Web Harmony

Truly great business initiatives transcend business boundaries. Just look at the millions of dollars collected so far by libertyunites.org.

If you listened to President Bush's address to Congress and the nation on Sept. 20, in which he first outlined the U.S.'s plan for reacting to the Sept. 11 attacks, you heard him mention www.libertyunites.org. Did you wonder to yourself who was behind an obviously sudden Web site that would shortly receive millions of hits and would have to immediately collect and make sense of huge amounts of data? The tale of how that site came to be is a great story of getting people, processes and technology working together—to great ends.

The American Liberty Partnership is an Internet industry initiative made up of founding partners AOL Time Warner, Microsoft, Amazon.com, Yahoo, eBay and Cisco. In a matter of a few days, the group built and delivered the Web site the president referred to in his speech when he said, "I ask you to continue to support the victims of this tragedy with your contributions. Those who want to give can go to a central source of information, libertyunites.org." Within seconds, a brand new Web site with zero name recognition was sanctioned as the place to go for information on how to offer help in a time of great need.

The Saturday before the President's Thursday address, Sept. 15, there was no domain called libertyunites.org. But non-profit agencies, specifically the American Red Cross, reached out to the tech industry and asked for assistance.

That Saturday, the coalition was formed, and less than three days later, it had pulled off a feat businesses continually strive for—it had quickly built a site capable of delivering just-in-time information, along with a reliable and scalable e-commerce engine.

Building the site was much more than simply landing the domain name. According to the Web site, members of the team shared a fundamental belief "… in the power of the Internet to build communities around important causes and to provide critical support for non-profit agencies." By donating their time, infrastructure and development, and covering the additional transaction costs to ensure the entire amount of people's donations go to the cause of their choice, the coalition was able to benefit both non-profit agencies and the Internet community.

In addition to the founding team, other IT-related companies delivered impressive results. Exit1 (www.exit1.com) was responsible for the look and feel of the site, creating the design and individual pages. Pipevine, which is currently supplying transaction support for www.helping.org, built and provided the project's commerce component.

One question remains for many: Will this site, pushed into being by an immense tragedy, change how we give online? The answer already appears to be yes. The home page of www.libertyunites.org continually displays the amount of online giving to selected charities. At press time, the site showed a collected total of over $100 million—magnitudes above what the initiative partners probably imagined it would collect.

The site—in both the teamwork involved in building it and in the vast sums it has collected—represents a true evolutionary learning moment. Many of us believed that online giving would be held back by concerns over security because SSL (Secure Sockets Layer)—the protocol for secure Internet transactions—hasn't improved recently. However, it appears that security is no longer such a strong concern for the public.

If there's a lesson to take away from www.libertyunites.org, it's that the Internet truly does allow people to connect—and to feel part of a larger national community. E-philanthropy will continue to change, but in many ways, this site will be the watermark for future sites and projects of any size. We can clearly see now that the Web is a legitimate platform for collecting charitable donations. The Internet didn't increase Americans' need to give—it simply enabled us to do it easily and immediately.

As the American Liberty Partnership shows, with the right people, process and technology, we truly can transcend traditional business boundaries.

About the Author

Laura Wonnacott is VP of Business and Technology Development for Aguirre International, and a California State University system instructor.