A social network for social change. That is the mandate of recently launched website Talkic.com, the brainchild of altruistic-minded Toronto entrepreneur David Katz. He also runs a free indie music promotion service, TalkicMusic.com, for unsigned artists who drive change to the charities on Talkic.com.
Every member of the online social network can donate 1.1 cents to one of the charities involved with every visit to the site. That figure represents about two-thirds of the money the site makes from displaying ads.
Twenty charities from Canada, the U.S. and U.K. are now affiliated with Talkic.com, and they range from organizations fighting diseases like cystic fibrosis and multiple sclerosis to the Special Olympics and Habitat for Humanity in New Orleans.
Talkic.com is still very new, having officially been launched on Jan. 17, 2012. Its roots lie in JackTheDonkey.com, the intriguingly-named site launched by Katz in 2009 as a way of finding something positive in a very negative situation.
"One of my sisters was going through a very ugly divorce," Katz tells www.samaritanmag.com. "This guy, now an ex-relative, continually took the lowest road possible, even with kids involved. Calling the site JackTheDonkey was rather a joke to my family, like this guy is an ass.
“The whole idea was to use it as a way to promote women's causes, like changing the laws related to the definitions of spousal abuse. Then when I saw the economy tanking, car companies getting bailouts etcetera, I thought maybe we can create something to bailout the non-profits I cared about at the time."
Katz acknowledges that the ‘click for a cause’ idea was not original. "It had been done before, with things like 'click on this link and we donate to breast cancer research.' There are sites where you answer questions and that raises money for rice for African families or for dog shelters and that kind of thing. We thought we could add the stickiness of a social network, plus spread the word on a large number of charities."
The concept of JackTheDonkey and now Talkic has evolved since its inception, Katz explains. "The original idea was clicking for a cause, but I also wanted to figure out a way to bring people together to talk. That can be done through pictures, links and music. The topic doesn't have to be rock 'n roll. It can be about love or poverty.
“We have two objectives. One is to get people supporting different charities and causes; the other is to get the conversation going, something I didn't see happening on Facebook or Twitter. The name Talkic actually comes from the idea of getting people to talk on topic."
Music is a crucial aspect of Talkic. TalkicMusic.com, a free new music promotion service for unsigned artists, serves as a magnet to attract visitors to talkic.com and therefore benefit the charities and causes involved.
Talkicmusic.com showcases artists from a wide range of musical genres, with Katz singling out hiphop as an especially active style. The site has also become international, he says. "More than half the traffic now is outside Canada . One of the first bands on the site was Australian. Musicians see the value proposition of their music being shown on the front of our site, and then we tweet it out and post it to the other social networks.
“There is a lot of music on this site that gives me shivers. If we can get people listening to these songs and realizing they are making money for a charity, hopefully one day that'll get them thinking about helping these organizations in the real world as well."
He recalls that "music was something we added to JackTheDonkey in the second year, to take us to another level. It definitely did that. It added a coolness factor, like having gangsta rappers and death metal guys on our site, supporting great causes. We're trying to reach people who don't normally give a shit."
Katz is a fervent music fan and a strong believer in its power as a catalyst for social change. His passionate blogs on the subject are featured on the site. He laughingly admits that his own musical aspirations "peaked in our grade 9 music show at a school. I was a drummer, this four-foot high kid doing 'Wipeout' on the drums. We started our own band after that but nothing became of it." His love of a wide range of music developed over three years he spent working at famed store Sam the Record Man in Toronto during his university years.
Katz credits his family with instilling a drive to do good works from an early age. "I grew up with three older sisters and a younger brother. We'd always watch The Jerry Lewis Telethon as a family, and my parents and sisters would set us up at the street corner, and we'd sell lemonade for the Telethon. I believe I got a lot of that from my grandfather. He started The Baycrest Fund Run 30 years ago, raising money for the prominent home for the elderly. Early on, it was sponsored by Speedy Muffler King. I was very young, and thought that is who they were raising money for!"
His grandfather would take children with special needs swimming and bowling, and this also rubbed off on the younger Katz. "I've been a volunteer and coach at Special Olympics," he says. "When I started JackTheDonkey, I saw it as my grandfather's legacy, 2.0."
Prior to devoting his full energy to JackTheDonkey and now Talkic, Katz had a successful if personally unfulfilling professional career. He studied at York University's famed Schulich School of Business, then worked in the corporate world for over a decade.
"I did corporate consulting, communications and market research for multi-national blue-chip companies," he says. "I quit my job 10 years ago and went travelling for 18 months, doing things like working in a cemetery. I came to realize that everyone has their mission in life, but it is so easy to get stuck in what everyone else wants you to do."
For Talkic, Katz began approaching charities he admired to see if they wanted to be involved. "My sister has MS [multiple sclerosis], so I contacted The MS Society of Canada, while my ex-girlfriend has cystic fibrosis, so I approached The Canadian Cystic Fibrosis Foundation. I chose 10 charities, and since then others have contacted us."
One charity that has had a special resonance for Katz is Alex's Lemonade Stand, perhaps in part due to his own beverage-selling for a good cause early on.
"It was started by a little girl, five years at the time. She was diagnosed with a disease called neuroblastoma, like a cancer behind the eye. She started her own lemonade stand to help raise money to seek a cure. She eventually passed away, but they have raised $25 million since then, through lemonade stands all over the U.S.. I think how horrible that was, for a kid that age to know she was fighting for her life."
The extroverted and funny Katz has put those assets to good use in promoting his sites. He'd been known to patrol the subway in a JackTheDonkey costume to spread the word, and he scored national TV exposure for Talkic.com as a result of an appearance on the CBC's The Steven & Chris Show last month. That was the result of Katz's One Year No Shear campaign/publicity stunt, one in which he avoided the razor and hair clippers for a full year.
He describes this as "an extreme version of Movember," and his OneYearNoShear.com site documented his follicle follies to entertaining effect. "It was designed to generate attention, but it also had a personal perspective," he explains. "It was a way of retreating into myself and thinking about future directions. After a few months of not shaving or cutting your hair, you're going to look a little off-putting, so I could take time to think about what we were doing."
Coincidentally, Talkic.com was launched on the same day Katz's on-screen makeover was aired. He admits the new suit he received from the show hasn't seen much use yet. "I reverted to the scruffy look pretty quickly, though I trimmed the goatee last night. I told my dad it is hard to go full turkey in looking like a human being again!"
Katz views Talkic.com as a work in progress, and one with great potential. "Up until now our value proposition has been the click for a cause. Music or social networking, I'm here to support these charities. I think we are starting to move from clicking for a cause socially to socially clicking for a cause, meaning we are really connecting with people. Helping charities will be at the heart of everything we do moving forward, but we have made the social side a lot better. I believe we are developing something different from the other social networks."Nike