10 Worthwhile Things to Do on the Internet - dummies

10 Worthwhile Things to Do on the Internet

By John R. Levine, Margaret Levine Young

The Internet lets you make the world a better place, by working directly on projects or making it possible for other people to do so. Check out these 10 ways you can help improve the world.

Feed the hungry

Free Rice asks you to match words with their meanings. For every correct answer you give, the site donates ten grains of rice to an international food relief organization. You start with easy words at Level 1 and work your way up; the challenge can become addictive.

Support a charity while you shop

If you buy on the eBay online auction site, look for charities selling things or people selling things and donating part or all of their proceeds to charity. A little blue-and-yellow ribbon icon indicates charitable listings. If you want to see only charitable listings, visit eBay Giving Works, where you can search, buy, or sell on behalf of charities.

Find charities that don’t waste money

When you choose to give money to a charitable organization, you want the money to go to the organization’s mission, not to their management, marketing, or overhead. Charity Navigator helps you evaluate how efficiently your favorite charities spend their (or your) money. For more detailed information on individual charities, Guidestar has details about every charity in the country.

Become a microfinancier or a philanthropist

Kiva lets you become your own microfinance lender to groups of people in Latin America, Africa, and Asia for projects such as starting a sewing business, delivery service, or fish market. Loans start at $25.

Heifer International provides livestock and other resources to poor farmers for both food security and income. A heifer (that’s a young cow, for you city folk) costs $500, and a share of a goat or pig starts at $10.

Educate yourself

Keeping up with national, international, political, and economic news is your responsibility as a citizen. Try searching the web for newspapers; almost all have websites. Some prominent newspapers charge if you want to read more than a few articles a month, such as the New York Times, but most online newspapers are free. At election time, go to Project Vote Smart to find unbiased information about issues and candidates.

If you need background information, you can take a course at the Ivy League level on almost any subject at MIT OpenCourseWare.

Edit an encyclopedia

Wikis were designed to enable groups of people to work together to make and maintain websites. A wiki can have an unlimited number of authors, all of whom can add and change pages within the wiki website.

The biggest wiki of them all is Wikipedia, a collaborative encyclopedia that is, with more than 4 million entries, well on its way to including all human knowledge.

Not only is Wikipedia a free encyclopedia, but it also lets you edit its articles. If you feel knowledgeable about a topic, look it up in Wikipedia. Most pages have an Edit link so that you can add what you know. If you find mistakes or have more to say, just set up a free account and then click the Edit tab. If no article exists, Wikipedia offers to let you create one. Read Wikipedia’s guidelines for how to edit existing articles and write new ones, following the rules of Neutral Point of View.

Digitize old books

The reCAPTCHA project at Carnegie-Mellon University (now owned by Google) uses CAPTCHAs to help digitize old books and newspapers. The scanning process first makes a photographic image of a page and then tries to identify the words in the text. It can recognize most words, but some are just too blurry or obscure for automatic identification. That’s where you come in.

Every reCAPTCHA challenge shows you two words: one that’s already been decoded and one that hasn’t. When you type the two words, reCAPTCHA checks the one it knows, and if you get that one right, it assumes that you probably got the other one right, too.

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Search for extraterrestrial life or cure cancer

The SETI@home scientific experiment uses Internet-connected home and office computers to search for extraterrestrial intelligence (SETI). The idea is to have thousands of otherwise idle PCs and Macs perform the massive calculations needed to extract the radio signals of other civilizations from intergalactic noise.

You may enjoy lending your computer’s idle time to solving problems in cryptography and mathematics. Distributed.net manages several projects. When you sign up to help a project, you can set up its program on your computer to run when the computer isn’t otherwise occupied, and your donation of computer time helps achieve the goal of the project.

Consider joining the Folding at Home project. This project studies how proteins acquire their three-dimensional shapes, an important question in medical research. By signing up to run its program, you’re helping with basic research that may help find a cure for “Alzheimer’s, Mad Cow (BSE), CJD, ALS, Huntington’s, Parkinson’s disease, and many cancers and cancer-related syndromes.”

You can find other ways to volunteer to help with scientific research at crowdcrafting.org.

Mentor a teenager or young adult online

Several online mentoring websites match adults with youth. Icouldbe.org serves 2,300 underprivileged junior high, high school, and college students every year. Sign up to share your career expertise — or your life experience — with the next generation. iMentor concentrates on the New York City area.

Adopt a kid

Adopting a child is more of a commitment than upgrading to the latest Microsoft operating system, but at least kids grow up eventually and you don’t have to reinstall them to get rid of viruses. These two excellent websites list special children in need of homes: rainbowkids.com and capbook.org.