10 Green Social Networks You Should Know

What’s going to be the viral element that gets us to cut down on our collective carbon emissions? Who’s going to deliver us the iPod of cleantech? If we knew for sure, we’d be off building it, but these 10 web sites think they have the key ingredients to motivate their users to fight global warming and cut carbon. Do you think they have what it takes? Here’s our thoughts and our list of 10 green social networks you should know:

Carbonrally: When Jason Karas thought up Carbonrally in mid-2007, his idea was to capitalize on the desire to compete. He launched the site in mid-November and after 5 months says he has almost 2,000 active users and has had 20,000 visitors. Unlike a lot of the sites out there, Carbonrally doesn’t focus on raising or donating money or using carbon calculators, instead it uses the draw of being on a team to help members focus their efforts on challenges that reduce carbon emissions.

If you’re one of those team-spirit types who always dresses up for your work’s Hawaiian Shirt Friday (or were heavy into the greek system) then this site could really resonate with you. That also makes it a really good fit for corporate customers to organize company carbon programs, and Karas tells us that the site has brought in two corporate Google teams, in Boston and Pittsburg. Corporations could also be Carbonrally’s real moneymaker, as businesses could be willing to pay for more premium subscription services. The site will need to get more viral traction to really make it big.

Zerofootprint.net: Zerofootprint is one of the startups that actually seems to have a sustainable business model. Funny that it’s also one of the few that’s a nonprofit. The Toronto-based company creates branded carbon calculators and community sites for cities and large organizations, and back in May 2007, when there weren’t that many carbon calc sites out there, the startup launched its first branded site with Toronto. We’d say one of the biggest hurdles for the site is actually that darn .net! (the dotcom and dotorg must have already been taken).

MakeMeSustainable: As the name suggests, this site is basically a personal workout to reduce your carbon footprint. The “Manager” section monitors your carbon emissions over time via “actions” you’ve taken like “Joining a carpool” or ‘Installing better power management on your PC.” Then there’s a social-networking component where you can join user-created groups and see who’s involved in the site in your local area.

Out of most of the sites around, this one is one of the better designed, with easy-to-read charts and Google maps of other MakeMeSustainable members nearby. The team seems well versed in web 2.0 features. It’s also particularly appealing for someone who is swayed by hard data and graphs. But if you’re looking for something less personal-carbon-fitness and more feel-good-team-spirit, this one might feel a little cold.

Celsias.com: Celsias used to be a blog we read regularly, but in January it also became a social network community site for climate change-fighting advocates. Celsias organizes its community around “Projects” that users can create and join. Right now, a good deal of the projects are organizations or companies promoting themselves, and they don’t seem to add that much value to the community aspect. To build community, the site should provide its users with better ways to interact with the projects and to take more advantage of web features.

Change.org: The do-gooder social network, launched by Ben Rattray in February 2007, offers a variety of philanthropic actions to focus on, but highlights several green projects like “End Dependency on Oil,” and “Stop Global Warming.” Rattray tells us that the site has just over 110,000 users, is growing at about 4,000 new members a week, and the team is currently preparing for a major relaunch over the summer. (Also take a look at Rattray’s slide show presentation on peer-to-peer fundraising at a convention).

We particularly like how the site uses events in the news to organize issues, and features “take action” and “donate” buttons directly under the appropriate news stream. We also like the “network graph” which lets you take a look at all your recruits and contacts around the cause you’re fighting for. One aspect that was a bit off-putting was constant requests for us to input our friends’ and families’ email addresses to get them to join our causes. A bit aggressive for our tastes.

WorldCoolers.org: WorldCoolers is a browser add-on made by marketing company Collactive that alerts you to news and announcements on global warming. The site also has a section for online campaigns and a blog that was in hiatus for about a year. The site design could be a lot better and we wish the app itself did something more interesting than alerts.

BigCarrot: Are cash prizes the answer to the world’s problems? BigCarrot.com; is looking to turn the trend of offering prizes for innovations (such as the Auto X Prize and Virgin Earth Challenge) into a distributed community project. Individuals can pool their resources into a cash offering, which they can then doll out for goals like bringing greywater recycling systems to communities or building a language-teaching web app.

Big Carrot’s founder and CEO, Kent Pepper, tells us that the site, which launched into beta in January, will make money from a combination of a 5 percent fee for transactions, advertising on its website and investing the cash prizes in “low-risk financial” tools. To grow the site Pepper says he’s looking to raise a round of $1 million from investors. While we understand that the site did just launch, it clearly hasn’t brought in a community of users yet. The cash prizes are all put up as “starter prizes” by the company itself. Pepper hopes that over the next few months the audience will grow enough that community members start organically creating group prizes.

Care2.com: Care2 is an example of a mainstream green community site that got in on the Internet’s do-gooder focus way early — it was launched back in 1998. And thus it’s been able to bring in a sizable user base over that period of time. The site claims to have 8 million members, and Compete says it has 1 million unique visitors. It’s definitely got the look and feel of a ’90s style internet portal. We’re thinking the site is in need of a serious redesign, though it does have some more modern features like a digg-style news ranking.

2People.org: 2 People is another site that’s been around a few years and needs a serious redesign. It gets its name from the motto: “How do you move a nation: 2 People.” The only thing we really like about the site is that its trying to organize people around climate policy, through its “Focus the Nation – Climate Dialogues” and “Climate Elections 2008” initiatives. Getting people motivated around climate policy and education is crucial, particularly this year.

BeGreenNow: While this site is a little sparse on innovation, it was created by Austin, Texas-based clean-electricity provider Green Mountain Energy, so it’s interesting to see how companies are using green community sites to market themselves. It’s got a carbon calculator and ways to offset your carbon emissions. GigaOM writer Stacey, who’s based in Austin, says Green Mountain seems to be losing a bit of popularity in her area, so marketing like this must be one of its strategies to grow its business.