Yahoo is giving people a chance to perform random acts of kindness and encourage their friends and families to do the same with its "You In?" campaign.
The effort, which gets its first big push today after a "soft" launch Dec. 5, is designed to use the growing power of social media to encourage people to do something good for others and then post it at kindness.yahoo.com.
The idea, says Meg Garlinghouse, senior director of Yahoo for Good, is to inspire as many people as possible to do something for others. "If you experience that act of kindness, you're very likely to pass it on," Ms. Garlinghouse says. "We wanted to make it easy and inspire others to pass it on."
To participate, people do a good deed, such as donating coats to charity or paying the toll for the car behind them, and then post it on the site. The deeds are tallied as they're posted and displayed on an interactive global map to track the ripple effects of kindness worldwide.
The site also includes stories to inspire others to follow suit. "We ... realized how important storytelling is," Ms. Garlinghouse says. "People love to hear these stories, especially during the holiday season. It's heartwarming. It's what makes that ripple continue.
"You can push it out to MySpace and Facebook, you can share what you've done with your friends and family," she says. "That's why it's called 'You In?' -- to take the braggart edge off and [say] 'Come join me in this ripple of kindness.'"
In addition, Yahoo is choosing various inspirational stories and expanding on them. For example, one woman wrote that she took residents of a retirement home out shopping for the holidays. So Yahoo decided to rent vans in Atlanta, San Diego and Miami -- cities chosen for their large retirement communities -- and do the same thing on a larger scale.
Yahoo started the program by giving $100 to 200 "seeders" -- people around the world who are influencers in doing good -- and asked them to use the money and then post their deeds on the site. "Our goal is to inspire millions of people around the world to do random acts of kindness," Ms. Garlinghouse says. To date, more than 35,000 people have participated, and the company is hoping to reach at least 100,000.
The campaign was inspired by the story of a California woman who discovered at the grocery checkout that she had lost her wallet and couldn't pay her $207 bill. A stranger behind her paid the tab for her. When the woman paid her back, she sent a check for $300 and suggested using the extra $93 for a thank-you massage. Instead, the second woman posted the story on Facebook and asked friends what to do with the extra money. When her friends suggested giving it to charity, she matched the $93 and donated $186 to the Second Harvest Food Bank of Silicon Valley. The story spread, and within four months the charity had collected more than $45,000.
"It may not occur to someone, but once they hear that story, it's the ripple again," Ms. Garlinghouse says. "People are looking for the opportunity to make a difference."