Environmental charity the WWF has teamed up with the World Conservation Union (IUCN) and Nokia on a new website called Connect2Earth, which aims to put young people’s Web 2.0 skills to work on saving the planet. It’s not due to launch until February next year, but I got a sneak preview at the Nokia World show this week, and got the lowdown from the WWF’s online outreach manager David Coles.
“There’s a big environmental conference taking place next October in Barcelona called the World Conservation Congress, where world leaders, NGOs and business leaders will be gathering to talk about the environment and sustainability,” he says.
“With Connect2Earth, we’re trying to create a voice for young people, which can then feed into that event. It’s an online and mobile platform for young people to express their thoughts, opinions, hopes and aspirations on the environment.”
My headline doesn’t really do Connect2Earth justice – although video submissions are a big part of it, users will also be able to contribute photos and text submissions. Everything will then be rated by the rest of the community, with monthly prizes from Nokia for the best submissions.
Submissions will be welcomed on any subject, as long as it relates to the environmental and sustainability focus of the site. So it could be people posting videos of their local activism, or venting their point of view on a green issue, or anything else that’s relevant.
“It’s not about adding videos of skateboarding dogs or exploding Coke cans,” says Coles. “They’re great, but that’s what YouTube is for. Having said that, Connect2Earth isn’t about being an eco-warrior, wearing sandals or wearing woolly jumpers. It’s about showing you can care about the environment and talk to your friends about it without seeming like a saddo.”
The big deal with Connect2Earth, though, is that next summer before the Barcelona conference, a panel of conservationists and celebrities will be looking at all the content that’s been added to the site, and choosing a grand winner, who’ll then get a slot at the conference to directly address all those world leaders.
“We’re using it as a springboard for us to provide a real voice at this event, so it’s not just another talking shop,” says Coles. “Even we environmental organisations often talk about protecting the planet for our children and our children’s children, and a lot of these empty phrases, but one of the key things for us about this project is finding what young people actually want, and what they’re most concerned about.”
Connect2Earth seems well positioned, since the young people it’s targeting are both experienced users of other UGC sites like Flickr and YouTube, but also tend to be if anything more concerned and engaged with environmental issues than the generation above them.
Interestingly, it sounds like Connect2Earth is something of a culture shock for the WWF itself, or at least an attempt to move beyond its traditional way of doing things (the fact that it has an online outreach manager, of course, shows this process is already underway).
“As an organisation, we’ve always been like ‘We’re the WWF, and this is what we’re doing’,” says Coles. “This is our first attempt to begin a bit more of a two-way dialogue, in terms of what people themselves care about, and how that can influence how we work as an organisation. It’s not about ‘We’re environmentalists – do as we say!’ any more…”
One question is why the WWF is going it alone with its own website, rather than using existing UGC services like Flickr, YouTube and social networks. The initial answer is that Connect2Earth will tie in with those sites too – “It’s not about building an ivory tower” says Coles – allowing users to cross-post their stuff across all of these, rather than restricting it to one site. A Facebook application is a distinct possibility too, it seems.
But the thinking behind Connect2Earth also reveals a broader story, about the WWF being a bit disappointed in trying to get its message across on the broader UGC sites, which he illustrates by talking about a video about ‘bycatching’ – the process where fishing boats are trying to catch one kind of fish, but end up catching lots of others that they have to chuck back into the sea dead.
“We posted a very good and powerful video on YouTube explaining why this is bad, but then we had a lot of comments along the lines of ‘I don’t believe this’, and a lot of other people saying ‘Well, I love eating fish…’, and some really inane stuff. You could see it wasn’t the kind of space where… well, you just don’t want to add to it.”
The WWF isn’t giving up on YouTube, but sees Connect2Earth as a way for its young activists to cut through that clutter and engage with each other. The site is due to run until the conference in October next year, although if it’s thriving, the charity won’t just shut it down – and it’ll also be providing learnings that can be used in other WWF online activities.
Meanwhile, Coles is keen to stress that Connect2Earth isn’t just a developed-world thing. “It’s global, and for us it’s really important that we don’t just have a lot of Western European and North American voices on there. We want people from all over the world.”
The site doesn’t go live until February (that’s my snap of the demo version at the top of this story), but you can sign up for an alert when it goes live, via the link below.
For the latest posts from the show, check our Nokia World 2007 category