Media

Vision: Web Phenom Who Cofounded Facebook and MyBarackObama Targets Social Change with Jumo

Chris Hughes' Jumo.com harnesses social networking powerhouses Facebook and Twitter to link up online donors with organizations dedicated to making a difference.

The current social networking ecosystem is geared toward often sharing too much disposable information about what we ate, bought or saw. But Facebook cofounder Chris Hughes' new nonprofit startup Jumo.com has higher aspirations. It wants to connect social networkers with socially conscious projects seeking to better shape communities and the world, rather than snarky status updates. 

"Jumo set out to address a key challenge in the social sector," Jumo managing director Kristen Titus told AlterNet. "In 2010, despite huge advancements in technology and millions of people ready and willing to help, there is no network to connect people with the issues and organizations they care about." 

Jumo's plan is simple: Harness the user-friendly design and interactivity of social networking powerhouses Facebook and Twitter to link up online do-gooders and their donations to a sprawling webwork of local, national and international organizations. Everyone from the Union of Concerned Scientists to Code Pink to your local YMCA are indexed, with more organizations adding profile pages daily. And just like on Facebook and even Twitter, users can follow organizations, issues and developments in fields like conservation, human rights and onward to stay updated on the changes taking place in the often disconnected world around them. They can also give  money, which Jumo processes through the nonprofit online donation processing organization Network For Good, which then forwards a 4.75 percent cut, or grant, to Jumo for site maintenance. 

It's a "social network for the social sector," Titus explained. 

With Jumo, the baby-faced Hughes is looking hopefully forward to a social media hat-trick. After founding Facebook with Mark Zuckerberg at Harvard, Hughes created the constituent organizing site My.BarackObama.com, which summarily stuffed the presidential candidate's campaign coffers with over 200 million donations of less than $200 while coordinating over 70,000 Obama events during the 2008 election. After Obama called Hughes "my Internet man" and a Fast Company profile credited him with successfully installing a president in the White House, the sky was the limit.  

Instead, Hughes got to work on the less shiny but more Sisyphean task of Jumo, a Yoruban term that translates into English as "to come together."

"Applying lessons learned in the development of Facebook and employed by the Obama campaign, Jumo aims to make it easy for the mother in Indiana to find, stay in touch with, and support both the soup kitchen down the street and the girls' school in rural Kenya," said Titus. "Jumo enables everyday people to find, follow and support those working toward solutions on the ground in their communities and in regions around the world." 

After a soft launch in March, Jumo officially launched a beta site on November 30, just shy of Hughes' 27th birthday on Nov. 27. But like the myriad causes it champions, Jumo is still a work-in-progress. Its search field, which is really the only way users can browse causes and organizations, can be slow and cumbersome. Users wishing to create a profile must sign up through their Facebook accounts, if they have one. Those without Facebook accounts can still view pages and causes, but can't create Jumo accounts, although Hughes' site promises they will be able to do so in the future. 

Navigation is also a problem, in the sense that there isn't much of any for those looking to get out of their profile pages and into Jumo's crowded innards. It feels a bit like a closed loop, which isn't very helpful for those looking to dig deep into the myriad organizations doing good work around the world. Some obviously ascendant issues, like cannabis legalization or tidal power, aren't represented or are absorbed into broader issues like global warming, which hampers those looking specifically to work or support those causes.  

But every startup has its glitches, and Jumo is no different. Those who wish that Facebook and Twitter had a progressive-minded sister site devoted specifically to social causes rather than viral videos and trendy hashtags should feel right at home, especially once Jumo irons out its pesky bugs and severs the Facebook umbilical cord that unfortunately codifies participation. 

"I want to have as maximum an impact on the world as possible, to change it in a positive, lasting way," Hughes told Financial Times in December. With Facebook, the Obama presidency and now Jumo, he's off to a great start. But the devil is in the details, the cliche goes. Massaging those nagging details into an equal-opportunity site and campaign to enact social change, away from the often disposable world of social networking, must come first.

Scott Thill runs the online mag Morphizm.com. His writing has appeared on Salon, XLR8R, All Music Guide, Wired and others.
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