Every time I log into Facebook lately, I’m barraged by friends offering me cutesy virtual plants from something called (Lil) Green Patch; at first I dismissed them as yet another apparent Spam-esque app of the Zombies variety. But the plants kept coming, so last week I finally broke down and looked it up on Facebook’s Applications page. Which is when my mouth dropped.
Damn! This (Lil) Green Patch thing has nearly 5.5 million monthly active users. (Making it among the very most popular Facebook apps.) What’s more, all those virtual plants have raised nearly $55,000 for the Nature Conservancy’s Adopt An Acre program.
Created by David King and Ashish Dixit, (Lil) Green Patch cleverly leverages roleplaying game mechanics for ecological good. Once you install the app, you find dozens of insanely adorable plants and creatures. To collect them, you need to first earn points by sending other plants to your friends. (Who in turn must install the app, to get them.) To keep you playing, there’s a leaderboard tracking how many square feet of rainforest you’ve personally saved, as well as which of your friends are playing and how much rainforest they’ve saved. Think World of Warcraft meets Friends of the Forest.
All this activity generates heavy pageviews — and revenue, which comes from the advertising panel the duo has installed on the app. The developers donate a portion of that money to the Conservancy, which to date has “adopted” more than 1,100 acres of Costa Rican rainforest. They make donations on the first of every month.
I asked Dixit ‘how much of the ad revenue is donated, after expenses?’ “Wish that was an easy question to answer,” Dixit wrote me. “All we can say is that what is promised to every user as their contribution is what is definitely donated. We try our best to juggle the rest to make this happen.”
Dixit told me they intend to release three new features in the coming weeks; he thinks both the gameplay and the rainforest cause make their app so popular. “Difficult to tear them apart,” he described it.