking the impact.”

Last month Zazengo partnered with the Obama transition team and the Corporation for National and Community Service for Martin Luther King Day to encourage and measure actions around the MLK Day of Service. About 2,000 people participated, many using a Facebook application or a widget, and the results were modest – with reports like “1,198 clean miles traveled” and “270 lightbulbs changed.”

But as Saunders points out, “it was a great test group” and the results are all archived in Zazengo profiles, which become important as the “stakeholder engagement engine” begins to track impact and port it over to the rest of the web. Down the road – “when we’re really advanced and have the databases speak to each other” – it may be all about what Saunders calls the “social resume,” an inherent part of an online identity that’s baked into Facebook, and Twitter, and open identities.

It remains to be seen how widespread the call to public service becomes, but as author Valerie Tarico wrote last week on the Huffington Post blog: “Our current crisis and the highly sophisticated Obama campaign structure together create a once-in-a-generation opportunity to build lasting community infrastructure for the common good — not government based, not faith-based, not politically based. Community based.”

And that’s where Zazengo’s emphasis on the social resume may help create the kind of positive peer pressure that gets people off the sidelines.

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