I’ve been known for profiling dozens of local bloggers on my site however sometimes I offer up the option to new websites in town as well. The following is what I’ve been able to learn about Urbantastic from its Co-Founders Benjamin Johnson and Heath Johns.
How did Urbantastic come to be?
We met at Royal Roads University in 2005, and back in September 2008 decided to do something about how disconnected urban life can feel sometimes. Since then Urbantastic has been through a number of big changes, each time getting closer to our goal of finding ways to connect urbanites in real ways.
Ben is a CMA candidate, so he does all the accounting. Heath has a background in coding, so he does the website. Everything else is done by whoever loses the rock-paper-scissors contest that day.
How long has Urbantastic been around?
We started working together in September, but we incorporated as a non-profit on December 17th and the current iteration of the site was launched in the middle of January 2009.
What is it, what is it all about?
Our site is for anyone who wants to get involved with non-profits and other organizations that do good – anything from simply developing an awareness to actively helping out.
There’s two key lessons that we’ve learned since we’ve started:
1) The best way to make a real connection with your city is to work together with other people to make it a better, cooler, more interesting place.
2) The best way to get involved with these people has been invented already, but hasn’t been used very well in this space yet. The kind of creativity and involvement that Twitter, Flickr, Facebook and YouTube have going for them doesn’t need to be stuck on some server down in Silicon Valley – we can make our city better using the same kind of site.
How would people use your site?
Right now we’re adding features like madmen, but here’s what it will look like soon:
The first thing someone sees is the news feed. Think of it as a Facebook feed for all the non-profits and other organizations that do good in your city. If an organization makes a peep on the web, it shows up here: blog post, tweet, e-newsletter, etc. You can also comment and join discussions about what you read there.
From there you can start getting involved in small ways. You can join an organization’s posse (a little way to let them know that you support them), you can answer questions that they have (sometimes it just takes one person in the know to save an hour’s worth of research), and you can take on a micro-volunteering task.
Micro-volunteering is just what it sounds like: a bite-size way to help out a cause you believe in. It could be correcting the English in a document, or flexing your awesome photoshop skills, or using your van to drive a couch to the new office.
What is the ultimate goal for your site, how would you like to see it grow?
We’re a non-profit, so how we know we’re succeeding isn’t hitting ad-revenue target; it’s seeing people’s lives change for the better. It’s not going to be unrecognizable – you’re just going to know a few more awesome people, be able to point to more cool things that you’ve done, and have a slow steady stream of the little endorphin buzzes that you get from doing good.
First we’re going to make this happen for Vancouverites and Victorians, but we’re planning on quickly opening up to other large Canadian cities. From there, who knows? We might go for smaller cities in Canada, or go international.
What can people see, read, and do when visiting your site?
The main way to get involved in a non-profit right now is through traditional volunteering. This usually involves a volunteer resume, an interview, training, and a commitment of at least three months. It works okay but for a lot of busy people it’s too much.
Urbantastic breaks it down into a lot of little steps. First, you find out what’s happening at the organization – find out if it’s really something you feel passionate about. Then through small interactions like commenting or answering a question you meet who’s involved already – see if they’re your kind of people. By the time you’re ready to devote more time to a cause, you know who they are, they know who you are, and everyone knows what’s going on.
It’s a great way to get involved step-by-step. No muss, no fuss, no commitment until you’re ready.
Urbantastic can also be found on Twitter @Urbantastic.
Disclosure: This was not a paid profile