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Smart-phone app lets you do good deeds in your spare time

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“What if you could be standing on a street corner and find a nonprofit near you to volunteer for?” Mr. Rigby says.

He is also founder of Mobile Voter, which sent text messages to youths to remind them to vote and to encourage them to register during the 2008 election.

Rigby developed a prototype for his idea, but says it failed to gain critical mass. A few months later, the idea resurfaced when he met Colker, a former advocacy campaign manager for The International Campaign for Tibet. Colker suggested that the duo build the iPhone app around “crowdsourcing,” where volunteers tackle a problem piecemeal. Examples of successful crowdsourcing efforts include Wikipedia and reCaptcha, which rely on the power of the crowd to contribute data to the online encyclopedia or transcribe series of numbers and letters to create a digital library.

The Extraordinaries’ app, which went online in March, invites volunteers to tag photos for nine museums, including the Smithsonian Institution, the Powerhouse Museum of Sydney, and the US Library of Congress. People can also help create a nationwide map of playgrounds by taking photos of neighborhood play areas for the nonprofit organization KaBOOM, which aims to build playgrounds within walking distance of every child in America.

As the program grows, The Extraor­din­aries envision smart-phone volunteers translating documents, tutoring students, collecting citizen-scientist data, and having people report potholes or other municipal complaints using the iPhone’s GPS capabilities. If the movement gains enough credibility, volunteers might read through congressional bills to uncover hidden “pork,” or fact-check for reporters.

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