A long day. I went to the gym despite the rain. Yes, there’s a decent gym in Jinja. It’s owned by a friend that’s a good businessman. The gym a big deal because I quit for the longest time and I’ve paid for it in so many ways. I’ve had less energy and I’ve been getting sick a lot. So the gym has been one of those must-do things three days a week. I hated it when I started, but I’ve spent lots of years in the gym and when I’m back to it, it feels really good, very familiar. But thanks to David Litchfield, I’m completely sore. His workout is ridiculous. Thanks, Dave.
Odd occurrence of the day: A couple MiGs were making flyovers all day. This is a really strange thing because we’re not used to planes. When any plane goes over it’s usually a little puddle jumper and people stop what they’re doing and watch it pass. We don’t have chem trails in the sky and the sound is quite out of the ordinary. And fighter jets are unheard of. We had seen these guys in the North and heard they’re owned by Uganda but flown by Brits(?) but I’m not sure. Either way, odd.
After breakfast I stopped some of our leather journals (http://www.hackersforcharity.org/leather) up to the Source Cafe, one of the mainstays on Main Street and arguably the biggest tourist destination. So far we’ve only sold our leather crafts from The Keep, and business has been slow. I talked to my friend Bobby, one of the key guys at the Source and he suggested I bring the stuff in. So I grabbed some stuff and shlepped up there (around the corner) and ran into Bobby there. We talked for a long time. This is normal here. You set out to do one thing, and something else pops up. Relationships are important here, so it’s a bad idea to blow someone off if you run into them. But I never mind talking to Bobby. He’s a modern Renaissance Man. The guys knows more than Google. Seriously. If I need to know about oddball plants or bees or technology or crabbing or African history, or a good recipe for homemade Feta (yes, he’s done it and it’s DISGUSTING!) I ask Bobby. We had a great chat about lots of things then talked about the Volunteer Network, our latest project. As always, he had great insight.
After checking in on the leather team at the workshop, I dug in for the next eight hours working with our amazing app developer Vito on the Volunteer Network.
Some of you may remember us talking about it at various conferences. It started as a talk at Defcon where we launched “Infosec Without Borders” as a way to connect Infosec professionals with charities that had need for free or low-cost security work. Then, we launched the Volunteer Network v1.0 at DerbyCon with an expanded scope: it wasn’t just for security anymore but rather for anyone with tech skils (or gear) and spare cycles that wanted to lend a helping hand. We put it up at http://volunteer.hackersforcharity.org and hundreds of people signed up. (Don’t sign up on that site yet. It’s getting upgraded).
The problem was, that after signing up, there wasn’t much to do. The app needed some work. So we’ve been working for countless hours on getting the app right, and Vito, Sam, Glenn and I have literally put in hundreds of hours to get this thing right and it’s been my full time job working with Vito this past week.
I penned a letter to a trusted group of friends explaining how the thing will work, and I’ll paste it here. It’s a good overview of the system and where we are with it.
Since my first trip to Uganda, I’ve wanted to share that feeling I had when I used my skills to help someone in need. I dreamed of hackers coming to Africa and building trippy things, and of course that leaves out the majority of the community, most of whom would rather not risk getting eaten by a grue. Still, I find there are lots of people asking for things to do.. people with good hearts and some spare cycles.
Eventually I had an idea for a simple app that would connect volunteers, charities and (equipment) donors. I’m calling that the “Volunteer Network”.
<plug>I’m working with an AWESOME web coder in Croatia, a young man named Vito. If you need some talent, please let me know.</plug>
The concept is simple and it’s nearly finished. It centers on a Google map that shows volunteers and charities (charities can also see donors) and this allows you to easily see what’s around you. You can register as one of the three entities. If you volunteer as a charity, you fill out a lot including basic information, proof of non profit status and a select from a list of needs (“I need a web site” or “I need graphic design” or “I need an app assessment” or “I need hardware repair”, etc).
Similarly, volunteers answer some questions and select from a list of skills (like “pen testing” or “graphic design”, etc).
After verification by a human charities get access to the system. From inside the system, the map is searchable and more interactive and both sides can poke around to (likely) find some things in their local area. Another approach is to go to the dashboard which presents them with various simple things including a list of volunteers within 100 miles (configurable) whose skills match their needs. (At some point we may allow a more global/specific search mechanism to find help/work that is non-geographical).
A logged in volunteer is presented with a similar list of charities whose needs match their skills. At this point, either side can click on the profile to see more information about the other, and then do one of three things: send a message, ask for (or offer) help, or report the user/charity. Messages are straight forward and stay within the system.
“Help” can be accepted, denied or reported. If it is accepted, a work “journal” is created. The journal is done in a handwriting font, and allows the charity and volunteer to “chat” back and forth as the work progresses. Each entry is timestamped, uneditable and is signed by the author. Once the work finishes, the journal can be closed with a final review statement that can be made by either side, at which point the journal is archived and can be reviewed by either party but not edited.
This is as far as we’ve gotten. Now the sticky parts that require some thought.
1) “Groups”: Especially in my area, I want to be the “core” volunteer agency. I would like charities to find me and ask for help, and once I accept it, I will task a “volunteer” (HFC employee) to do the work. So my volunteers are on the system, but set to not show on the map, and set to inactive (these are configurable options). That means they don’t show (duh) and can’t be tasked except by me. So I was thinking that instead of groups, we would make the work journals shared so that once I share it, the charity, my employee and I can all read and write to it. In this way, the hand off is mostly transparent but the work continues through the journal which like other things in the system can reach out via SMS / social networks when there’s something new. (Anyone know of a reliable free SMS gateway?)
2) Rewards / “Reputation”: I want to reward volunteers. I know that most people who do this will have purely altruistic motives, but still it doesn’t hurt to have other motivators. Anyone have any ideas? I also like the idea of “reputation scores” for work well done, but can’t get my brain wrapped around how that will look in the app or in real life. Does a score translate into something IRL? Do their map icons get shinier and blingtastical? Are reputations floated as a number near the marker if that’s even possible with gmaps? I’m just at a loss here. Perhaps companies donated shwag or jobs or gear or something for top volunteers once a month? Wide open for discussion here.
3) Community integration: Although I feel like I’m losing my perspective / perceived relevance quickly these days, I still feel in my heart like this is a good and needed thing.. that there are people out there that still want to do good stuff and that it’s about damn time to change the hacker image even slightly by doing positive stuff. But this isn’t possible without the rest of the community backing it up. But what does that look like? This isn’t about giving HFC money (which YOU ALL have made happen time and time again), but rather about the community making it fun and cool and perhaps providing the kick in the pants some people might need. Any ideas here? Conferences are a big one, but other than thinking about swarming a con area ahead of con with good work then providing at-conference prizes, incentives (which isn’t creative, likely or plausible) I’m just drawing a blank.
4) System enhancements: Are there things that I haven’t mentioned that should be integrated into this system that I haven’t thought of? We have a task manager which is super-simple (Name, due date, rating, status) but not much else.
For those that have read this part, I commend you. I hadn’t really intended this to be such a long email, but those that know me know I can’t help it sometimes.
I’m looking forward to some dialog around this. I’ve been alone in the closet far too long with this. No, not that closet.”