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The iPhone app mapping Social Impact

Jonny Kates
Jonny Kates, posted on 30.10.12

There was a time around the dawn of the century when new online business directories were seemingly popping up on a daily basis. The arms race of building the definitive internet archive of companies from all sectors and industries was well and truly on, with untold riches apparently lying in wait at the end of the rainbow for the directory who would be crowned King of listings. Google was closing in on winning the search engine war, but the business directory podium remained a vacant prize.

The problem was that nobody was really quite sure what purpose the directories should fulfil. The internet quickly became awash with huge amounts of data on all sorts of companies that was proving relatively useless (and now outdated) to both consumers and the organisations involved. Yelp managed to edge their noses in front by concentrating exclusively on recreational consumer sectors (restaurants, bars, nightlife), and snubbing B2B suppliers or white-collar enterprises. However most directories were seemingly pointless - often simply an exercise in online advertising or SEO link building.

At ClearlySo, we capitalised on this lack of niche and useful directories by building the world's largest directory of socially minded organisations. We decided that we probably  weren't  the only ones who wanted to consider social and environmental impact in all aspects of our daily lives, including the businesses we buy from. This is the view shared by Rolfe Larson, the American entrepreneur behind a new iPhone app called, indicatively, Social Impact.

The app - which is available now for free from the app store - utilises the iPhone's GPS feature to find nearby social enterprises in the hope that more consumers can easily make ethical choices about their purchases. The app then uses Google Maps to plot those businesses on a map, enabling you to easily navigate yourself to your nearest social enterprise.

By design, the app lends itself more to consumer retail businesses such as restaurants and cafés, rather than B2B enterprises; following the trend of the aforementioned Yelp. And despite the app's primary map interface, there is also an area to buy from social enterprises online.

I caught up with Rolfe last week to discuss Social Impact as he begins to promote the app to the British market.

"We're trying to make the conscious choice of buying from social enterprises easier, and for a modern consumer, that means making the information mobile", he says. Appropriately, the mission statement behind the Social Impact app is to "˜harness the power of smart phones to increase sales and impact at social enterprises around the world.'

Rolfe recognises that global coverage is critical to the app's success and despite being based out of Denver, Colorado; Social Impact already boasts good data coverage for the UK along with many other countries. And it's growing all the time.  Social Impact was  developed for use in the UK in partnership with the Scottish social enterprise, the  Kibble Education and Care Centre.

"It's about enabling choice through access to information", he continues. "People everywhere want to make ethical decisions, on the fly, during their everyday lives. Social Impact puts that information in the consumer's pocket and as a result, social enterprises benefit."

The app is still in its early versions but has already been recognised in the UK; being shortlisted as a finalist at next month's Social Enterprise Awards. More internationally, Social Impact has been covered by the likes of the Huffington Post, Forbes and GOOD magazine. Rolfe also has plans to eventually release an Android version of the app, provided the development costs are available.

"If there's one thing  I've  learnt about mobile app development, it's that you have to constantly make sure your app is up to date and compatible with the changing technologies". This comment sparks a ten minute discussion between us regarding Apple's recent move to their own map service with iOS 6, but Rolfe assures me that this shouldn't present any major complications for Social Impact, which uses Google Maps.

You can download the app now for free over on the iTunes app store for both iPhone and iPad.


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