Changing the World With a Click of the Mouse

Those of us who have adopted Internet slang like "LOL" as a part of our regular vocabulary and take pictures solely for the purpose of posting them on Facebook know that online technology can change our day-to-day lives.

Whether or not telling people you are audibly laughing with three letters can be considered a positive effect of technology is up to you, but three Web sites are attempting to generate social change on a global scale in an effort to make the world a nicer place.

The nonprofit organization Tech Soup recently held a competition to find online projects that best use technology in the pursuit of changing our lives for the better. Sometimes called the "American Idol" of the Internet, the winners of Tech Soup's NetSquared Innovation Awards were nominated and voted upon by the public.

"The NetSquared project is about bringing together people with resources and projects with folks working hard in nonprofits to create social change in a way that helps accelerate those projects and move them forward," said Marnie Webb, vice president of Knowledge Services at Tech Soup.

The top prize went to political site MapLight.org, which tries to educate voters by connecting campaign donations and the voting process in a completely new way.

"MapLight.org takes all the money given to politicians and puts it on one Web site [along] with how every politician votes on every bill so you as a citizen can see the pattern of money and votes in Congress and hold your legislator accountable," co-founder and executive director Dan Newman told ABC News Now.

It can be extremely difficult to track the political money trail that runs through Congress and MapLight.org can save you hours of research. They currently provide statistics for the California Legislature and United States Congress in a completely legal and nonpartisan way.

"Where the politicians get their money and how they vote is public information," Newman said. "Now did the money cause a vote or did a vote cause the money or is there some other connection? That is up to the people who visit our site to interpret, but we provide the facts that previously would have taken days or weeks to dig up."

Newman hopes to soon expand the site to make a bigger impact on the 2008 elections.

"Our aim is to add a presidential section, but some of the candidates that currently or in the past have served in Congress are on our site right now -- for example, Sen. McCain and Sen. Obama," he said.

While Web surfers are taking a break from connecting money to congressional votes, they can enjoy some free online television from GetMiro.com, the NetSquared Innovation Awards' runner-up.

"Miro is desktop software that ... lets you connect to hundreds of thousands of Internet TV channels that individuals or organizations are making," Nicolas Reville, the executive director of GetMiro.com said. "We're really trying to create an open system for video online that anybody can participate in."

One goal of GetMiro is not only to provide a more open Internet, but to give people a way to get their messages out to a large group of viewers.

"If you have an organization and you're trying to do work in your community and get [the word] out ... this is a way you can do that," Reville said.

GetMiro.com also provides viewers with some cable and online entertainment shows in high resolution.

"We're especially focused on longer-format and more serious video than just a lot of the clips you might see on a Web site," Reville told ABC News Now. "It's a really easy way that both publishers can connect to an audience and viewers can have high-quality video delivered to them every day almost as if they had their TiVo set to record these channels."

Reville hopes the site can help people better navigate through the clutter of other online video systems to find their desired programming.

"You can look through our guide of all the channels that are offered [and] subscribe to them right there. It's all free content," he said. "Every day your list of channels that you have in your Miro player that you download from us will be updated automatically overnight."

Maybe one group that could use GetMiro.com's player is NetSquared's third place winner FreeCycle.org, an organization that is trying to reduce the amount of garbage in the world's landfills through the Internet.

Founder and executive director Deron Beal told ABC News Now that FreeCycle.org "is a Web site kind of like a free eBay, where people can give things away that to them are trash which might be treasure to someone else in their local community."

Giving away stuff that you no longer need but can't sell or give to charity might not seem like a big deal but according to Beal, FreeCycle.org has kept four times the height of Mount Everest out of landfills in the past year alone.

"We have about 300 tons a day that are being kept out of landfills in over 75 countries," he said.

These three organizations were chosen out of 152 nominations at the NetSquared Innovation Awards last month in San Jose, Calif. Due to the large response and amount of social change the winners brought about, Tech Soup hopes to continue the project.

"We are absolutely going to do [the NetSquared Awards] again," Webb said.

Check out ABC News Now's "All Together Now" for the full interview.

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