Raw Thought

by Aaron Swartz

Pay it Forward

A year or two ago, I suffered from a devastating server crash. The little “heads” that read data off the hard drive crashed into the driv itself, and as we rebooted the computer, trying to get it working again, they scratched the hard drive so badly that when we sent it to try to get it repaired we learned they had scraped the drive straight through.

My site was dead, my backups weren’t working, an entire year of my work had been lost and I was devastated. A bunch of generous souls chipped in an amazing $4000 to my server fund to try to bring things back.

Now that I’m back on my feet, I’d like tor eturn the favor by donating $4000 to websites in trouble. (Indeed, I’ve been planning this for a while and have already donated some to sites when I heard they were having fundraising drives.) So here’s this week’s Sunday Bonus Post: suggest a site that deserves a donation. Here are the rules:

  1. The site must publish content or provide a service on the Internet.

  2. The site must have a donate button or some other explicit request for donations.

  3. You must genuinely like the site.

If you want to nominate a site that meets these criteria, post it here in a comment. I’ll try to make most of the donations by next week.

Thanksgiving update: PayPal locked out my account for “security reasons” so it’s taken me a while to get to this, but Thanksgiving Day seems like as appropriate a time as any.


I’m still looking for more recipients, so feel free to suggest some.

You should follow me on twitter here.

November 5, 2006


http://www.jackslocum.com/yui/ - Excellent articles on Jack Slocum’s YAHOO.ext: an amazing extension library for the YUI library.

posted by mic_pre on November 5, 2006 #

Great initiative. I nominate MediaLens. They do a terrific job with very few resources, and will, I am sure, make a good use of whatever sum you can give them. They accept donations by cheque, sanding order, or paypal.

posted by Pablo Stafforini on November 5, 2006 #

I suggest to create Backup Awareness Program, instead. ;)

posted by on November 5, 2006 #

I nominate StevePavlina.com. A fantastic site dedicated to enabling individuals to better themselves.

posted by Chris on November 5, 2006 #

I nominate the Stanford Encyclopedia of Philosophy, a great and huge reference work on philosophy written by many researchers and volunteers, providing a widely-used source base for academic work worldwide. They receive donations by check or credit card. Great initiative! Congratulations!

posted by Helder Ribeiro on November 5, 2006 #

I nominate the Full Belly Project.
They want to give Peanut Sheller machines to hungry people. These Peanut Shellers are simple hand-operated machines, low cost and made of concrete. These machines will make it easier for people to feed themselves. The design is public domain. They need help to spread the word.

posted by Serenity77 on November 5, 2006 #

I nominate WorldChanging an amazing and inspirational site for people trying to change the world.

posted by Nathan on November 5, 2006 #

I would suggest the Internet Archive! Here’s the donate page! What a wonderful idea and I’m glad you’re looking to do good with your bounty.

posted by Beatrice Murch on November 5, 2006 #

I can’t believe nobody’s mentioned this: Wikipedia, of course!

posted by Andrey Fedorov on November 5, 2006 #

I’d like to return the favor

So, I think you mean ‘pay it back’.

posted by Ethan on November 5, 2006 #

I agree with the idea. But I think you can do most or more by making backup.reddit (where people talk about backup issues - history and solutions) - subreddit site, so that now this widespread PC and digital equipment use among ‘not that informed or ready’ populations all over the planet gets some - reasonable helps and guides.

That subreddit can have a policy of (comfortably) accepting people’s own writings and ideas about backup (and may be some security) issues. It can encompass issues like ‘Why we still can’t disable ‘Don’t save’ button? for some sloppy people or with disabilities.’ ‘OLPC would have backup solutions for those kids personal unique data?’ ‘How Amazon S3’s backup potential can be a start of real infra for off-premise backups for personal computation, finally?’. etc.

That’d have some lasting effect and results.

posted by backup.reddit on November 5, 2006 #

You may want to consider increasing your donation by 50% or 100%. Thus creating a sort of Ponzi scheme for donations should the people you donate to decide to repay it similarly.

Buckminster Fuller theorized that a lot of scarcity problems could be solved if you gave people metalworking tools with the condition that they make two sets of tools and give them away with the same conditions.

posted by Peter Boothe on November 5, 2006 #

I’d recommend the Community Colo project, at http://www.communitycolo.net/ . They allow any non-profit to have free web space, or a web server, or to co-locate their own box. They need money to keep the (virtual) doors open. See http://cccp.pbwiki.com/ for details.

posted by Michael Clark on November 6, 2006 #

I seem to recall you’ve done some work with MusicBrainz in the past — They’re a thoroughly worthwhile place to drop some cash, building up a glorious free music metadata database that will one day help us crush the evil gracenote.

posted by Rod Begbie on November 6, 2006 #

I’d like to nominate Kitchen Democracy (http://www.kitchendemocracy.org/donate) — trying to use the internet to make it easier for people to get involved in local politics.

Second choice would be mobile active http://mobileactive.org/, folks trying to faciliatate the use of cellphones for political activism.

WorldChanging nominated above is a great site as well, but I don’t think they need the money as much as the two I mentioned.

Great idea. Robert Heinlen would approve. A nice thing you are doing, Aaron.

posted by Tim on November 6, 2006 #


It’s the best torrent site ever. I download almost every book there to check out if it’s worth buying in deadtree format, not to mention having a softcopy to search through helps. They also have tv shows (old obscure ones and new ones) et al.I am unsure what you stand on that is…

They do have a donate page (www.demonoid.com/donate.php)but it seems you have to be registered to donate so I’ll send you an invite when they open again or if you want I can email you my username and password temporarily.

In the interest of full disclosure, a donation from my account would cause me to have my ratio autocomplete to 1. As it is, my ratio stands at 0.96 right now and I strive to keep it at 1 by not leeching.

The donor status lasts 30 days.

posted by heuristix on November 6, 2006 #

I recommend The New Standard, an independent hard news site which has been struggling for attention and funds. They don’t accept advertising of any sort. They almost went under this fall, but just squeaked through on their fundraising drive. Noam Chomsky once offered to triple anyone’s donation.

They’re a serious outfit doing the type of news that many of us on the left consider important, while still setting a standard for reporting that even corporate news sites should aspire to. They report mostly on topics that corporate media would never touch. I’ve been a fan since they began running reports from the ground in Iraq from the excellent correspondent, Dahr Jamail, at the start of the war when virtually all journalists were embedded within the military or otherwise confined to safe areas. I also enjoy their coverage of worker rights issues and the environment. For those of us who hope for a world with more reputable, independent media organizations, this looks to be one of the best sites to root for.

posted by Scott Teresi on November 6, 2006 #


posted by Christopher Schmidt on November 6, 2006 #

Have Money Will Vlog is an excellent site that helps videobloggers get excellent ideas off the ground, funding them to put their dreams on film. Check it out… and tell them kitty sent you.

posted by Susan on November 6, 2006 #

I nominate braintalk which is a forum for people with neurological disorders. They have had some drive issues recently too.

posted by Oliver Day on November 7, 2006 #

Hey Aaron, I think I might have found someone that I believe should get some help with his website. CJNepal.org (http://cjnepal.org) is a Nepal citizen journalism website. “We still believe that every citizen has the right to speak up their mind and participate to inform the society”. That’s what it is all about. Trying to get rid of the “censorship” which is common in Nepal. Prameya, the site owner, is a friend of mine, and has a dream he really wants to accomplish; to have his website noticed all over Nepal. He started his project when he was still living in Nepal, which was called Merosansar. After he received a death threat from the king of Nepal (Yes, really! He’s a dictator, you might have heard about revolts in Nepal on the news not that long ago), he was forced to close his site and moved to New York with his family where he’s now a student at Syracuse University. So, a few months ago, he started his site again under a new name, CJNepal. Also, Prameya needs to pay for his server, for advertising, hiring Nepali people who’d like to write articles for the site, etc. No wonder he’s currently in debt, so any money would really help him out I guess. If you would ever feel like donating to CJNepal, you can find a donate button on the About page here: http://cjnepal.org/node/78 Also, would you mind including my name (Laurent) on the additional Note form when donating (if you ever would), just because I’d like to thank him for all the things he has done for me.

posted by Laurent Van Winckel on November 8, 2006 #

Hey Aaron You might consider donating to townvibes! , they are a local community website and they want to do communities a lot of good and bring together all information about all communities

I heart townvibes



posted by Richard Kai on November 8, 2006 #


posted by omar on November 16, 2006 #

Hello Aaron, I would like to nominate to you “Modest Needs” at http://www.modestneeds.org —- for your plan to “pay it forward” the help you received. Modest Needs is a non-profit organization who helps people with a one time need such as a mother whose husband has left her with all the bills and her electricity is about to be turned off; or someone who was affected by Hurricane Katrina and needs money to buy more lumber or other supplies to help re-build their home. You can browse the applications the site receives from people asking for help and see the struggles each person is facing and requesting a little help. Modest Needs has been helping people for over 5 years, I believe, with “modest requests”. The President of Modest Needs who began the program with his own money will be on the Today Show Saturday Morning, November 18, 2006 talking about how the program works. Donors from all over the world give contributions, either every month or on a one-time basis. These funds are then used to give away to the neediest of people applying. They do thorough checks to verify all information submitted to them by the people requesting help through their site, and it has been heartwarming for me to be a donor with this organization. Most donations, like mine of usually $30 per month, doesn’t make a huge difference, but when many people get together and give $5, $10, $30 or even $4,000, it makes a huge difference in many people’s lives.

It cost nothing to register at their site. I hope you will take a look and see the amazing things going on there when people like me and many others get together and ‘pay it forward’. I’m not one of the administrators of the program, only a donor who believes in what they are doing. I think you will find many awesome stories of help given demonstrated through Modest Needs.

If you have any questions, Dr. Keith Taylor is the President of Modest Needs and his contact information is on the site. Thank you for your consideration of this organization as you decide how to pay forward the help you received.

Sincerely, Bonnie B.

posted by Bonnie B. on November 16, 2006 #

I was having trouble thinking of nominees, but in the Mac developer world there is a great podcast called Cocoa Radio, that does meet all of your requirements:


If you feel like supporting a podcast that serves a niche audience quite well, I’m sure they would appreciate the gesture!


posted by Daniel Jalkut on November 24, 2006 #

They have a noble goal of creating more useful information in communities, They have had a server crash, want them up



posted by Richard Kai on November 25, 2006 #

I’d second Musicbrainz, and also suggest the Open Rights Group who do good work in campaigning for digital freedoms in the UK and EU. (Yes, I’m on their advisory board).

posted by Kevin Marks on November 25, 2006 #


posted by Hoary on November 25, 2006 #

The Path to Freedom (http://pathtofreedom.com/journal/) is an amazing little site chronicling the path of one urban family’s journey toward self-sufficiency, and their efforts to help all of us become less dependent.

They grow almost all of their own food on less than 1/5 of an acre (a typical urban plot) experiment with solar cooking, reuse water for gardening, hold gatherings to teach people how to brew biodiesel, show films (solar powered!).

Any kind of donation would not only help them, but would in turn help the thousands of other people they help, too.

Thanks for your consideration, and for your own good work!

posted by Michelle on November 25, 2006 #

Aaron, do free software foundations/projects qualify for this (if they meet the criteria of having a website and having a paypal-able donation link)?

posted by on November 25, 2006 #

Yeah, I suppose if Steal This Film qualifies then free software projects should as well.

posted by Aaron Swartz on November 25, 2006 #


posted by asub on November 25, 2006 #

Okay, since someone already mentioned fsf, here are others I wanted to mention. Note: my criteria is the ratio between the importance of the project and the money given to it, not the technical opinion. For instance, I am not going to mention Linux or Apache, as those already have tons of money given to them (and for good reason, obviously). I mentioning the projects I consider vital, but that aren’t receiving much attention:

http://openssh.org/donations.html (OpenSSH project) http://netbsd.org/ (NetBSD, has a donate button)

I’d nominate ibiblio/UNC metalab, but I don’t see a donate link on their site for an electronic donation, although they do take checks: http://www.ibiblio.org/faq/?sid=2#19

Very good call nominating CCCP (comunity colo).

posted by on November 27, 2006 #

This is an amazing idea. Too many people in your postion would just accept the help from other and then continue on as if nothing had happened. People like you are rare.

I would like to nominate Too Much About Nothing. It is a wonderful blog written by a Pitt law student that is a great mix of philosophy, social commentary, everyday life (he was recently hit by a car while biking and he and his wife are expecting a child) and sports dorkery. I know that they could certainly use the $$$


posted by Christopher Ashley on November 28, 2006 #

I second the nomination for Too Much About Nothing. M is a fantastic and thoughtful writer, and I always look forward to seeing what he has to say about current events, and of course, Stupid Human Tricks.

posted by Kara O'Bryon on November 29, 2006 #

I don’t know if it’s in bad form to nominate your own site, but I’ve got one called Google Notes that seems like a good candidate. It’s a convenient notepad application that integrates into your Google Homepage. There are a few thousand regular users (i.e. who update their notes at least every couple of days), and our server got overloaded just before Thanksgiving. About a loooong week of downtime and many frustrated emails from users, things are back online.

Google Notes was first released in January and we only recently began accepting donations in the hopes of maintaining a high quality of service.

posted by David Hoelscher on December 6, 2006 #

I nominate gmane.org, an archive of zillions of mailing lists that you can read via nntp or a web browser. A request for donations is at http://gmane.org/faq.php (the “hardware” question).

posted by Jouni K Seppänen on December 6, 2006 #

How about the Firebug web development tool? Its only developer needs donations to keep the project afloat: getfirebug.com

posted by Brad on December 8, 2006 #

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