Friday, December 31, 2004

The accidental telethon -- or the Amazon telethon

Amazon is devoting a huge portion of its home page real estate to an appeal to donate to the American Red Cross for relief for tsunami victims. So far they've raised $7,326,939.19 from 107,683 donors.

Charities worldwide are reporting surprising levels of donation, much of it online. Google's helped by adding a link labeled:

Ways to help with tsunami relief

In effect, this is a worldwide accidental telethon. People see the horrifying images on CNN or in the newspaper, and they want to donate. If they've got handy Internet access, they pop over to a familiar site, such as Google or Amazon, to give.

In some ways, the call to action is as explicit as in the Jerry Lewis telethon for muscular dystrophy: CNN shows scenes of devastation, then flashes on screen the address for the Red Cross, Oxfam, etc. At some times, the Web address of the charity - say, - remains on screen as the camera pans over distressed victims.

Some charities' Web sites have melted down under the load. Amazon is donating more than precious home page real estate; they're providing the back-end of a world-class e-commerce site, easily able to handle the strain as millions consider donating, and thousands follow through.

Amazon is promising 100% of its collections on behalf of the Red Cross will go to the charity. (Let us hope that the ARC spends 100% of it wisely.)

The number of donors via Amazon alone now almost equals the estimated death toll. Let's hope the former increases much faster than the latter. Imagine if the number of donors matched the estimated 5 million displaced survivors....

As inspiring as it is to see the world respond, it's not all good news. We're responding to compelling images. Still, as horrible as things are in coastal Asia right now, where there are no television images, we're not moved to respond. See the movie "Hotel Rwanda" for the images we didn't have in 1994, when 800,000 people were slaughtered. In that case, CNN wasn't bringing us 24 X 7 coverage.

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