WEEKLY WEB WATCH: How to alleviate world hunger with just one click of a button

This week’s topic is one of those things that could never have existed without the Internet. In fact, it seems so far-fetched you can be forgiven for thinking it’s one of those hoaxes from last week.

This week’s topic is one of those things that could never have existed without the Internet. In fact, it seems so far-fetched you can be forgiven for thinking it’s one of those hoaxes from last week.

This week’s topic is one of those things that could never have

existed without the Internet. In fact, it seems so far-fetched you can

be forgiven for thinking it’s one of those hoaxes from last week.



Visitors to the Hunger Site (www.thehungersite.com) are greeted by a map

of the world on which different countries flash on and off - one flash

every 3.6 seconds. Each flash represents someone dying of hunger in that

country. Visitors are then invited to simply click on a button to donate

food to the hungry. That’s right: all you have to do is click.



You don’t actually have to give anything; this is charity where you dip

into someone else’s pocket instead of your own.



So how does it work? The food is actually paid for by sponsors. There

are usually between four and six sponsors for the site at any one time,

and each donates a quarter of a cup of food each time someone clicks on

the ’Donate Free Food’ button on the home page. The food is donated

through the United Nations World Food Program. ’There is absolutely no

charge to you for the donation; it is fully paid for by the sponsors and

is completely free for you,’ the site tells you reassuringly.



Clicking on the button took me to a page that told me: ’You have just

donated 1 1/2 cups of rice, wheat, maize or other staple food to a

hungry person, adding to over 100 tons weekly.’ It also listed the

sponsors with their logos and links to their own sites. On the day I

made my donation, the sponsors included Proflowers.com and

GreaterGood.com - not exactly household names. Still, there were

4,823,556 donations in total - the number of people who clicked on the

’Donate Free Food’ button - during October, amounting to 6,341,680 cups

of food or 792,711 pounds. And for ’donations,’ you can also read

’audience.’



Those millions of people have at least seen those companies’ names and

their logos. And the half a cent per click that the companies spend on

donating food compares well with the cost of buying a similar audience

using conventional advertising. It’s more expensive than buying

impressions using banner advertising online, but those impressions are

gained in a context that reflects very favorably on the participating

companies - a nice bit of PR. It overcomes one of the great challenges

of online advertising - getting people to care enough, in the clutter of

banners, buttons and general clamor for your attention, to click on your

banner.



And there’s spin-off publicity to be gained as well. The Hunger Site has

been written up everywhere from The Washington Post and Family Circle to

El Mundo in Spain and Norway’s Aftenposten.



The Hunger Site has even protected its sponsors against

charitable-minded individuals who might decide to sit and click 500 or

1,000 times on the button in order to increase their donation - the site

will only register one click a day from each unique Internet address.

The site does try to maximize the networking capabilities of the Net,

though. People are invited to put links to the Hunger Site on their own

sites and there is a collection of downloadable banners to use for

linking.



The catch? There doesn’t appear to be one. Amazingly, it’s not a big

media organization or other publicity machine behind the site but a

private individual, a computer programmer from Indiana called John

Breen. He started the site last June as his own way of helping to

alleviate hunger, and since then it has paid for more than 825 metric

tons of food. And he makes no money from it - the sponsors write their

checks direct to the UN relief organization.



It’s not often that I get to write about something that deserves every

column inch that can be thrown at it. But I think I just did.



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