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Application uses microtransactions to fund Gulf Coast oil spill relief

Mobile developer myRete is soliciting donations for oil spill relief in the Gulf Coast region using its social media application WhosHere.

WhosHere is a messaging platform that integrates location-based technology to connect users in close proximity. Members can make donations to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund by purchasing and sending virtual gifts to other users.

“From the start, we wanted to leverage the WhosHere network and the generosity of our users to support initiatives such as this,” said Stephen S. Smith, cofounder of myRete, San Mateo, CA. “We added the ability for users to send Virtual Goods to each other only a few months ago.

“As the Deep Water Horizon continues to spill oil, we knew this was the time to act and try to help,” he said. “The WhosHere virtual gifts capability was the logical place to make this happen.”

MyRete, founded by Mr. Smith and Bryant Harris, is the developer responsible for the WhosHere application, which is available for free for the iPhone and iPod touch in the Apple App Store.

WhosHere uses location-based technology to connect nearby users who have loaded up the application. It can also connect people over far distances based on users’ answers to certain in-application questions.

The application allows members to communicate for free via text and image messages, and pay to send gifts to one another. It claims to have over 1 million users.

Transactions are managed using Apple’s In-App Purchase process.

Donating through WhosHere
To donate to the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund, users can send gifts to their friends through WhosHere.

In order to do so, they buy points through the application that they can use to purchase the virtual gifts, which appear as graphical icons on users’ screens.

Here is a screen grab of an oil spill-themed gift in the application:

“Users know that process and it is simple,” Mr. Smith said. “It is just a matter of a couple of taps for a user to send a ‘Support the Gulf’ gift.”

Seventy-five percent of the revenue myRete receives from these transactions will go towards donations.

Social networking for a charitable cause
This is the first charitable effort myRete for which myRete has leveraged its WhosHere platform.

“After doing a lot of research, we really liked what we saw in the Gulf Coast Oil Spill Fund,” Mr. Smith said. “It is administered by the Greater New Orleans Foundation, which has a great track record.

“The Fund is being used to make emergency grants to non-profit organizations responding to immediate needs,” he said. “And long-term it will provide funds to help strengthen communities against future environmental catastrophes.”

Mobile applications have a number of characteristics that make them advantageous for charitable causes, per myRete.

“I think mobile apps such as WhosHere can be a new frontier for soliciting donations,” Mr. Smith said. “Why?  It is convenient, can be contextually relevant and is low friction.

“The average user will send over 30 messages a day inside our app,” he said. “I personally have chatted many times about the BP oil spill with our users.

“What better time to show support for helping those affected by sending a Support the Gulf gift when we are chatting about that very subject.”

MyRete is promoting its WhosHere donation efforts in multiple channels, using Facebook, Twitter and in-application notifications.

Here is a screen grab of a notification alerting users about the donation efforts:

Additionally, banner ads promoting oil spill relief appear approximately one percent of the time at the bottom of the WhosHere application.

Here is a screen grab of a banner ad promoting the donations that runs in the WhosHere application:

“If [users] click on the banner it will take them to a landing page with information about the campaign and an iPhone-formatted video on how to send Support the Gulf gifts,” Mr. Smith said.

A number of other mobile giving campaigns have solicited donations for oil spill relief on the Gulf coast. For example, Mad Mobile launched a text-to-donate SMS campaign to aid relief efforts earlier this month (see story) and the National Wildlife Federation has also encouraged microdonations through SMS technology (see story).

MyRete does not have plans to use its WhosHere platform for other charitable causes at present, though it is watching carefully to learn from the process. It is open to similar efforts in the future.

“We will definitely see what worked and did not work with the Support the Gulf campaign and apply any lessons learned for when we support another charity,” Mr. Smith said. “For WhosHere itself, we are in beta on WhosHere 2.4, which adds support for iOS 4, multi-tasking and iAd. 

“Beyond that our road map, literally, has over 200 features we plan to add,” he said.