How do we take care of each other?

Strong: Kevin Burton reports that the fund raising drive has was a complete success. As a result, I’ve removed the PayPal links from this post. Thanks all who donated!

Kevin Burton IM’d me yesterday and asked if he could give me a call. “Y’know Greg Stein?” “Yeah,” I said, “I just finally met him at . What’s up?” “I just heard that he was mugged on his way home yesterday.” “Is he okay?” I asked. “No.”

Apparently two guys jumped Greg (who happened to be on crutches), gave him a black eye and serious laceration that was bleeding profusely when the ambulance arrived.

All for a hundred bucks and a credit card.

Greg Stein by Joi ItoNow, for those of you who don’t know, Greg is a great guy, and one who has done a tremendous amount of good for the open source world. He’s now at Google doing loads of good work open sourcing their innards while chairing and acting as director of the Apache Software Foundation, lead developer of Subversion, and all things WebDAV.

And it’s really too bad that terrible things happen to good people like Greg.

So Kevin decided he wanted to do something. And that’s why he IM’d and then called me. He’s collecting donations in order to buy flowers, buy dinner and generally prove that, even when shit like this happens, that there is still good people and humanity in the world. And that when you give so much of yourself away to others and expect nothing in return, you’re the best candidate to receive the support of the community you’ve helped for so long.

So as I talked to Kevin about what we could do for Greg, it become abundantly clear that in all the social networking and digital ephemera that we’ve wrapped ourselves in we’ve done a pretty shoddy job of creating simple or obvious ways to help each other out in meaningful and effective ways when we’re most in need. Our networks are self-healing; people are not. So what have we done to make it possible to immediately mobilize ourselves when things do go wrong in order to provide the most effective and helpful response? When it comes to taking care of one individual out of our hundreds of friends across these online networks, does the network confound or enhance our ability to pitch in and materially help out?

When I was an admin of Spread Firefox, we were able to pull in a staggering $220,000 in 10 days to put a two page ad in the New York Times. The community saw a need (a grandiose one, I might add) and responded.

When the Dean campaign needed money, they put a call out and thousands upon thousands of campaign supporters would offer up microdonations and fill up the fundraising bat every time, accruing millions.

When one of us takes a hit, how do we respond? How does the network help us give the best that we’ve got?

I’m not saying I have the answers here — I’m really confounded. When Kevin asked me to pitch in, I was ready to hit the ground running — but what the hell do we do first? And in what proportion so that the multiplying aspects of the network doesn’t overwhelm the rather mundane and essential goal of lending Greg a helping hand now, when he needs it?

Well, for lack of anything we better, we kept it simple. For donations, I suggested Donorge, ChipIn and Network for Good but Kevin ultimately just used a couple PayPal links to receive donations on his blog. He set up a Google Group to organize folks, coordinate good acts and answer questions. For flowers I suggested Podesta Baldocchi here in the city. And while I think these efforts will ultimately prove successful and bring Greg a degree of relief and a smidgeon of hope, I think it also in some way serves to illustrate our need for what Stephanie Trimble has called Giving 2.0 (and that she has currently put into action offering people who work for Web 2.0 companies [a way to] get together to volunteer for charitable organizations).

If the government’s response to Katrina proved anything, it’s that our safety and well-being is in each others’ hands. And that we have to figure out how to put these new networks into our employ, and to figure out how design them to serve our human needs in the most vital times. It’s ideas like Brian Caldwell’s Emergency Social-Repeater System or the recent thread on the coworking mailing list for P2P health care that suggest that we’re beginning the work to figure this stuff out for ourselves.

In the meantime, Kevin is just about half way through raising $2000 to send Greg out to Big Sur where he can relax and recuperate. Even though no one deserves to experience the kind of thing that Greg did on Friday, I think he’s more than earned the support of the community here. The systems of supporting ourselves and keeping each other safe certainly have a long way to go and deserve our attention; however, in the meantime, there is a more pressing need. For the moment we’ll make due, and do the best that we can, for each other.

Author: Chris Messina

Head of West Coast Business Development at Republic. Ever-curious product designer and technologist. Hashtag inventor. Previously: (YC W18), Uber, Google.

6 thoughts on “How do we take care of each other?”

  1. Chris, I think this is a fantastic post. Great to remember that the people on the other end of those channels are real people with real problems that we can really help with. I don’t know Greg, but your compassion and initiative are inspiring. Keep it up!

  2. I’ll be sure to chip in on this, as I have benefitted greatly from everything Greg’s worked on, even though I never knew who he was until I just read this now.

    Here: we talk about an the idea of entrepreneurs like myself, who rely on Open Source Software, and Open Knowledge sources to “tithe” money from our profits to the projects and people that develop them. Many of these donations are actually deductable. It seems to me that this giving would make the Open source software, and open knowledge sources grow and improve.

    I also think that improving this “giving” so that we can quickly leverage networks is a fantastic idea. Count me in for th elong haul on helping to make this happen…

  3. Holy crap, I found Chris Messina on the interwebz. Hope all is well! Just wanted to say hello.

    –Megan (Higgins) Gregory

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