2015 News and Blog Posts about Virtual Volunteering


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Note that these are articles, as opposed to research and academic papers, which can be found here.

10 December 2015: Internet sleuths solved the 20-year-old mystery of a missing teenager . Dozens of online volunteers, via Websleuths, a forum popular with cold-case and true-crime fanatics, as well as Reddit and Facebook, worked together for years sharing information across the USA and various online platforms, and finally found the identity of a man that died in a car crash in Virginia. Their search began 10 years ago.

4 December 2015. Government employees are using micro volunteering to help each other. Open Opportunities is a mobile-ready web portal where federal employees can ask for assistance from among other employees in developing new ideas for their agency or program office. "You have something small you need done — like some graphic design work — but nobody [in your office] really has the skills to take your PowerPoint and make it more visual and compelling and tell the story. But it's not something you want to bid out and get a contractor … when you know there are people in all places in the government who are interested in doing something like that." The initiative's organizers are calling it micro volunteering, though employees are doing this during their paid work hours. Example of its use: when USA Search needed to verify more than 11,000 federal, state and municipal websites manually, the project manager put the list on OpenOpps, breaking them out into chucks state-by-state. A swarm of feds working on the tasks in small pieces were able to verify all the sites within eight months. OpenOpps began as 20 tasks on a WordPress site with 200 followers. Since that time, federal employees have helped their colleagues complete some 475 tasks, ranging from complicated coding to more mundane work.

30 November 2015. The United Nations Volunteers (UNV) program announced winners of the UNV Online Volunteering Award 2015, chosen from among both volunteers and volunteer hosting organizations on the UN's Online Volunteering Service, and launched a global voting campaign for the public’s favorite. Profiles of the five organizations chosen for the award, and their online volunteers, are here; the organizations are Association des Agriculteurs Professionels du Cameroun (AGRIPO), Fundación de Comunidades Vulnerables de Colombia (FUNCOVULC), Hunger Reduction International, Seeds Performing Arts Theatre Group in Papua New Guinea, and a digital media campaign run by UN Women. Every year, more than 11,000 online volunteers undertake more than 17,000 online volunteering assignments through the service, and 60 percent of these online volunteers come from developing countries.

6 November 2015. Russian supermodel Natalia Vodianova presented her new tech project, an app called Elbi, at the Dublin Web Summit on Nov. 3. Elbi allows the general public to support charitable organizations and projects using micro-volunteering and micro-donations. Vodianova says, "The idea is that the charity organization gives some small task from the certain person they are helping: it may be a serious question from a young girl from Ghana about why women’s rights should be the same as the rights of men? It could also be a request from Dogs Trust to come up with a cool name for a puppy that was picked up on the street and is up for adoption. That name might increase the dog’s chances of being taken home, you know? It may be a request to send a photo of your country from a child who is sick and cannot travel. Users are involved in dealing with these little creative acts: they send pictures and answer questions. What is important is that it allows charities to raise awareness and people to learn more about what is happening in the world and to express empathy." Financial buzz profiled the launch.

28 October, 2015. Eyes in the sky: online "mappers" track child slavery in Ghana. Thousands of online volunteer "mappers" around the world are laying down digital markers in an attempt to establish the extent of child trafficking in the fishing industry across one of the world's biggest man-made lakes as part of an online project to combat child slavery in Ghana's vast Lake Volta. Crowdsourcing project Tomnod is working with the public-private partnership The Global Fund to End Slavery to produce accurate and public data - which could be used by activists, campaigners and the government to clamp down on trafficking. More than 10,000 volunteers have contributed to the campaign since it launched two weeks ago, identifying almost 150,000 buildings, boats and fish cages and mapping half the lake. Tomnod has run other projects including monitoring illegal fishing in Costa Rica and locating elephant poachers in the Democratic Republic of Congo.

27 October 2015. Online volunteers are being recognized and earning custom badges for making significant contributions to the U.S. Geological Survey's ability to provide accurate and timely information to the public. Using crowdsourcing techniques, the USGS project known as The National Map Corps (TNMCorps) encourages volunteer “citizen scientists” to collect manmade structure data such as police stations, schools, hospitals and cemeteries, in an effort to provide more precise and authoritative spatial data for the USGS web-based mapping portal known as The National Map and updated US Topo map products.

23 October 2015. Junior Achievement USA (JA) uses iMeet for all-in-one web, video and audio conferencing to virtually train local volunteers in dozens of communities across the United States. "By offering virtual iMeet sessions, in addition to face-to-face trainings, JA enhances volunteer management, improves community engagement and reduces travel costs so the organization can focus on its mission: inspiring and preparing young people to succeed in the global economy." From a press release.

30 September 2015. “Use Your Skills to Solve This Challenge!”: The Platform Affordances and Politics of Digital Microvolunteering . By Carla Ilten. A paper about microvolunteering promoted by Sparked, formerly Extraordinaires. "My analysis finds that high leveraging of online affordances can coincide with a shifted logic of engagement in the case of microaction platforms: Sparked’s microaction system affords high performance, but targets only a specialized niche of volunteering." Jayne's comment on this paper: I have no idea what that sentence means. This paper is an opinion piece rather than a study.

17 September 2015. More than 10,000 volunteers helped with the papal visit in Philadelphia , including online volunteers called "digital diplomats", who helped "capture the event on social media." Suzanne Kinkel, Director of Volunteers for the World Meeting of Families and the pope’s visit, was in charge of the volunteer mobilization.

25 August 2015. Volunteering Queensland, AU, has a service called Virtual//ly// Done that recruits volunteers skilled in marketing and graphic design to create brochures, videos, and other promotional tools for nonprofit agencies, in conjunction with CPX Printing and Logistics company.

6 August 201.5 Virtual volunteering gains momentum in a digital, flexible work culture Article from Dell Corporation about its employees virtual volunteering activities, through its virtual mentoring pilot program with Sci-Bono Discovery Centre, one of Dell’s strategic charity partners in South Africa. "Sci-Bono’s programs improve children’s access to math, science and technology education. Through phone calls, video chats and emails... Dell volunteers from around the world mentored Sci-Bono’s teachers to help them enhance their technology skills." A downside of the article: it implies that virtual volunteering such as mentoring is great for people who have "packed days" of "family and career commitments." The reality, as is detailed in //The// Last //Virtual Volunteering Guidebook//, is that virtual volunteering takes real time, and the commitment of time for online mentoring, often at a specific time of day on a specific day of the week, is very real and it's critical that online volunteers make the time to meet that commitment.

29 July 2015 6 consejos para tener éxito con tu voluntariado virtual (para los ‎voluntarios). Via hacesfalta.org

26 July 2015. Bridget Lynn Roddy of the USA State Departments has been honored for managing a program that engages college students in “virtual” foreign service . In the Virtual Student Foreign Service (VSFS) program, online volunteers have served as journalists, scientists, mathematicians, graphic designers, researchers and social media experts for a variety of agencies from the Department of Agriculture to NASA. The annual “Sammie” awards, handed out in the fall by the Partnership for Public Service, honor federal employees for their accomplishments.

7 July 2015. Symantec employees tutor elementary students via virtual volunteering . 15 Symantec employees, over the course of a school year, volunteered 30 minutes each week as reading tutors online. They were each paired with one first grader from Markham Elementary in Oakland, CA and every week would meet virtually through TutorMate, a program by Innovations for Learning, a nonprofit organization. Using a phone and a computer, employees would log on to the interactive online system shared with the student and they would read electronic books or play reading games together. According to the nonprofit, more than 70 corporations, universities and government agencies participate in the TutorMate program in 10 major school districts across the USA. The Symantec employee volunteers were able to log their hours through the Symantec Dollars for Doers program, resulting in the volunteers' 173 service hours garnering a donation of $2,598 from the company for the school. Note: The Last Virtual Volunteering Guidebook (available for purchase as a paperback and an ebook talks extensively about how to set up online mentoring programs in schools, detailing all of the necessary steps to support teachers in such a program - an absolutely fundamental step in the success of such a program.

6 July 2015 Virtual Volunteering, Retirement Project 2.0 . Online volunteer Alex Smith, a retired college administrator, has transcribed 576 documents for the National Archives (USA).

5 July 2015. Reddit CEO Says Miscommunication Led To Blackout Protest . A well-publicized mutiny by the online moderators of the Reddit community - moderators who are online volunteers - is actually an all-too-common problem for organizations that involve large numbers of very dedicated volunteers (online or onsite). Jayne Cravens blogged about the similarities with this controversy and one with America Online back in the 1990s.

1 July 2015. In this edition of the United Nations Volunteers Online Volunteering service newsletter, read the story of two volunteers from Nepal who collaborated with the Standby Task Force to collect and map information relevant to humanitarian organizations responding to relief efforts after the earthquake in ‪#‎Nepal‬.

30 June 2015. Virtual volunteering: a real possibility . From Australian-based The Business Spectator/Technology Spectator. An article that is typical about virtual volunteering, in the myths it embraces: it implies that virtual volunteering is new (it's more than 35 years old) and that it's great for people who have trouble managing their time or don't have much time for traditional volunteering (virtual volunteering takes REAL time - whether it's 5 minutes or 5 hours or 5 days, it's all real time, and you have to schedule it/make it - it won't happen magically).

26 June 2015: Online gamers can help improve security of the country's critical software by playing a new game created by UC Santa Cruz researchers in partnership with SRI International, the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the U.S. Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA) Crowd-Sourced Formal Verification program. Binary Fission was designed as a fun and accessible way for "citizen scientists" to help increase the reliability and security of mission critical software by verifying that it is free of cyber vulnerabilities. Binary Fission is one of five games that DARPA is releasing under its Crowd-Sourced Formal Verification program. All games, including the first SRI-and-UCSC-created game, Xylem, are freely accessible through the Verigames website. This is another great example of an article about virtual volunteering / online volunteers, that never mentions either term. Another article, from 23 June 2015, about the same initiative: Online volunteers help DARPA improve national security by playing an online game . SRI International, the Defense Advanced Research Projects Agency (DARPA), the Air Force Research Laboratory, and the University of California, Santa Cruz have teamed together to create a flash game called Binary Fission, that will allow online volunteers to help "increase the reliability and security of mission-critical software." Jayne says: I did a short paid contract gig with SRI International, helping them prepare articles for a new web site, and I was astounded by the incredible work this huge nonprofit does. I'm not at all surprised to hear about this project!

23 June 2015: The numbers of online volunteers supporting Wikipedia are declining; the difficulty editing pages via mobile devices is blamed. Strife among volunteers and long-time supporters is also hurting Wikipedia/Wikimedia. "Could the pressure from mobile, and the internal tensions, tear Wikipedia apart? A world without it seems unimaginable, but consider the fate of other online communities. Founded in 1985, at the dawn of the Internet, the Well, the self-proclaimed “birthplace of the online community movement,” hosted an influential cast of dot-com luminaries on its electronic bulletin board discussion forums. By 1995, it was in steep decline, and today it is a shell of its former self... The real challenges for Wikipedia are to resolve the governance disputes — the tensions among foundation employees, longtime editors trying to protect their prerogatives, and new volunteers trying to break in — and to design a mobile-oriented editing environment. One board member, María Sefidari, warned that 'some communities have become so change-resistant and innovation-averse” that they risk staying “stuck in 2006 while the rest of the Internet is thinking about 2020 and the next three billion users.'"

9 June 2015: What Happens When 28,000 Volunteers Are Set Loose in the Virtual Serengeti. Online volunteers have gone through approximately 1.2 million photos from 225 cameras set up across 1,125 square kilometers of Serengeti National Park in Tanzania, classifying them as empty if the camera had misfired on some branches or grass blades waving in the sun, and flagging photos that featured animals. In three years, online volunteers, through Snapshot Serengeti, classified the entire photo database, helping scientists in a range of fields. Snapshot Serengeti is hosted at the Zooniverse, a citizen science portal.

9 June 2015: A story on the TV news program, CBS This Morning, profiles Crisis Text Line, a virtual volunteering counseling program that provides help for teens in crisis, via text messaging / SMS. The story talks about why DoSomething started the program, and what the data from the program tells us about youth problems today. From the web site: "Great crisis counseling requires great crisis counselors. It is on us to provide a platform that allows our specialists to do their best possible work. We’re proud that our platform is stable and very easy to use. And, while we love data and data science, we believe in a human centric approach. (Read: we don’t think robots make great crisis counselors.)" Also from the web site: "Our volunteers graduate from a 34 hour training program designed in partnership with experts at Common Ground. Training includes video lessons, readings, role plays and feedback, as well as 8 hours of on-platform observation."

31 May 2015: Another online platform has launched to match online volunteers with charities needing help. This one, #charity (Hashtag Charity), is focused on helping nonprofits recruit volunteers for tech-related projects. Joins a growing list of platforms to recruit online volunteers.

21 May 2015: Since 2012, Ericsson has had a virtual volunteering program for its employees in Latin America who want to engage in Technology for Good projects. "In Suruacá the group is focused on promoting digital inclusion and supporting our Connect to Learn program with ICT training as well as teaching students how to step safely into the cloud. The program consists of weekly connections via Skype, and we help the students use YouTube and create their own e-mail and social media accounts." In an entry on their Tech4Good blog, Ericsson employee Bruna Barbosa is profiled for both her online and onsite work in Suruacá.

5 May 2015, Virtual Volunteers Use Twitter And Facebook To Make Maps Of Nepal. Story on NPR: "Pleas for help in the aftermath of the Nepal earthquake have popped up on ever changing maps of the disaster zone, compiled and posted by hundreds of digital volunteers around the globe. They've not been to Nepal and very likely haven't met each other, instead working together through online forums and chat rooms and posting their work to Web documents and maps. Soon after the earthquake struck on April 25, volunteers began monitoring Twitter, Facebook and other social media for reports from Nepal. Some worked to translate them; others posted to maps and Google docs to help guide responders in the stricken country. Far-flung volunteers are also creating and improving maps of Nepal by studying satellite and air reconnaissance photos. Some of the images they're using come from drones flown by volunteers."

27 April 2015, International and virtual volunteering will combine to support disaster recovery in Asia and the Pacific , through an innovative collaboration between Australian Red Cross and global project delivery and advisory consultancy WorleyParsons. Starting early in the 2015/2016 financial year, two WorleyParsons staff members will volunteer for six months with Red Cross partner organisations in the Philippines. Within their assignments, they will project manage requests for technical support - such as planning, mapping, analysis and reporting - and send these to up to 50 virtual WorleyParsons volunteers, who will work on these tasks from their home-offices. Robbi Chaplin, Manager of International Volunteers at Australian Red Cross, believes the partnership opens new doors for corporate volunteering.

26 April 2015 World Organization of the Scout Movement (WOSM) ties microvolunteering to its "Good Turn" advocacy.

22 April 2015 Carnamah Historical Society in Australia won the Contribution by a Community-Based Organisation award at the West Australian heritage Awards, in part for launching a biographical dictionary and a series of new education resources that engaged thousands of online volunteers in their production in 2014. Its work was also recognized with a Museums and Galleries National Award.

22 April 2015 Researchers from the University of Rochester, Microsoft Research and Carnegie Mellon University recently set out to study how the power of social media could be harnessed to help people, particularly those with disabilities. Their paper, "Gauging Receptiveness to Social Microvolunteering" was presented this week at the Association for Computing Machinery's Computer-Human Interaction (CHI) conference in Seoul, South Korea, and received one of the conference's Honorable Mention awards.

April 2015 The Aberdeen City Council/Community Planning Aberdeen and Pathways have launched Volunteering Bytes , Scotland’s first dedicated mobile optimised website for micro volunteering. "It is framed around Scottish Government priorities and will particularly be useful in engaging more people in community activities and volunteering/providing greater access to volunteering via mobile devices." Story about the launch .

16 April 2015 Daily Motion, an online television show in Pakistan, in English and hosted by Shahzad Khan & Maha Makhdum, profiled microvolunteering with Sahban Zafar, Waseem Saleem, Zara Maqbool and Ayla Majed. They also discussed the vital importance of all volunteer / community engagement to Pakistan. It is absolutely delightful to hear this form of virtual volunteering talked about in a non-Western country, and to hear that they also believe that microvolunteering is a gateway to greater volunteering involvement.

8 April 2015 "Your volunteers can help you reach more people on Facebook." A blog post by Jayne Cravens about how volunteers can help a nonprofit, NGO, government agency or other mission-based organization increase the reach of Facebook page posts, despite Facebook changes that have decreased viewership.

2 April 2015, Frankfurt, Kentucky: Kentucky *finally* makes it legal for boards of nonprofits to vote online; it's an issue Jayne Cravens and Susan Ellis have discussed since the 1990s! "boards of directors can now take action outside of a meeting through means of electronic voting, unless the organization’s bylaws prohibit such action. If that vote is taken, and the directors vote for it unanimously, the action passes and is effective just as if a vote had been taken in a regular meeting." Sadly, it has some flaws: "Similarly, board directors are now allowed to telecommute into a meeting. If a director is using a method of communication whereby they can hear all the other participants in the meeting, they are allowed to be deemed 'present' in the meeting and, therefore, count towards quorum. It is probably unintended that this precludes people who are deaf from taking advantage of this newly acceptable way of participating in a meeting. Interestingly, the law also does not require a director who is telecommuting to have the same materials as all of the other directors, a stipulation that has been included in laws in other states."

1 April 2015: 2014 figures have been released for the United Nation's Online Volunteering service, which is managed by the UN Volunteers Programme, part of UNDP. Figures released by UNV: In 2014, the number of organizations joining the Online Volunteering service grew 15% compared to 2013. 42% of the new organizations that benefited from online volunteers’ support were UN agencies. The number of online volunteers "remained stable" (which I guess means it was similar to last year's). Of the 10,887 online volunteers mobilized in 2014, 60% were female and 61% below 30 years old. 60% of the volunteers were from developing countries and 2% indicated they were people with disabilities. NOTE: not sure if "online volunteers" means all people signing up for assignments or people actually accepted into assignments. UNV also says that the majority of the 16,134 assignments posted benefitted education (21%), and that governance and human rights related assignments account for 14%. The majority of assignments posted benefitted projects in Sub-Saharan Africa (35%) and projects with a global reach (33%).

26 March 2015 In 2010, following the Haitian earthquake, Patrick Meier recruited online volunteers, many of the Haitians living abroad, to use high resolution satellite imagery online to update the woefully out-of-date maps of Port-au-Prince on Open Street Maps, to sort and tag Tweets regarding humanitarian responses using the Ushahidi mapping platform, and engage in other activities that could help those coordinating aid in Haiti. Dubbed by Meier as “Digital Jedis,” these online volunteers prompted the creation of the Digital Humanitarian Network .

19 March 2015 Project Mosul is collecting photos from anyone of artifacts in or from the Iraq Mosul Museum, in an effort to virtually rebuild the museum collection largely destroyed by terrorists this year. 3D images will be created of some artifacts if enough data is gathered. "Together, we are working on a framework for the digital restoration and curation of lost heritage, with the ultimate goal to provide virtual reality access to these museums online. If you want to get involved, fill out this form here and we will get you connected with the right area."

5 March 2015, West Virginia University: On March 4 and 5, 2015, the WVU Reed College of Media and the WVU Libraries co-sponsored a panel discussion and faculty workshop to discuss the lack of women among Wikipedia’s editors and what can be done to bridge the gender gap. The discussion was live-streamed and discussion also happened on Twitter using #WikiGenderGap. It's a great example of addressing a lack of diversity in some virtual volunteering activities.

3 March 2015 Hey, corporations: time to put your money where your mouth is re: nonprofits & innovation. "These same corporations demanding nonprofit innovation aren’t funding virtual volunteering-related initiatives." This editorial blog by Jayne Cravens laments the lack of corporate investment in virtual volunteering initiatives.

3 March 2015 The Enterprise Without Border E-Mentoring tool is for volunteers from the business sector, teachers and student companies participating in the EwB program and enables its members to create discussion groups, discuss and work on particular projects and topics, and provides information about upcoming on-line webinars, EwB cafés, presentations and enables access to all study materials connected with EwB activities. It was created and is managed by Junior Achievement Young Enterprise Europe (JA-YE Europe).

23 February 2015: Kyiv, Ukraine: Ukraine’s Ministry of Information Policy has announced that it is now recruiting volunteers for an “information-army” to counter widespread anti-Ukrainian propaganda online. Anyone wishing to serve as a volunteer registers on the i-army.org website, which then sends volunteer weekly assignments by email.

23 February 2015: Mike Bright, founder of HelpFromHome.org in the UK, has released a report, "Microvolunteering Events: Feedback and Details from Events in 2014" -- download for free and see the variety of activities that occurred.

20 February 2015: Trends in Last 20 Years Re: Virtual Volunteering, a blog by Jayne Cravens, hosted on NTEN

9 February 2015: R U There? A new counselling service harnesses the power of the text message. This profile in the New Yorker about Crisis Text Line, a nonprofit offering counseling by highly-trained volunteers via text. The article goes into detail as to why counseling via texting can be a better method of communicating with people in crisis for some people, particularly teens.

3 February 2015: One Man’s Quest to Rid Wikipedia of Exactly One Grammatical Mistake . Two Wikimedia Foundation employees conducted hundreds of interviews to find out the motivations behind Wikipedians - the online volunteers that edit Wikipedia and other wikis. "They learned that many serious contributors have an independent streak and thrive off the opportunity to work on any topic they like. Other prolific editors highlight the encyclopedia’s huge global audience or say they derive satisfaction from feeling that their work is of use to someone, no matter how arcane their interests." And then there's the one that does pretty much nothing except fix the incorrect use of "comprised of" in Wikipedia articles: a 51-year-old software engineer named Bryan Henderson. He is among the most prolific contributors, ranking in the top 1,000 most active editors.

26 January 2015: an article for Dev Ex that reviews how remote onsite volunteers in disaster or conflict zones contribute images online to organizations often based outside the country that can help map critical needs in a community during a conflict or natural disaster, and be used to validate what various people are telling aid agencies and even the media about the aftermath of an event. It discusses in detail why such projects are worth the investment of time and money, and reviews cautions in working with such online volunteers. You have to register on the site to read the article, but registration is free.

16 January 2015, Christian Science Monitor: A new app called 'Be My Eyes' connects volunteers with blind people through a video call to help with simple daily tasks that can prove to be big challenges. The nonprofit app called “Be My Eyes” connects blind people with a sighted person through a video call to provide immediate assistance with a simple task that can prove difficult without vision, such as knowing if milk in the fridge is expired. It "lets anyone with a smart phone become a virtual, visual Good Samaritan." The app was envisioned by Hans Jørgen Wiberg, a 50-year-old craftsman in Copenhagen who has been visually impaired since he was 25. The app is currently only available on iOS.

6 January 2015. Volunteer 'Disk Detectives' Classify Possible Planetary Habitats. This NASA-sponsored initiative recruits online volunteers to crowdsource analysis of data from the agency's Wide-field Infrared Survey Explorer (WISE) mission; in less than a year, citizen scientists (online volunteers), using DiskDetective.org, have logged 1 million classifications of potential debris disks and disks surrounding young stellar objects (YSO). This data will help provide a crucial set of targets for future planet-hunting missions. This initiative continues a NASA tradition of involving online volunteers: NASA's ClickWorker initiative, begun in 2000, recruited online volunteers to identify and classify the age of craters on Mars images from the Viking Orbiter that had already been analyzed by NASA.

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