Category Archives: community service & activism

Stanford Facebook Class: 10 Million in 10 Weeks

Stanford Facebook Course Final – Stanford World Domination
Originally uploaded by sindy

I’ve been working somewhat with, among others, the instructors (especially BJ Fogg and Dan Ackerman Greenberg) for the Stanford Facebook class CS377W: Creating Engaging Facebook Apps, figuring out how to use Facebook and its application development platform to encourage development of apps to promote student life, aid in teaching and learning, reach out to alumni, and more. (My department, Student Computing, is currently running an app contest to encourage development of just those kinds of apps.) Wednesday night, I attended the class final– a full-blown presentation on the class (including the journey from the Stanford Persuasive Technology Lab exploring how to computerize persuasion in 1993 to the development of the class itself), aims of the course, lessons learned, and, most importantly, the apps produced by the class’ 25 student teams.

The class has gotten a lot of hype, especially in the blogosphere, and much of it has been about how students were looking to find the secret to building the next big app and, in turn, making big money from it (check out this WREX-TV, video and try not to be distracted by the dumbed-down and sometimes nonsensical tech imagery for the narration). Much of the class focused on metrics and taking advantage of the viral nature of social networking sites like Facebook– aiming, for each app, a high number of users (especially daily active users) and high engagement (number of page views and time spent with the app). The apps developed, as you can tell from the phrase “10 million in 10 weeks,” were largely successful in achieving these goals with over 10 million installs, over one miliion daily active users, and a handful ranking in Facebook’s top 100 apps (out of over 10,000): Perfect Match, Send Hotness, Hugs, and KissMe (originally based on the Full Moon on the Quad tradition at Stanford). (Sorry if I missed any that reached the top 100.)

However, focusing on getting the largest number of users doesn’t always result in developing the “deepest” or most “socially meaningful” applications– as one commenter put it, even the “Stanford intellectual elite [can be] devoted to producing such monumental drivel.” (Before the Stanford-developed KissMe app, just think of the success of the unbelievably simple Zombies app.) So, instead of focusing on the apps that had the highest number of users, I want to point out two apps that are particularly socially conscious and show how to take advantage of the power of the Facebook network:

  • The Giving Tree – the developers of this app partnered with Kiva to piggy-back on the growing awareness of the power of microlending. Facebook users don’t even need to pony up their own money– instead, once 50 people have added one of the selected businesses to their profile, $25 is pushed to the business using money donated from companies.
  • Save the Rainforest – here, the developers partnered with The Nature Conservancy to take advantage of some of the time Facebook users are spending on the site everyday. Users play a vocabulary game and for every six correct answers, one square foot of the rainforest will be adopted through The Nature Conservancy’s Adopt an Acre program. As of the class’s final presentation night (December 12, 2007), 5,000 square feet had already been saved!

You, like me, are probably trying to reduce the app clutter on your Facebook profile, but if you’re going to use apps, I think these two are certainly worth it.

And with that, I leave you with a short video of Dave McClure leading the audience in The Wave to get them psyched up for the presentations:

In our own backyard

As the drama of Hurricane Katrina continues, I fear that somehow Americans will end up giving more to tsunami victims than those who suffer in our own backyard. I certainly don’t want to say that one person’s suffering is greater than another’s, that we should put value on one person’s life over another, but what does it say about Americans if we fail to help our own countrymen? Isn’t that always how it is? We’ll go through so much and pay so much to adopt an orphaned child from somewhere in Asia or Africa, but we won’t take in and care for the child who lives homeless on our own streets.

But there is one silver lining that I want to take note of: the way the educational community is coming together. Universities, including those I’m directly affiliated with, Stanford and Carnegie Mellon, are coming together to reach out to college students affected by the hurricane and to help make sure that their educations are not severely interrupted. Despite my frequent frustrations, I have to say that a part of me is proud to be part of the higher education community today.

But of course, what about the young children who don’t have homes or food, much less a school to go to today or tomorrow or the next day? How many children will be orphaned and how many dead bodies will continue to be pulled out from the waters? Americans are certainly capable of supporting its citizens– consider the outpouring of support for victims of 9/11. While we may not have terrorists to band against in this circumstance, certainly the suffering and need for help is just as great.


I don’t know if this take-back really erases their lame cop-out. Here’s an interesting line from Ballmer’s email:

After looking at the question from all sides, I’€™ve concluded that diversity in the workplace is such an important issue for our business that it should be included in our legislative agenda.

If Microsoft is supposed to be such a leader in diversity, why did it have to be pressured to make it a priority in its legislative agenda?

Lame cop-outs

The Daily Show - Gay Watch - 04.26.2006 (Screenshot)

I wasn’t going to comment on this, but this Daily Show clip is just too funny to pass up: Quicktime, Windows Media.

When I first heard about this, I was really surprised– I thought Microsoft’s change in stance on HB 1515 was very strange. Say what you will about Microsoft as a technology source or even as a corporate power, but from what I’ve heard, they have had a pretty good track record on supporting charitable causes. They have a sizable matching program for their employees’ charitable donations and everyone has heard of Bill Gates’s personal philanthropic efforts. Moreover, in terms of queer rights, Microsoft has a sizeable queer community (GLEAM, Gay and Lesbian Employees at Microsoft. And as Steve Ballmer says in his email to Microsoft employees, they were one of the first companies to provide domestic partner benefits and to include sexual orientation in anti-discrimination policies.

However, the peculiar thing is that Ballmer (and Gates, by extension) says that they are wondering if a corporation should become involved in broader social issues, that if they take an active stance for or against legislation, what kind of message does it send to employees and shareholders who might hold an opposing view?

Well, with the increasing corporatization of America, I would think that its obvious that corporations have an enormous influence on social and political issues and if they want to continue to exert that influence in some areas, shouldn’t they also feel some moral responsibility to, put bluntly, not be a bunch of wusses when it comes to broader social issues? Perhaps the case would be different if Microsoft did not have a history of becoming involved in social and political issues, but to back down when things get a little interesting seems cowardly. By instituting domestic partner benefits and including sexual orientation in its anti-discrimination efforts, Microsoft’s internal policy was already making a broader social statement and while Ballmer says he does not want to promote a law that goes against the personal beliefs of many of its employees is really a lame-ass copout. By supporting HB1515, Microsoft wouldn’t be saying that gay marriage should be legalized or that employees have to embrace homosexuality. What they would be saying is that no matter how you feel about homosexuality personally, a lifestyle choice that is in no way illegal, you should not disciminate against homosexuals in the workplace. You may not like black people, Asian people, white people, Jewish people, Muslim people, red fish, blue fish, but it’s illegal to discriminate against them in the workplace. Obviously, Microsoft agrees with this idea since they have an internal policy against discinination based on sexual orientation and have recognized domestic partners in providing benefits. If they think it’s good enough for Microsoft, why isn’t it good enough for the workplace in general?

Help support disaster relief

To help support disaster relief for those affected by the earthquake and tsunami emergency, donate funds to the International Response Fund of the American Red Cross:

American Red Cross Online Donation Form

As someone who has personally received Red Cross services, they do a great service and every little bit helps.

To learn firsthand what’s going on in Asia, take a look at bloggers covering the disaster as well as SMS messages from Sri Lanka. Also, be sure to visit The South-East Asia Earthquake and Tsunami for news and information about resources, aid, donations and volunteer efforts.

World AIDS Day

AIDS Ribbon Before I forget and am lame, just wanted to remind everyone that today is World AIDS Day. It’s been almost twenty years since the first AIDS cases appeared in New York and San Francisco. It’s strange to think that for many young people today, they have never known a world without the threat and fear of HIV and AIDS. But also, those young people have also never known a world without cocktail drug regimens or where AIDS was so unknown, so feared that an American President would fail to say the disease’s name in public and everyone believed that it was only a disease that affected gay men and intravenous drug dealers. For many young people, new drug treatments and complacency have made them believe that AIDS is a manageable disease and that when we look at images of a still healthy Magic Johnson after so many years, they wonder if it’s really a big deal.

Well, of course it is. We must not forget that millions of people in America and around the world do not have access to or cannot afford expensive drug regimens, that many people in America and around the world, with or without AIDS, do not have access to basic health care. Five people die of AIDS every minute and almost 38 million people around the world are living with HIV and AIDS. While we must accept that we live in a world with HIV and AIDS and that it affects everyone, we must not grow complacent. HIV has not gone away.

Take some time today to learn more about HIV and AIDS, to remember those we have lost and those who continue to live with HIV and AIDS. Consider giving some time or money to support efforts to fight this virus and this disease, whether you decide to help support a national research foundation or a local community service group. And in the end, let us remember that one of the biggest challenges to fighting HIV and AIDS is the stigma associated with the disease– let us remember to fight prejudice, in all its forms. After all, it is our lives that are at stake.

Happy Thanksgiving and positive celebrity influences

I’ve been watching lots of The Ellen Degeneres Show and aside from the fact that it’s a very funny, very fun, and very entertaining show, I have to give props to Ellen for the great charitable work she does through it. Thanksgiving week and the holiday season in general is usually the time for special giveaways and the like and Ellen is no exception. She has been sponsoring the Ellen Thanks-for-Giving Food Drive, encouraging people to give funds, food, and time to America’s Second Harvest, the nation’s food bank network. She directs people to the Web site to give to the food assistance group and she encourages people coming to see the show to bring bags of food– her recent shows have included clips of audience members bringing bags and bags of food and companies like M&Ms and Starbucks have also been contributing large cash donations through the show as well. The key to this giving campaign though, I think, is that she only asks people to bring one food item or give one dollar, recognizing the influence she has through her television show and that by asking each of her viewers to give a little bit, she can put together huge charitable gifts. On top of this giving campaign, her Thanksgiving show audience was filled with the family members of soldiers serving overseas and more important than the free cruises she gave to every single audience member and the care packages and gifts she sent to the soldiers, she set up the opportunity for the soldiers to send video messages to their loved ones.

But the holiday season isn’t the only time Ellen has been seen giving to those who need and deserve it. As part of her RSVP Ellen program, when she wasn’t able to be the birth coach for a pregnant mother, she instead sent lots of presents, including a $2000 gift certificate to, and invited the couple to an all-expenses paid trip to see the show and vacation in the area. On top of regular interviews with celebrity guests and musical performances, the show is filled with giveaways like this, small and large, and regular contributions to various charitable organizations.

And the combination of how fun the show is in general and the giving spirit is what makes this show great and what makes me truly respect and love Ellen. She doesn’t have to do many of the charitable things she does on the show, but it seems to me that she recognizes the influence she has as a celebrity, a public figure, and a talk show host, and uses it to support important causes. It’s this balance between celebrity and charity that I respect and admire. I don’t begrudge the large salaries of actors and actresses, but I think that anybody who has something should try to give back to those who do not, whether it’s a few dollars or millions of dollars. If you can, I believe you should try to give as much to charitable causes as you can. I believe you can balance enjoying your money and living a comfortable life with giving to important causes in a significant way. And for celebrities, I truly respect those who take it one step further and use their influence to encourage charitable work. For example, here’s a cool thing– Michael Rosenbaum who plays Smallville‘s Lex Luthor, instead of accepting birthday gifts from his fans, tells fans to send money to Ronald McDonald House Charities on his behalf. The point is that he doesn’t really need the birthday gifts from thousands of fans, but if they really want to send them, he can at least turn that into something charitable. I think it was a great idea and one that everyone, celebrity or not, should consider embracing.

In the end, acts like these reflect a generosity of spirit that makes me not only enjoy the work of these celebrities, but respect them as people as well. And it is a lesson for all people who are public figures on whatever scale– that being a role model isn’t necessarily about living a perfect life or keeping the world from seeing anything possibly negative in your life, but more about setting an example in small ways and instead of putting the spotlight on the good things you might do, putting the spotlight on the good things others can do.


It looks like the LIVESTRONG wristband that I mentioned in a previous post has really taken off. I’m spotting the bright yellow wristband everywhere (including my own wrist). John Kerry was wearing one during a public appearance as he pointed toward a hopefully Bush-Presidency-free future. Tom Brokaw, in a spot on The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, was also wearing one.

In the mid-nineties, it was the red AIDS ribbon. A few years ago, it was the pink pony from Polo (for breast cancer care and prevention). I guess right now, the fashion accessory for the fight against life-threatening diseases is the LIVESTRONG bracelet. If there’s one thing celebrities are really good at, it’s certainly starting a fashion trend and this one at least helps a good cause.