What Are You Waiting For? So Act, Already!
When Stella and Greg Halpern say, “We’re on a mission to build a better world,” they have the credentials to prove it. As the founders of So Act, a new social action network that’s connecting people around the globe, the Halperns are putting their goals into action.
We wanted to know what motivated the couple to create this ambitious network. So Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with the Halperns while they were traveling in California with their daughters, three talented musicians who go by the name Truth on Earth. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
GREG HALPERN: We want to make sure future generations have a planet worth inheriting. Our first effort to do that was Improve Our World, otherwise known as People for the Ultimate Kindness towards All Living Creatures on Earth.
The idea was to try to identify the primary problems on this planet, and then try to get people to tell us if they have ideas for solutions. We started that in the early 2000s. We got a list of 186 primary problems, though there may be 4- or 5,000 littler ones as subcategories.
We invited the world to contribute ideas that might help. A lot of people had ideas, but they were fragmented, scattered, and not working together. Each of their efforts and initiatives were driven by special interests, whether it is religion or industry or government or some other group.
They weren’t really working together. They may have had a common goal to improve the world regarding biological attacks, or better airline safety, or better water filtration, or cleaner air, or less starvation, or whatever. But each group was working on their own, funded mostly by philanthropy, and we learned that philanthropy doesn’t work very well.
BPGL: Why do you think philanthropy doesn’t work?
GREG HALPERN: By design it often enables problems, supporting or feeding an industry or a special interest that has an economic interest in seeing to it that the status quo is preserved. If you look back 40, 50 or maybe even 60 years, you won’t see many major improvements in the world with all the problems that have been worked on during that time.
Over the last couple years, we’ve looked at about $3 trillion of philanthropy. The core of philanthropy is do-gooders, people who have the right idea but don’t have a plan that will really solve the problem. You see a lot of well-meaning activities but no major change.
STELLA HALPERN: They want to do good, and in their heart, their intention is to help.
GREG HALPERN: But where can you document any major change? My belief, from what we have discovered through Improve Our World, is that the special interests that run all these organizations exist to support their own paid infrastructure through donations of millions of dollars to support an industry that’s billions of dollars strong. There’s really no incentive to change the status quo because, by keeping things the same and just having the appearance of working on problems, there’s a lot of good will that is generated.
BPGL: Do you have any examples where you think philanthropy works?
GREG HALPERN: The guy I like to point to is Mohammed Yunus. His Grameen Bank is the proof of concept for what we had come to understand after years of following problems and solutions globally at Improve Our World. That is, for there to be sustainable change that really helps people, you need to have an economy of scale built into it.
In this very poor place on earth, Bangladesh, he funded women with $100 or $200 microloans. They paid the loans back with less than 1% default rate, which is far better than any bank. He proved that if you feed people who are starving, it doesn’t help them. You’re really just enabling them, and you may be actually increasing the longevity of a problem.
But if you give them an economy of scale, and if it’s logical, and it’s practical, and there’s a way for them to uplift themselves with it, to create economics, you can actually help them. And that was the proof of concept and the reason that we felt it was time to launch So Act.
We always knew there was going to be a So Act, but we didn’t know what shape it would take. The idea that So Act is trying to sell is, if you build an economy of scale around a problem, you’ll have something that funnels the change.
BPGL: How does the So Act network fit into your vision?
STELLA HALPERN: Our vision for a long time has been to connect people all over the world who are working on similar issues. Let’s say somebody in Australia is working on solving a problem to do with vision, and you’re working on this, too. And somebody across the world in another country has been working on the same thing. They may have the missing piece to the puzzle that you’re looking for.
So we wanted to have a network where people all over can go to say, “Hey, this is what I’m working on. Is anybody else doing this? Let’s collaborate and finally get the finished product.” That’s where So Act came into being.
GREG HALPERN: In other words, there are three goals. One is that we need to build that better planet. And we need to build it now so that future generations will: A) still be here, and B) have a planet worth inheriting. That was our mission statement.
That being said, we needed a network where you can bring the world to your backyard, as Stella was saying. The idea is when you’re trying to fix problems, the cost in time, money, and resources makes change prohibitive, because you don’t know what you don’t know. If we could eliminate the “you don’t know” part by bringing the world to your backyard through a technology that completely changes the paradigm, then you’ve got something. So that was why I built So Act.
If you have any mission, cause, product, service, cure, or solution, we wanted to give you the ability to seriously and quickly expand your sphere of influence and crystallize your ideal world vision into a positive action on a larger scale. In other words, the early adopters of this technology are going to be thought leaders, change agents, and fellow spiritual travelers.
What we built was a unique platform that has several features that are not found anywhere else on the Internet today. For example, the conversational platform is built to cross-pollinate people’s efforts and interests. People are talking in one group, then they all of a sudden find out about something else, and it triggers something. And the next thing you know, they’re talking about something in that group.
STELLA HALPERN: Our family believes we’re here for a reason. And we’re on a mission to do whatever we can — our three daughters and Greg and I. We need to do something right now, because there’s not a lot of time to wait to help the planet and all of its inhabitants. Of course that goes to the girls having their mission with the band, Truth on Earth, and us having So Act. We’ve felt this for a long time, and we’ve done stuff on smaller scales, but now we’ve taken it up a notch to this.
BPGL: When you talk about doing stuff on smaller scales, what is your background? What kind of work have you done? Greg, are you a software expert?
GREG HALPERN: In the ’90s, I did the first ever, end-to-end fund-raising over the Internet. It was a Securities Exchange-approved deal. I raised several million dollars to build technology that was used to essentially analyze search-engine algorithms. It built better, smarter Web pages, so people could launch themselves to the top of the search engines. Of course, that technology has changed. So, I have a lot of experience in that.
I also have a lot of experience working with small public companies. The page that you want to see to get an overall vision of my background is Pink Floyd Is My Hero.
I’ve commercialized technology for small companies in the area of defense, developed by the Department of Energy, that detects and destroys biological and chemical toxins from terrorist weapons and biological hazards. And I’ve commercialized grain technologies. Those are a couple of my recent ones.
One of the things we’re doing here is to give people a real-time communication model that allows them to provide a harmonious bridge between economic goals and socially conscious mindsets. A lot of people think that making money doesn’t go with helping people; the exact opposite is true.
STELLA HALPERN: The point is that there are all of these new products and amazing things that are better for the environment at so many levels, and no one knows about them. So Act is the tool, the way that people from all over the world can connect. They can go there, click on a group for whatever they’re interested in and see what is going on all over the world.
It’s not just about connecting. You can share solutions, build a business, sell your product. This is about action.
BPGL: How do people of like minds find each other on So Act?
GREG HALPERN: On So Act, people are directly and indirectly paired up based on their interests. Why would somebody join your group on So Act? Only because they are already interested in what you are working on.
So the power in that is significant. Now, we’re getting real-time interest of people who are like minded. Then, you can call them to action. As we grow and develop, the fastest way to grow your network into something gigantic is to simply click “Connect” with every single person who joins.
By connecting, you expand your time that you spend talking about things. And it makes you more proactive on what you want to work on. And it mobilizes people to give thought and improvement on the ideas you’re already working on.
GREG HALPERN: Jon Hansen wrote a book called, What Are You Waiting For? (So Act Already!). He’s called So Act the “60 Minutes of Social Networks,” where you engage, mobilize, and empower people into action. To me, that’s a fitting description.
We’re starting to meet with some success. There’s a So Act group called Alpha Hybrid that I started. There are two links to the car that runs on human power. It’s a car that will go 60 mph and have four people in there pedaling. It has a handling frame. You can find it in Groups in SoAct.
Another is a solar powered car that’s coming out in the next year or so. There’s no vehicle to make these people more efficient in terms of bringing their technology to market. So we’re all going to have to wait a lot longer.
BPGL: How does So Act help people to develop new products?
GREG HALPERN: We built a network where we could get the solution makers and the problem solvers to join together and to build that better world now, rather than later. To get to that better world, all the people who are working, all the right-minded thinkers, need to be joined together fairly quickly.
Maybe one guy is in Asia, and he has manufacturing capacity. Another guy is in the US. He needs somebody to test his product, but he can’t get the right requirements met here to test it. So he’s going to test it in South America, because there’s someone there working on that also. And there’s someone in UK that wants to market it, because they feel that their audience is ready for it today, and so on.
The point is, since I don’t know those things, I will be financially wiped out on my way to finding them.
BPGL: How does So Act’s search engine differ from the major search engines, such as Google?
GREG HALPERN: Google gives you 50 million pages of results. The problem is, I only need 10. They say 72 percent of the searches don’t yield immediately useful information. If I’m searching for a Best Buy store, it knows right away where that is.
But if I say, “Hodgkin’s lymphoma,” it gives me a Wikipedia definition — which is probably not what I need — and 50 studies at universities. I need to know things that are related to why I’m making that inquiry in the first place.
So we built a search engine that tries to look at it in that way. It just gives you 10 results that will really mean something to you rather than 50 million that don’t.
STELLA HALPERN: You can see more if you want, but I’ve found, by comparing it to other major search engines it gives me exactly what I’m looking for. There’s no spam. There are no ads. And I haven’t ever had to go to even get the next ten.
GREG HALPERN: I found the ads and the spam to be a giant distraction. I spend 80 percent of my time on SoAct now. Since we went live in early September, I’ve gone from 10 percent of my time while testing over the summer to 80 percent. That means I’m starting to tell people, don’t email me. Half the time, I don’t get their email because there’s an attachment or it’s in my spam filter or it’s rejected by my server. This is a waste of time. There is no way to cure spam. It can’t be cured unless you eliminate getting all your email. The filters just don’t work.
BPGL: How does So Act solve those problems with email?
GREG HALPERN: In So Act, I designed a communication platform where I could transfer files back and forth and communicate in real time and not have to deal with email. I don’t want to see another commercial where I’m looking at a video, and I’m force fed before I can watch the video I’m trying to watch. These things take a lot of time, so we’ve attempted to eliminate them.
BPGL: Without ads, how will So Act generate income to support itself?
GREG HALPERN: We have a paid model, a member, fee-based model, so that when people get to usage that’s very high, we’re going to have $1, $2, and $5 charges.
BPGL: Those are very small fees. But with so much that’s free on the Internet, why would a So Act user pay even a small fee?
GREG HALPERN: There’s another thing about our technology that is very novel — and it’s a huge cost savings for businesses and people who want home networks. If you use SoAct, it’s already a private, internal network. You can upload all the files you want to share. You not only can share them, you can preview them. You can watch the video, look at the pictures, listen to the music, listen to the audio files. You can’t see the docs yet, but you can see that they are docs. You can share them.
You can go to one computer, and put all your files on your media drive. Then, you can go to another computer and open your same account on So Act at the same time and get those files. It beats a memory chip. It beats a network. It’s fast. You can do it from all over the world. And it’s secure.
This is a major paradigm shift. There’s $4 billion a year of network routers and hubs being sold to do this. I found about half the people that I surveyed haven’t even been able to successfully make their networks work.
An office can spend thousands — and big law firms and other big offices spend millions — building their private networks. So Act eliminates the need for it. Not only can I see the files that I have there, I can preview most of them and use them.
I can transfer files into a conversation while I’m having a conversation. And I can transfer them from conversation to conversation.
BPGL: What is the advantage of transferring files between conversations on So Act?
GREG HALPERN: What if I have three different conversations going? One with a lawyer who is going to review a contract. One with an expert who is going to review a PowerPoint. And one with the person I’m going to be doing business with. I can transfer those files into separate conversations and at the same time get reviews and give feedback all at once.
There are some very powerful things we’ve done that are turning out to be more powerful than what we originally intended.
BPGL: How many people are on So Act?
GREG HALPERN: We have more than 1,000 people since launching in September. But I’m not worried about having 50 million people. I’m worried about having a couple million early adopters, change agents, thought leaders, fellow spiritual travelers who want to improve the world. They, themselves, provide all the leadership for the entire planet. So that’s what I’m looking for — not sheer numbers.
But for a person with a business, it’s a numbers game. Try to connect with every single person, and within a year, if you’ve clicked 100,000 times, you’ve gotten 10,000 people to join whatever you’re working on.
BPGL: How do people sell things on So Act?
GREG HALPERN: On the other social networks, I can’t promote myself per se without being called a spammer. On So Act, anything that’s being sold anywhere could be a link right to your group page.
You just tell people, “We have a booklet on X. We charge $2.00 for it. We think it’s got value of Y much greater than that. This is the link to it, if you’re interested.”
BPGL: Let’s say someone has a fundraising idea that will require a lot of programming. How can So Act help?
GREG HALPERN: This is why they want to have a group for that on SoAct. The group might be called Fund-Raising Programming or Fund-Raising Solutions. Then put in the objective: We want to find programming that’s been done, or an economical way, to program our fund-raising solution, which would be of benefit to everybody.”
A lot of it has probably already been developed. And over the next year, you’ll be able to find that on So Act. There may not be something exactly like what you want, but there may be components that equal it that are already done.
It’s a zero-cost solution to your problem. Again, we’re trying to save you time, money, and resources on the way to building that better world that you envision.
BPGL: What are some of the other features?
STELLA HALPERN: The alert tool is one of my favorites. It takes the keywords you use when you fill out your profile, along with any words from the groups that you’ve started or joined. And it pulls news articles from around the world that are connected to your keywords. It brings you the top ten every hour just on the things that you really care about.
You can change your keywords anytime you want. When you go into other news places like YAHOO!, it’s just whatever they want to feed you. You have no choice in that. But with SoAct, you actually have a choice on what news you get every hour.
BPGL: So Act has a press service. Why would people choose the SoAct service over another one they can find on the Internet?
STELLA HALPERN: People can put out a press release on whatever project they’re working on. It goes out to all the members of So Act, to Yahoo!, MSN, UPI, and Google. That is for free, right now.
What is so neat about that is, as a startup, we put out a press release that cost us $800. Startups really have a hard time affording to put out press releases like that. This makes it available to the person who starts a group on So Act, has a great idea, and is trying to do something really newsworthy but can’t afford a press release. They can put it out through So Act.
BPGL: Right now, it’s free. But what’s the cost going to be when you do charge?
STELLA HALPERN: In the future, it will be $2 a month to be in that service and $5 for a press release. We’re waiting to charge until we have a larger group. Once we have a larger membership, we’ll initiate our e-commerce platform. Early adopters who are on there now will get some benefit for free.
GREG HALPERN: When you do a press release, you have to remember that almost nobody cares anymore. There are a million media outlets, and most of them are failing now. Whatever the most recent news is — the top ten items — that’s all they want to pick.
That being said, there’s a greater reason for us putting up a press service. We want to get that news page indexed on the web — and to get all the people who are following you on So Act updated on what you’re talking about. Every time you update people about what you’re talking about, it’s of interest to them. That’s why they joined your group.
GREG HALPERN: So Act is a collaboration tool. You’ll be able to invite people based on permission to collaborate with you on your group. So if you’re developing some aspect of your product or group or services, you’ll be able to invite people.
Most of the big corporations who are now developing new products, new ideas, new services have a wiki. It’s a very expensive tool they’ve developed, but we have it for free. It allows you to add a web page to your group. That web page is developed in real time every single day with contributions, and every time it is, it makes a new page every time it’s re-saved. If you want to see what was done a week ago, or even a month ago, or a year ago, you’ll be able to go to an archive of all the everyday developments.
That page will be indexed in the search engines, so it will track people that are searching to find that page. That’s another way to create relevance.
The biggest challenge anyone is going to have is that this looks unusual, and people may not be comfortable there at first.
BPGL: How can people sign up for So Act?
STELLA HALPERN: Go to www.SoAct.net and join. It’s easy.
GREG HALPERN: As I say to everyone, “What are you waiting for? So Act, already!”
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