We've all undoubtedly seen the chain-letter email messages that circulate around telling you that by forwarding the email you will make money or receive gifts and most people with half a clue understand that this kind of thing is pretty much impossible. So it was with a whole lot of skepticism that I first greeted Microsoft's "i'm" campaign because the premise is: for every IM conversation you have with Windows Live Messenger, we'll donate some money to the nonprofit of your choice (from among nine choices). To me, it sounded just a wee bit fishy. In reading the "About" page you do learn a bit more. First:
Every time you start a conversation using i’m, Microsoft shares a portion of the program's advertising revenue with some of the world's most effective organizations dedicated to social causes. We've set no cap on the amount we'll donate to each organization. The sky's the limit. There's no charge, so join now and put our money where your mouth is.
and then this:
Once you've signed up, every ad you see in your message window contributes to the grand total we send to the causes.
So it's all about a portion of the advertising revenue that is generated from use of Windows Live Messenger (formerly "MSN Messenger"). But this second piece I find interesting... it sounds like Microsoft must be being paid on a pay-per-view basis versus pay-per-click. The advertisers pay MS based on the number of times that their ad is displayed. Ergo... the more IM conversations there are, the more times the ads are displayed... the more money goes to Microsoft.... and the more can be distributed to the nonprofits. I was a bit surprised as I would have expected it to be more like pay-per-click - and undoubtedly it still is, i.e. for a view an advertiser pays $X and if someone clicks through an advertiser pays $X + $Y.
Digging into the Press area, there was the FAQ that explained a bit more:
Q: How much money goes to the organization from each conversation?
A: Although the donation amount from each user is small, the power of the Windows Live Messenger network makes this donation significant. For competitive reasons, we can’t share the per-conversation amount of advertising revenue that we will contribute, but every new conversation you have will lead to money being donated to the cause you select. Each organization is guaranteed a minimum of $100,000 for its involvement.
So ultimately it will amount to at least $900,000 in money being given out to these nonprofit organizations... certainly nothing to dismiss! There was also this little piece of curiousity:
Q: Can everyone participate in this initiative?
A: The i’m Initiative is available to everyone in the 50 United States and the District of
Huh? I first learned of it from a friend in the UK who signed up for the initiative. How would Microsoft even know, anyway? Last I knew you didn't really have to divulge geographic details to sign up for WLM... and even if you did those could be bogus... and people move all over the world anyway. Strikes me as quite odd.
Regardless, kudos to Microsoft for finding a fun way to make donations to some worthy organizations. I'm not so naive as to think Microsoft is doing this entirely out of the goodness of their hearts - I do realize that they hope to: a) attract more users to WLM; and b) increase the number of views of their advertisers ads. I assume they hope that it will incent people who use multiple IM services to have more conversations on WLM because those conversations will count for $$$. Probably not a bad idea. For me, WLM happens to be one of the two primary consumer IM services I use (the other being Skype) and for whatever reason the sets of people I communicate with are pretty separate. So it won't really change my behavior, but I could see that potential where people have more overlap between their contact/buddy lists.
To go back to the beginning, why is this "real" when the email scams aren't? Remember that the major consumer IM services (WLM, Yahoo!Messenger, AIM, Skype) are all "walled gardens" and in the server-based services (WLM, AIM, Yahoo) the companies controlling the servers know precisely how many conversations are going on, who is having them (and in fact what is being said). In contrast, with email the network of servers is completely distributed with no one controlling them all. As long as the walls remain, the companies controlling the servers have all that data. (Skype is a wee bit different, being peer-to-peer.)
In any event, it's an interesting initiative and it's great to see companies trying out new things that do benefit nonprofit organizations trying to bring about change in the world. Kudos to Microsoft - and if you are a WLM user, check out the initiative... it's very simple... if you already have WLM 8.1, just add a text string to your display name. If you don't have WLM 8.1, you'll need to upgrade. (Hmmm... which might be a third benefit for Microsoft - encourage people to move to the latest version.)