Why Web Lab selected NeedCom for Web Development Fund funding:
To make a long story short: NeedCom was a perfect candidate for the WDF. It is a highly innovative use of the medium, evolves over time and is enriched and informed by visitors to the site, offers a dynamic and provocative user experience, and addresses a very important public issue: panhandling. On top of that, it does something we prize highly around Web Lab: it uses existing technologies in new ways. We find it a great loss that so many wonderful, straightforward technologies are often overlooked for the flash and sizzle of the newest whiz-bang gizmo. Here is a simple device that provides a complex and engaging user experience, and above all offers the chance for a visitor to encounter a meaningful and possibly transformative experience on the Web.
The long story: How can the Web be used to pursue a social agenda without becoming merely didactic or an on-line pamphlet? NeedCom's answer is to create an experience that catches the participant unaware, through irony and the fresh uses of the most fundamental of the medium's features: interactivity, multi-linear narrative, and user-generated content. And that experience is closer to a performance than, say, a documentary or a Webzine, and is one which we as visitors first encounter then shape for those who follow.
While cynical sites are a dime a dozen, irony is rarely seen online. Why is it we expect Web sites to be viewed in the most literal of manners? Needcom turns that false expectation into a virtue by humorously presenting itself as something other than it is and, by the time we "get" the irony, we're hooked. While a large number of WDF proposals inevitably seek to employ the most cutting edge Web enhancements, NeedCom reminds us that in our rush to embrace the newest gadgets we often fail to notice that the potentials of even the earliest of Web tools, such as forms and polls, have been passed over before their full potential has been fully explored.
NeedCom is a welcome reminder that we should all be expecting more from what we already have at our disposal. And this is all before we get to the topic, the numbing topic, a topic many people would be wary to visit a Web site about: panhandling and, through association, poverty. But its unassuming utilization of Web tools and its sharp irony attracts us, creating a safe space for us to explore the topic from a distance. And as we click through the survey for the first time, like a fish we are reeled into the site and into an exploration of the personal strategies we unawarely employ in our relationships with panhandlers. We thought the site was about someone else and then, gradually, we realize the attention has been shifted on to us. And as we consider both our own responses and those of the others who've contributed to the site, we might discover that there is perhaps space for us to become resensitized and be able to think a little bit clearer about this unsettling topic. And besides, it sure doesn't hurt that the site can be shockingly funny and that it looks great to boot.