Think back to Hurricane Katrina. Everybody, it seemed, wanted to help. Every publicist with a list reached out to it, or created an
event -- from impromptu meetings at bars to speedily assembled but full-fledged fundraisers. And all of those people deserve a lot of credit for the speed and generosity with which they acted. And
their efforts resulted in tens of millions of dollars being raised in the first week.
But however quickly they acted, it simply couldn't be as fast as this: "Text HAITI to 90999 to donate $10 to @RedCross relief."
You've probably gotten an email from a friend or seen tweets saying just that, urging you to donate money to support the relief effort in Haiti. The American Red Cross, which is working with mobile donation company mGive, said that by Thursday more than $5 million had already been raised in this way.
Much has been made of the speed with which this call to action can take place. You see the message; you've just heard another horrifying report about the situation in Haiti on the BBC or seen video of a young girl on CNN with her legs crushed under a building, and you have your phone right there. There's no need to store the information for later and then forget about it or hesitate. The action can be taken immediately.
The New York-based agency Gotham has run a similar volunteerism campaign for Mandela Day, setting up the SMS code 46664 -- Mandela's prison number, adding meaning to the code -- for people to donate their time. The effort registered 50,000 people for volunteer work in less than a week last year, again, partly because the response to the call to action was right there in everyone's hands.
But the response on mGive shows something new: a comfort with financial transactions via mobile devices. This willingness to send money using nothing more than SMS brings home the rapidity with which people are adopting mobile devices for so much more than communication, and specifically how close they are to push-button commerce.
So sure, people will text to donate money, but will they text to buy shoes? Maybe for a pair of Tom's.