Apps for a Better World

The iPhone application Project Noah works with users to identify wildlife.

A new wave of mobile phone applications strives to do more than provide mindless amusement; instead, these apps help users take the first steps in effecting positive social change. For example, the iPhone app GoodGuide lets you scan the barcode of a product and immediately access its ratings regarding health and environmental and social responsibility. Or consider mGive, an app that acts as a conduit between cell subscribers and nonprofits seeking donations. A nonprofit pays to register with mGive and is assigned a phone number. Cell users can then send an SMS to this number specifying the dollar amount they wish to donate. In a three-week period following the Haiti earthquake, mGive processed over $37 million in donations.

Project Noah, a free mobile application available for iPhone, attempts to document the world’s organisms using a common mobile platform. It enlists users to take pictures of plants, birds, and other species and then upload them to a database to await classification. And Frontline SMS allows anyone with a cell phone and computer to become a mobile communications hub, disseminating important information quickly to large networks of mobile phone users. Frontline SMS has proven to be especially useful for nonprofits and NGOs seeking to keep in touch with their members and communities.