Earlier this week, I had the opportunity to attend “The Atlantic Meets the Pacific”—a technology conference in San Diego hosted by The Atlantic magazine. One of the sessions I went to feature the founder of Change.org, Ben Rattray, most recently listed as one of “The 100 Most Influential People in the World” by Time.
In the session, Rattray described Change.org as a website for petitions. Users can post petitions for nearly anything, from humanitarian causes like “Nike: Stop the Slaughter of Kangaroos to Make Your Soccer Shoes!” with 97,000+ supporters, to techy causes like “Google We’re Lost! Develop a new Google Maps App for Apple’s iPhone 5 and iOS 5” with 3,000+ supporters.
In his “Technology and Popularism” session, Rattray gave a brief overview of the organization’s mission and revealed plans to take the site mobile, which will add an intriguing new location-based feature to the social platform.
Currently, Charge.org has a staff of 150 stationed around the world with users that start around 20,000 campaigns started each month. By signing petitions, users can start to build profiles and discover new and similar causes they might be interested in. Rattray reasoned that most petitions are positive and that insidious ones tend not to gain supporters.
When asked about the most successful petition in the U.S., Rattray pointed to the petition for Trayvon Martin. On Feb. 12th of this year, 17-year-old Trayvon Martin was shot and killed after leaving a convenience store in Sanford, Florida. The shooter, 28-year-old George Zimmerman, admitted to the shooting and claimed it was in self-defense. When Zimmerman was not charged for the crime, Trayvon’s mother took to Change.org and wrote the following petition: “Petition Florida Attorney General to Prosecute the Killer of Our Son, 17-Year-Old Trayvon Martin.” Like many social initiatives, this Change.org post was able to raise enough awareness to get the attention of the mainstream media, which ultimately prompted legislators to file second-degree murder charges against Zimmerman.
The most compelling feature of the app Rattray hopes to launch will be its the location-based awareness. Since the GPS in your cellphone provides location, the app would allow a user to walk into a business, fire up the app and see if a petition was filed against the business—taking change to the hyper local street level.