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American Idol Meets Silicon Valley

If you're reading this blog, you probably won't smirk at the claim that the Internet has the potential to make the world a better place. But you also know how much time can be wasted trying to make the Internet work for you. The mission of NetSquared is to help social change organizations use the Internet smartly and productively. This past weekend in San Jose, California, NetSquared held a conference that brought together 21 promising social change projects that use Internet tools to fulfill their goals. And had them compete against each other for a grand prize of $25,000, voted on by conference participants.

One of the most interesting of the 21 projects uses the Internet to connect doctors and emergency personnel dealing with humanitarian crises. But it wasn’t just the “contestants” who were impressive. Take a look at the list of conference participants to get a sense of the energy and innovation that was gathered under one roof in Silicon Valley this weekend. The winners had to demonstrate technological innovation, a viable financial model and social benefit. In addition to money, the winners get ongoing support from NetSquared.

Here’s the San Francisco Chronicle’s rundown of this weekend's lucky winners:
-- MapLight.org: A Light on Money and Politics. The Berkeley group, which correlates lawmakers' voting records with the money they've raised from special-interest groups, took first place and took home $25,000. The folks behind the site have been active in trying to get money out of California politics.
-- Miro Open Source. The Massachusetts group, which is working on creating free and open access to video content on the Internet, took second place and $15,000.
-- Freecycle Network. The Tucson group's goal—creating a free eBay to keep stuff out of landfills by encouraging people to join a global curbside pickup campaign— took third place and $10,000.

For those of us who couldn’t be there, someone at the Omidyar Network—an online community for “people who want to make the world a better place”— took notes.
UPDATE: You can listen to podcast interviews with each of the NetSquared finalists conducted by Jesse Patel of Innovatorz.org, a site dedicated to helping social entrepreneurs tell their stories.

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