Chris Warner is the Founder and CEO of Earth 911. He is serving as the raconteur for this afternoon's last session. Earth 911 is a web site that gives people information customized to their zip code on where to recycle, what local water quality issues are, etc. The site functions in cooperation with all 50 states in a public/private partnership. The site uses a GET for queries and so its results are linkable. Here is the information customized for my neighborhood.
Chris says that government hasn't been able to do this. California, for example, had 248 government funded hotlines to tell citizens where to recycle oil. What happened was that the state mandated that that hotlines exist and so each little community or agency that had anything to do with oil recycling created a hotline that did it in their own way. Each was a little fiefdom that didn't want to go out of business. The problem was that there was no way even one of those numbers was going to show up on 8 billion oil containers each year. Earth 911 was able to create a single place that works nationally and its number is on oil containers. They've been able to do the same thing for water quality and avoid a similar fate for a similar state mandate.
Over 4500 government jurisdictions input data onto this site, so that data is near real time. He tells about a meeting with Christine Todd Whitman where she went to his site to get information about a beach she lived on in New Jersey and the data was 50 minutes old. The EPA site for the same beach had been last updated 2 years and 3 weeks earlier. In their defense, the EPA is getting better. Utah is part of a pilot program now to send XML data to the EPA to update their information regularly.
Earth 911 provides a value to the people entering information by making many of the notifications that they'd have to do manually, so that by going to one site, they accomplish a lot of the administrative tasks required for different events. So people have a vested interest in using this site to do their work. A pretty nice business model.
The point of all of this is that Chris has built a community of concerned citizens and government workers to solve a real problem. The community couldn't have happened without technology, but it was driven by a common cause and innovative people. Foundations and non-profits don't typically make good use of technology and don't understand it as an enabler. They see it solely as a cost, not an opportunity. Earth 911 is clearly a diffferent breed.