Jumo is a new and much heralded social networking site for stimulating, coordinating, and occasionally funding social change. It was created by someone with a sterling track record in social media innovation. Chris Hughes was a co-founder of Facebook, departing the booming company to join the Obama campaign as official social networking impresario. When Jumo was announced earlier in 2010, many cheered the entry of the Facebook and social media veteran, hoping it would improve upon Facebook’s Causes as a means of using social media for the public good.
Jumo’s beta site went live yesterday, accompanied by puff pieces in the New York Times, Huffington Post, and Mashable. Sample line: “If everything goes according to Chris Hughes’ plan, Nov. 30, 2010 will be remembered as a critical and celebrated moment for the multi-billion dollar nonprofit and charitable industry.” Typical techno-boosterism.
It was a rough opening day. The site was evidently inundated with eager early adopters, frozen by web traffic and consequently unusable for the majority of the day. Jumo took the site down entirely today to work on performance. That’s a good sign, of course. Tons of user interest.
I was able to play around with Jumo in its earliest hours of availability, registering and creating a few projects that other users could then follow. Here are some early impressions.
The Nuts and Bolts
Users can connect to or follow three different categories of things: people, projects, and issues. So if I follow a person, say Chris Hughes, I’ll learn about the things he cares about. (He’s big on Partners in Health; I am too.). I can also follow projects, which are particular organizations. Jumo has pre-populated the site with several thousand organizations, each of which has its own page listing followers and pulling in information about the organization from the web, especially from Facebook, Twitter, Flickr, and YouTube. It’s also possible to follow an “issue”, which is a general policy area under which all projects are classified.
When registering for the site, users are asked to follow at least one issue, such as education or poverty or health. Users can create new projects – adding new organizations to Jumo – but they cannot, as yet, create or define new issues. Jumo is a completely open platform, meaning that site will allow anyone to create a project, no matter who the person is, no matter how small or how large the project, no matter whether the organization is for profit or nonprofit. Jumo claims that each project should have a social mission, but social mission is defined by the user. Public charities are not the only groups with social missions. For profits have social missions, too. And of course state agencies and institutions have social missions. So Jumo will permit a local bowling league or the Red Nose Institute to exist alongside the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation alongside WalMart alongside the United States of America. All are individual projects in Jumo’s lexicon.
There are two important limits to this “accept all projects” approach. First, because Jumo is itself a registered 501(c)(3) public charity, it cannot list organizations that engage in electioneering or direct political campaigning. That would violate tax rules that govern nonprofits.
Second, Jumo will permit users to make charitable donations only to formally registered 501(c)(3) organizations. This is monitored by inputting the official IRS employer identification number, or EIN, of the nonprofit. I would guess that Jumo interacts with Guidestar to verify the existence and identity of each nonprofit. Without the EIN, no donation functionality. More about Jumo’s donation button later.
Registering for Jumo works through Facebook Connect. So you need a Facebook account to use the full functionality of Jumo.
Overall, Jumo’s site is well designed. As expected, the site’s user interface borrows liberally from Facebook and is easy on the eyes and simple to navigate. It’s easy to call up people, project, and issue pages. Newly created projects have content imported through Facebook and other backend web searches. The search bar anticipates what you’re looking for and offers an instantaneous list of organizations that match your entry. The site is very easy to use.
While the site has a terrific user interface and visually appealing design, I worry about some of the decisions the Jumo team made about how Jumo would function.
Start with the decision to use Facebook Connect as the only gateway to full Jumo functionality. This is a two-edged sword, for while it facilitates all kinds of content and allows Jumo users to build upon their Facebook friends it also delivers all kinds of further information to Facebook, consolidating its control of social networking. More worrisome, it means that people without Facebook accounts – think grandparents who actually do make lots of donations and are among the most civically engaged of all people – will not be able to use Jumo.
But the Facebook Connect concern is trivial. Two other Jumo decisions caught my attention, and just as Jumo invites users to “flag a project for review”, I hereby flag these issues for Jumo’s review.
1. Fees on Donations. Jumo follows the DonorsChoose and GlobalGiving model: a fee is attached by default to all donations made through site to other projects. Jumo levies two fees, one mandatory and the other optional. The mandatory fee is 4.75% of the total donation, which Network for Good captures for its backend credit card processing of the donation. Jumo (like DonorsChoose) then adds a whopping 15% fee on top of this, making the total cut in fees nearly 20%. Users can opt-out of the Jumo 15% fee, and select a 25% fee or no fee at all, but to do so is cumbersome and non-obvious. This is a classic nudge at work.
Worse, Jumo’s site misleadingly describes the transaction fees as an “optional tip”. This is Orwellian. The language of a tip gives users the impression that they would be adding 15% to the amount they have decided to donate to a nonprofit. That’s not what is happening on the site; the 15% Jumo fee comes off the total donation.
Expecting Jumo users to fork over 20% of donations doesn’t seem to me a good decision. Not to be transparent about it – calling it a tip – is simply wrong. (DonorsChoose, by contrast, calls their fee an “optional donation” and makes transparent that the fee is included in the amount of the donation, not something added on top of it.)
Suggestion to Jumo: provide an obvious option on each project page to call up the mailing address of each nonprofit organization where users can send a donation through the mail, avoiding the 20% fee and directing the full amount of the donation to the nonprofit they mean to support in the first place.
2. At present, the categorization scheme for identifying projects is threadbare and inflexible. It’s the only part of the site that is not an open platform. Users are stuck with the few categories offered up by Jumo. This is something the Jumo team will work on, I’m sure, but the problem is big. Let’s say I want to create a page for a nonprofit I’m connected to, Stanford University. I can easily do that by “adding a project” on Jumo, but then the site asks me to identify what kinds of issues Stanford is working on. There’s no button for “everything”. I thought that perhaps “education” was the appropriate issue to select, but that choice called up a series of other narrower options such as “teaching training” or “education reform”, none of which included “higher education”. No option at the launch to have a project on higher education?
Equally strange is the decision not to include an issue called “religion” or “spirituality”. Nearly half of all money donated in the United States is given to religious groups. Religious groups – congregations, synagogues, mosques as well as faith-based social service agencies like the Salvation Army – will surely want to set up project pages to connect their donors and members.
Jumo needs to let users define issue areas as well as projects. They might take a few cues from the National Taxonomy of Exempt Entities, an imperfect categorization scheme, to be sure, but a massive improvement upon Jumo’s current offering.
The open platform is the large bet placed by Jumo. The best aspect of the site is its wide-ranging flexibility: anyone can join and connect with organizations and issues they care about. The worst aspect of the site is its wide ranging flexibility: anyone can join and create projects for any organization. It appears that each project can have only one administrator, where the administrator functionality is to be rolled out over the next few months.
The upshot is that Jumo should get ready for a landgrab. It is built into the open platform functionality, for anyone can set up a project page for any organization and become the sole administrator. Jumo does no vetting save a check on the EIN for 501(c)(3) public charities.
Jumo vets neither organizations nor administrators. So literally within days the site will be populated with far more organizations than the several thousand that Jumo staffers created before the launch. (If I had to guess, this is exactly what happened on launch day that caused the site to crash.) With more than one million nonprofits, does Jumo appears committed to housing them all, treating them all equally as projects.
But consider a few problems with this open platform approach. First, my own employer, Stanford University, has so many centers and programs and departments and schools and initiatives within it that I would not be surprised to find several hundred projects under the Stanford University umbrella. All of these will have the same EIN, but they will work on different issues, in different areas, and have different members and followers.
And remember, Jumo allows users to create project pages for garden variety associations (say, a dorm at Stanford, a book club in Peoria, a park in Montana), for for-profit companies, international organizations, and even for countries and state agencies. Jumo will happily host nearly everyone and everything that can lay claim to a social mission.
But the value proposition of Jumo is that it will help people learn about, connect to, and evaluate organizations and issues they care about. The threat of an open platform is that users will find no way to separate serious from ephemeral organizations, well-functioning from ill-functioning organizations.
Moreover, since anyone can create a project, the threat of cybersquatting and misrepresentation looms large. To test out the site, I set up a page for Stanford University. Took 10 minutes. I also set up a page for Harvard University. I was named administrator for the Harvard project page 5 minutes after setting it up. Bizarre. I set up a project called “The United States of America” (vision: life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness; mission: government of the people, by the people, and for the people). I am currently the admin there too. Chris Hughes can’t be happy about that.
How will users be able to trust the information Jumo delivers to them about the projects they connect to? This is a problem with any open platform, to be sure. Facebook and Twitter face it as well. (Twitter handles it with a visual tag for so-called “verified” accounts.) Jumo will need to go down this path.
At the moment, the landgrab concern seems most pressing. Get yourself over to the site and claim a page for your favorite, or least favorite, nonprofit organization, for-profit company, or country. Cybersquatting has a long history.
Presumably Jumo will deal with this issue by banning cybersquatters and deleting their accounts. But with fewer than ten employees currently, and potentially millions of users and millions of projects to assess, is Jumo prepared to evaluate who is squatting and who isn’t?
In short, if Jumo wants to help people find and evaluate charities, it has to make that navigation easy and it has to provide reliable information about the projects that populate its site. With tens, perhaps hundreds, of thousands of organizations about to be created on the site, run by administrators who are unvetted, Jumo may contribute to the problem of evaluating charities rather than fixing it.
So the real worry is that the value proposition of Jumo will be negative. The site threatens not to help users connect but to present users with a bewildering array of flotsam and jetsam. Fog rather than clarity. A bunch of noise.
How Jumo handles this will determine, it seems to me, whether Jumo succeeds in the long run or not.
Hat tip to @stevebridger for sharing @robreich’s wonderfully insightful post about Jumo.