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Facebook co-founder Hughes builds new social network for causes

By Cecilia Kang

Chris Hughes, co-founder of Facebook, has spent the past year working on a new social network. This time, for good deeds.

With Jumo, set to launch on Nov. 30, Hughes hopes users will bring the same enthusiasm they do to Facebook status updates and fan pages to issues such as women’s rights in South Asia, child trafficking in Eastern Europe, and the fight against Aids.

And instead of working out of the Harvard University dorm room he shared with Facebook partner Mark Zuckerberg, Hughes has been working out of offices of in New York. Jumo, means "together in concert" in the West African language Yoruba. It "conjures up the idea of a lot of people working on different causes simultaneously to affect social change," Hughes said.

The nonprofit is launching its social network as households are cutting expenses. But 60,000 people have signed up so far, without knowing much about it the project. Hughes thinks people would get more engaged if they knew about what their favorite charities and causes were up to and met like-minded people on the Web.

Hughes, who ran the social media campaign for President Obama’s election run, stopped by The Washington Post last week to talk about Jumo.

(Washington Post Co. Chairman Donald Graham sits on the board of Facebook.)

Here’s an edited version of our interview:

Q: Why are you interested in social causes, and what do you bring that world?

A: The idea is to take what I learned from the Obama campaign and use those networking tools, the technology, to help solve social problems. Whether it's education, health care or financial, the basic problem is that millions of groups are working on the issues but there is no system to connect.

Q: Foundations and philanthropies are using social media tools all the time to get out their message and get people to donate. How is this different?

A: This is not about giving. This is not about a big red button to give a donation on a Web site. Later on you will be able to do that, but that’s not the focus.

There are three basic opportunities that this presents. Number one, to find the interests that you care about most through an algorhithm that consolidates everything you want to know about that cause through Facebook Connect, Twitter, e-mail, YouTube and other platforms. Those pieces help you do the second, which is to follow the cause. Last is feedback, or support for volunteers and others who are also interested in the cause. [Facebook Connect allows Facebook users to connect their accounts to other Web sites that make the service available.]

Q: So, I don’t get it. This is about philanthropy, but donations aren’t in the discussion?

A: Donations are related, but this doesn’t start and end with donations. Organizations can’t ask people to donate for the first month it’s on the network. The Internet presents a unique opportunity to get compelling content in a consistent and friendly way that doesn’t feel spammy or invasive. That is the focus.

Q: So, is the idea to keep some of these philanthropies accountable? If it looks like a food bank is tucking away money, people will call them out, yes?

A: This is an open platform so anyone can write if they had a great experience or not. Transparency and openness is what we as Internet people take for granted, and it has a real impact on a sector.

Q: When you launch on November 30, what will I see? I gave Jumo my e-mail address. What have I gotten myself into?

A: You’ll see 4,500 projects, and that will grow. Anyone with a social mission can be on the platform, and we have a broad definition of social mission.

Q: Is this part of Facebook?

A: There is no straightforward advantage with Facebook Connect. We’re building out on Facebook Connect, like, hundreds of thousands of other sites using Facebook Connect. I truly believe Facebook Connect will fuel the power of the social Web. In time, we’ll build user accounts to build on Facebook Connect.

Q: I have issues I care about, but I don’t find myself going to the Web sites of those causes all that often. What will make people come back?

A: Nothing we’ve done would get people to go back to Jumo.com. Instead we think about platforms. Most people spend most of their time on Facebook, e-mail, Twitter or some long-tail sites they care about. We see four key channels for Jumo to get and keep people engaged – through e-mail, Facebook, Twitter and mobile.

Q: Okay, so walk me through how you would use one of those channels.

A: For e-mail, we have 66,000 people who have given their e-mail addresses so far. We will tailor e-mails daily and/or weekly for that person on what they care about with what feels like a news letter with up-to-date snapshots of the organizations they care about. We’ll have top stories for Facebook users. And we’ll have a mobile app in February or March that lets you do things like text or take a photo of an orphanage you visit as part of your cause and share it with others who also share that interest. That photo, depending on the situation, can be highly critical or praise the organization.

Q: Will you use user information to advertise? How will we see Jumo approach privacy?

A: We reserve the right to give information to an organization. So if you say Amnesty is the greatest, in our terms of service, we say we may give that to Amnesty. We believe that is in line with user expectations. Like in the campaign, the Obama campaign said they reserve the right to use the e-mail addresses and text message numbers in the future. It hasn’t, really, but it reserves the right.

Q: You’re a nonprofit, but how will you stay afloat?

A: We’re not a nonprofit in that we’re not interested in making money. But we’re like a for-profit in that we don’t want to rely on individuals and foundations. So we will have two main revenue lines: 1) tips from donations 2) sponsorships.

Q: How do sponsorships work?

A: Beginning next year, if organizations want to be sponsored for greater visibility, they can. It will most likely appear as a sidebar display. So if you want to be on the sidebar, in Q1 or Q2, you can by being a sponsor.

Q: Whom did you look to for inspiration and advice when forming Jumo?

A: Charles Best at Donors.org and Dennis Whittle at Global Giving have been constant resources, sharing organizational best practices and lessons learned. In the NGO (non-governmental organization) world, I talk to a good number of people, including Jeff Sachs at Millennium Village about aid versus non-aid.

Q: What did you do over the past year?

A: I’ve spent a lot of time just listening. As a tech startup, the tendency is to come up with a great idea and tell every person to sign up. I took one year to listen with the hope of delivering change day in and day out. I came into this sector as a newbie, a neophyte. I knew of nonprofits, but nonprofits, I learned, are really complex. There are good programs and not so good programs. Some with established reputations and others that are upstarts.

Q: Is there all that much interest in social causes and giving these days?

A: There is $300 billion in giving in this space, and less than 1 percent is being done online. But not only is the sector huge, American donors want to help and want to be critically engaged.

Q: Why do this? Why not work on the next tech phenomena or continue with politics?

A: I’d turn the question around and say, why not do this? If people don’t have responsibility when there is injustice, not sure what they should be doing. One billion people live on less than $1 a day.

By Cecilia Kang  | November 8, 2010; 10:00 AM ET
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Comments

It's Dennis Whittle, not Dennis Little, at GlobalGiving.

Posted by: elliskc | November 8, 2010 2:05 PM | Report abuse

And one effects change, one doesn't affect change. C'mon, WaPo.

Posted by: davestickler | November 8, 2010 2:17 PM | Report abuse

This Hughes guy is worth $16 billion, yet he's founding a "new" nonprofit. Meaning non-taxable. Wonder how much of his personal wealth he's pouring into "Jumo"?

Many of us believe the whole nonprofit thing is baloney and should be the subject of a congressional investigation. Good example: Religions and churches, most of which today are businesses, many of 'em very big. But because of outdated beliefs, they still escape taxes, though so-called mega-churches occupy many acres of valuable land and serve much more than religious purposes. Like millionaire leaders.

And Hughes's comment about a billion people living on $1 a day is an
oft-uttered piece of disinformation, a relative term that's definitely subject to a closer look.

Yes, many people might be living on a buck a day. But in places where they live -- Southeast Asia, Africa, Mongolia -- $1/day often is the norm. Generally enough for them to get along.

Posted by: clitteigh | November 9, 2010 1:28 PM | Report abuse

Godspeed Chris with JUMO! I am about to write to the Pope in Roma about the problem of the fake couples in Hollywood and the harassment of the worst conservative side of our blessed America against Myspace and its dating service. I am myself the victim of social and sexual harassment in my community Hollywoodland, the Beachwood Canyon and on Franklin. This sad issue must not be a reason to be pessimistic: social media and networking sites with Facebook as a lead, will prevail!
Frederic Vidal, President
TIMEFRAMES LLC

Posted by: vidal4senate | November 15, 2010 3:53 AM | Report abuse

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