Solve Some Real World Problems

needs Threading together some topics that have been on my mind lately, I wanted to bring something different to you for consideration. For all that I talk about social media tools and how they can help businesses, I wanted to look at some real world problems that some of you can help with.

I’m inspired in part by a conversation with Britt Raybould tonight, about how the tech community is fairly insulated in our little fishbowl, and that we’re not really looking at things we could be doing to make a difference.

This was also one of the themes of PodCamp Boston this year, that we needed to take what we learned and start doing something with it. Further, I believe it was Christopher S. Penn who shared/linked to a story by Heather Ryan about what it was like to take her family to a soup kitchen for the first time. I’m also inspired by the work of Beth Kanter, and how she got a bunch of geeks to send a Cambodian woman to college again!

There are real world things you can do to help others while doing social media things. Here are some starting points:

Money Never Hurts

Affiliate Marketers Give Back is a campaign by Missy Ward and others in the affiliate marketing space dedicated to helping fund charitable giving via the affiliate marketing community.

Christopher S. Penn recently posted his new public speaking policy and it involves getting his fee handled in scholarship points to support college education.

Kiva.org is a microlending project, where you can fund several projects with great impact in other countries by giving a reasonably small amount of money in the form of a loan. My wife, Katrina, is involved with Kiva.org, and when I reviewed the projects she’d funded (Kat chose all women’s projects), I was impressed and moved by how much these loans could impact the people in need. Even $30 went a long way with certain projects in certain communities.

Or you could be Angel Djambazov and decide to send a good friend a few Flip video cameras for a generation-spanning project whose goal is only (only?) understanding between grandparents and kids.

There are other ways to help, too.

Startups to Solve More Pressing Problems

I came up with one idea where I feel a startup could make a difference, instead of trying to recreate the next Twitter killer yet again. Most modern grocery stores are all digitized. Every can of green beans is accounted for in a system. There are many people who receive financial assistance to support their food needs.

Could we build a system that automatically calculates the best possible food purchase choices, based on the amount of money available to spend divided by the number of people in the family, and built around the best possible nutrition choices? Could we print that list and even provide aisle/shelf numbers to make it even easier?

I saw an advertisement for a new show on Discovery called Project Earth. Essentially, it’s a science program, where they intend to do really big projects to attempt to impact various environmental issues. Too out there? Though it was a bit hokey and in the vein of reality TV, I give Discovery credit for education efforts via shows like Battleground Earth, where musical celebrities (Ludacris and Motley Crue’s Tommy Lee) perform eco-friendly challenges while educating us on how to make a difference in the environment.

Are there other ways we can use our technology and media skills that could benefit people in need?

It doesn’t always have to be a large gesture. Today, the effort with Beth Kanter cost as little as $10, and took up a few minutes of anyone’s time.

Want to see some other interesting and useful causes that could use your help in some small way?

Check out sm4sc- social media for social causes. This has lots of opportunities, especially for companies looking to get involved at a larger-than-individual level.

Check out this list from the nptech site.

So what can you do to help? What blocks us from taking action? How else might you share what you know in a way that would help others?

Photo credit, Joe M500

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  • http://pikesthinking.blogspot.com/ Walter Pike

    Thank you a very thought provoking article.

    Amongst other things I am the head of faculty: marketing and advertising at the aaa school of advertising, in Johannesburg.

    My students are doing a real life campaign for a charity client. One of the teams came up with a similiar concept as you have using premium rate sms to collect R10 a time, the cost of a coffee – instead of…

  • http://pikesthinking.blogspot.com/ Walter Pike

    Thank you a very thought provoking article.

    Amongst other things I am the head of faculty: marketing and advertising at the aaa school of advertising, in Johannesburg.

    My students are doing a real life campaign for a charity client. One of the teams came up with a similiar concept as you have using premium rate sms to collect R10 a time, the cost of a coffee – instead of…

  • http://www.wesak.blogspot.com Vajra

    Another great organization is Donors Choose: http://www.donorschoose.org/homepage/main.html
    funding small educational projects. So many teachers spend a great part of their modest income on supplies and projects for their classes. Here’s a way to help them.

    BTW, Chris, you rock! This is another great post on this great blog.

  • http://www.wesak.blogspot.com Vajra

    Another great organization is Donors Choose: http://www.donorschoose.org/homepage/main.html
    funding small educational projects. So many teachers spend a great part of their modest income on supplies and projects for their classes. Here’s a way to help them.

    BTW, Chris, you rock! This is another great post on this great blog.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisdn Christian DE NEEF

    Yes, we need to get the ‘Social’ into social media!

    I started loaning through Kiva in December 2005. I had been in Senegal the year before and was wondering how I could help some of the local people, how I could fund some of the small projects that make a difference between poverty and prosperity. Kiva was the answer. My money has gone mostly to woman initiatives because they are a driving force in black Africa, I am now also sponsoring an initiative in the Dominican Republic. Beyond the personal, I have been thinking about my company’s social responsibility, and I am so impressed with micro financing that I now think my company should invest 1% of its annual profits in projects.

    The calculator idea is interesting, and certainly feasible (if weightwatchers is capable of offering a calorie calculator, surely one could devise a grocery-list calculator) but the problems you would face are non-technological. There IS a digital divide, and it is the people that would be most in need of your solution that would have most difficult access to it (maybe that’s a European perspective).

    The above seem interesting concepts because they are long-term, structural, and they cover large populations. Beth Kanter’s initiative yesterday was personal, a one-shot, and its thanks to her reputation and presence at Gnomedex that it worked within minutes! I am not criticizing Beth here; just pointing out that this is not something that you can repeat a million times, it is not sustainable…

    The social contribution and value of social networks is something that needs a lot of thought. The feeling I have is that up to now (and social networking is still in its infancy, whatever some may think) most of the social networks have had an internal focus. It’s about growing the network, the success of the members and through that, the success of the network… In my opinion, there’s lack of external contribution (to some economic, social, political, or even technological endeavor) that’s at the origin of the absolute lack of vision behind ecademy, facebook, linkedin, twitter, etc. If the aim of the network is purely internal (growing for growing’s sake) then it will soon run out of fuel.

    The same discussion is ongoing elsewhere, and some networks are more social than others, for sure…

    Thanks for the link to sm4sc – social media for social causes. I will check this out and share further.

  • http://www.linkedin.com/in/chrisdn Christian DE NEEF

    Yes, we need to get the ‘Social’ into social media!

    I started loaning through Kiva in December 2005. I had been in Senegal the year before and was wondering how I could help some of the local people, how I could fund some of the small projects that make a difference between poverty and prosperity. Kiva was the answer. My money has gone mostly to woman initiatives because they are a driving force in black Africa, I am now also sponsoring an initiative in the Dominican Republic. Beyond the personal, I have been thinking about my company’s social responsibility, and I am so impressed with micro financing that I now think my company should invest 1% of its annual profits in projects.

    The calculator idea is interesting, and certainly feasible (if weightwatchers is capable of offering a calorie calculator, surely one could devise a grocery-list calculator) but the problems you would face are non-technological. There IS a digital divide, and it is the people that would be most in need of your solution that would have most difficult access to it (maybe that’s a European perspective).

    The above seem interesting concepts because they are long-term, structural, and they cover large populations. Beth Kanter’s initiative yesterday was personal, a one-shot, and its thanks to her reputation and presence at Gnomedex that it worked within minutes! I am not criticizing Beth here; just pointing out that this is not something that you can repeat a million times, it is not sustainable…

    The social contribution and value of social networks is something that needs a lot of thought. The feeling I have is that up to now (and social networking is still in its infancy, whatever some may think) most of the social networks have had an internal focus. It’s about growing the network, the success of the members and through that, the success of the network… In my opinion, there’s lack of external contribution (to some economic, social, political, or even technological endeavor) that’s at the origin of the absolute lack of vision behind ecademy, facebook, linkedin, twitter, etc. If the aim of the network is purely internal (growing for growing’s sake) then it will soon run out of fuel.

    The same discussion is ongoing elsewhere, and some networks are more social than others, for sure…

    Thanks for the link to sm4sc – social media for social causes. I will check this out and share further.

  • http://beth.typepad.com Beth Kanter

    I think if you understand the difference between transactional and relational – that it could be sustainable.

  • http://beth.typepad.com Beth Kanter

    I think if you understand the difference between transactional and relational – that it could be sustainable.

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  • http://socialmediaforchange.com/ Michelle Riggen-Ransom

    My blog Social Media for Social Change (http://socialmediaforchange.com/)highlights some success stories of folks already using social media tools for social change. Lots of inspiration out there in many different areas.

    Glad to see more folks galvanizing around this very important idea.

  • http://socialmediaforchange.com/ Michelle Riggen-Ransom

    My blog Social Media for Social Change (http://socialmediaforchange.com/)highlights some success stories of folks already using social media tools for social change. Lots of inspiration out there in many different areas.

    Glad to see more folks galvanizing around this very important idea.

  • http://www.johnherman.org John Herman

    Chris, I don’t believe you were at my session at Podcamp 3, but I presented it with this very topic in mind. Often people get enamored with all the new gadgets and applications, forgetting about the sincere opportunities to produce social change. It is time to make a difference.

    If you are interested, then Daniel Harper posted a summary of my session to his blog: http://tinyurl.com/6yo8md

  • http://www.johnherman.org John Herman

    Chris, I don’t believe you were at my session at Podcamp 3, but I presented it with this very topic in mind. Often people get enamored with all the new gadgets and applications, forgetting about the sincere opportunities to produce social change. It is time to make a difference.

    If you are interested, then Daniel Harper posted a summary of my session to his blog: http://tinyurl.com/6yo8md

  • http://www.affiliatesummit.com Missy Ward

    Thanks for the mention, Chris.

    AffiliateMarketersGiveBack.com has raised nearly $35,000 for the fight against breast cancer. We’re less than a month away from our 60-mile walk in Seattle for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

    If anyone is out in the Seattle Area, September 10-12, please let me know as I’ll be live blogging the entire route and we’d love to get you involved in some fun stuff we’ve got planned.

    To whom much is given, much is expected.

  • http://www.affiliatesummit.com Missy Ward

    Thanks for the mention, Chris.

    AffiliateMarketersGiveBack.com has raised nearly $35,000 for the fight against breast cancer. We’re less than a month away from our 60-mile walk in Seattle for Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

    If anyone is out in the Seattle Area, September 10-12, please let me know as I’ll be live blogging the entire route and we’d love to get you involved in some fun stuff we’ve got planned.

    To whom much is given, much is expected.

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  • http://isfanstartup.blogspot.com allan isfan

    Chris,

    Great post … once again! Our family has been giving for a while through various charities (Plan Canada plancanada.ca, http://www.givemeaning.com and we will continue to do so to help in the short term. I’m also going to check the great links and tips you provided so that our efforts get multiplied (especially like kiva.org).

    After reading Umair’s great post http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/haque/2008/04/an_open_challenge_to_silicon_v.html several months ago, I got the kick in the pants that I needed to focus on bigger, more world changing problems. This led me to publish the following slide deck as a prelude to a manifesto I’m working on for changing the world by connecting kids to each other. http://www.slideshare.net/aisfan/change-the-world/ . Please check it out and drop me a note if you’re interested in helping.

    Entrepreneurs can do much more than donate money. We can build products and communities that truly change the world for the better. Thank you for the reminder Chris!

    Cheers,

    Allan Isfan
    http://connecttheworld.wordpress.com
    http://isfanstartup.blogspot.com
    @isfan

  • http://isfanstartup.blogspot.com allan isfan

    Chris,

    Great post … once again! Our family has been giving for a while through various charities (Plan Canada plancanada.ca, http://www.givemeaning.com and we will continue to do so to help in the short term. I’m also going to check the great links and tips you provided so that our efforts get multiplied (especially like kiva.org).

    After reading Umair’s great post http://discussionleader.hbsp.com/haque/2008/04/an_open_challenge_to_silicon_v.html several months ago, I got the kick in the pants that I needed to focus on bigger, more world changing problems. This led me to publish the following slide deck as a prelude to a manifesto I’m working on for changing the world by connecting kids to each other. http://www.slideshare.net/aisfan/change-the-world/ . Please check it out and drop me a note if you’re interested in helping.

    Entrepreneurs can do much more than donate money. We can build products and communities that truly change the world for the better. Thank you for the reminder Chris!

    Cheers,

    Allan Isfan
    http://connecttheworld.wordpress.com
    http://isfanstartup.blogspot.com
    @isfan

  • http://everythingandnothing.typepad.com Shawn Lea

    I started http://www.katrinaartists.com after Hurricane Katrina by asking myself the same question. I live in Jackson – about three hours from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans (where I grew up and all of my family still lives). I challenged myself to find something I could do to help with my professional skills from my house (partially to convince myself what I did still had meaning after most communications were about how everyone had lost everything!). I came up with http://www.katrinaartists.com and helped local artists promote their work online. Built Web pages for those that didn’t have them and linked to those that did. It was fun – and I have received numerous letters from the artists telling me how big of a help it was. (And one artist even got a book illustrator project out of the site!)

  • http://everythingandnothing.typepad.com Shawn Lea

    I started http://www.katrinaartists.com after Hurricane Katrina by asking myself the same question. I live in Jackson – about three hours from the Mississippi Gulf Coast and New Orleans (where I grew up and all of my family still lives). I challenged myself to find something I could do to help with my professional skills from my house (partially to convince myself what I did still had meaning after most communications were about how everyone had lost everything!). I came up with http://www.katrinaartists.com and helped local artists promote their work online. Built Web pages for those that didn’t have them and linked to those that did. It was fun – and I have received numerous letters from the artists telling me how big of a help it was. (And one artist even got a book illustrator project out of the site!)

  • http://www.pelotonics.com Troy Malone

    Great post Chris. Thank you for focusing us in on what we really can do in this world. The think that really struck me about yesterday’s talk from Beth Kanter was that it was an endeavor that involved a larger number of people. No one person had to “make up the difference” or anything like that. If we each give a bit, we can do amazing things in this world. It is the organization and concentration that Beth provided that got the job done. Kudos to a great session and a phenomenal learning experience.

  • http://www.pelotonics.com Troy Malone

    Great post Chris. Thank you for focusing us in on what we really can do in this world. The think that really struck me about yesterday’s talk from Beth Kanter was that it was an endeavor that involved a larger number of people. No one person had to “make up the difference” or anything like that. If we each give a bit, we can do amazing things in this world. It is the organization and concentration that Beth provided that got the job done. Kudos to a great session and a phenomenal learning experience.

  • http://www.utterz.com/adamzand Adam Zand

    I salute all linked above (especially my homeboy @gradontripp with http://www.sm4sc.com), but let’s make sure that social good in social media isn’t the latest shiny object we chase and then leave.

    In my experience (seven years as Dir. of Development at Northeastern U’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society + lots of non-profit membership/boards/consulting), one-time events realistically do nothing, whether it’s a basketball player visiting an inner city school or a big bank writing out a big check to a community center or a cool concert like Live8/Live Aid helping Africa or the environment.

    Social change and philanthropy need dedication over a long period of time to work, and even then, there are so many factors that shaft kids (and adults) at an institutional, economic, health level.

    So, let’s all continue to support the latest Twitter causes and write out checks, but if you get a chance, please find out how sustainable and long-term those funds and people on the street are.

  • http://www.utterz.com/adamzand Adam Zand

    I salute all linked above (especially my homeboy @gradontripp with http://www.sm4sc.com), but let’s make sure that social good in social media isn’t the latest shiny object we chase and then leave.

    In my experience (seven years as Dir. of Development at Northeastern U’s Center for the Study of Sport in Society + lots of non-profit membership/boards/consulting), one-time events realistically do nothing, whether it’s a basketball player visiting an inner city school or a big bank writing out a big check to a community center or a cool concert like Live8/Live Aid helping Africa or the environment.

    Social change and philanthropy need dedication over a long period of time to work, and even then, there are so many factors that shaft kids (and adults) at an institutional, economic, health level.

    So, let’s all continue to support the latest Twitter causes and write out checks, but if you get a chance, please find out how sustainable and long-term those funds and people on the street are.

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Adam raises a good point. I remember an NPR piece about a movement to get children workers out of factories in some part of China (this was a few years back). The children were upset and frantic, because this was their only chance to raise money to support their families, and here came these people from another country to shut them out of much needed income.

    Just throwing money and passion around isn’t very safe, either.

    So how does one know which to support?

  • http://chrisbrogan.com chrisbrogan

    Adam raises a good point. I remember an NPR piece about a movement to get children workers out of factories in some part of China (this was a few years back). The children were upset and frantic, because this was their only chance to raise money to support their families, and here came these people from another country to shut them out of much needed income.

    Just throwing money and passion around isn’t very safe, either.

    So how does one know which to support?

  • Juliann Grant

    Chris,
    Thanks for the great article. I’ve just started on twitter and I’m getting used to how that all works. I have been wondering about how to incorporate social causes into social media. I serve on a board for Foster Kids in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts (www.fosterkidsmv.org) and our mission is to help foster children get the resources they need to live happier, more fulfilled lives. I know that social media has a role to play on both sides of the coin. Thanks for introducing other successful organizations here and sharing ideas that can make a difference.

  • Juliann Grant

    Chris,
    Thanks for the great article. I’ve just started on twitter and I’m getting used to how that all works. I have been wondering about how to incorporate social causes into social media. I serve on a board for Foster Kids in the Merrimack Valley in Massachusetts (www.fosterkidsmv.org) and our mission is to help foster children get the resources they need to live happier, more fulfilled lives. I know that social media has a role to play on both sides of the coin. Thanks for introducing other successful organizations here and sharing ideas that can make a difference.

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  • http://www.utterz.com/adamzand Adam Zand

    Hi Chris,
    “So how does one know which to support?” is an interesting question, but might not be action-oriented enough – the critical “how do I support” question.

    For example, if @dough or my friend Dave Kay at http://www.iba-etc.org in the South End ask me to donate $, I’m in. But to make a gift meaningful, the donor probably needs to do more than send a check. Especially in planned giving and major gifts, it is up to the donor and the development officer to determine what happens to the money – unrestricted budget or program-specific, how reporting happens and deliverables will be measured.

    The above is probably too “insider” for my wider point: Talk to the person asking you for money or read all of their materials (annual report) and if possible go to the organization’s office and ask how their funds are distributed and the overhead for the agency. Better yet, volunteer and go to the organization’s events, open meetings or community outreach. All these steps will make you feel more involved and a true partner for change.

    It can be hard work, but simply writing out a check is a bit too easy when we’re talking about social change IMHO.
    Great topic and discussion – thanks.

  • http://www.utterz.com/adamzand Adam Zand

    Hi Chris,
    “So how does one know which to support?” is an interesting question, but might not be action-oriented enough – the critical “how do I support” question.

    For example, if @dough or my friend Dave Kay at http://www.iba-etc.org in the South End ask me to donate $, I’m in. But to make a gift meaningful, the donor probably needs to do more than send a check. Especially in planned giving and major gifts, it is up to the donor and the development officer to determine what happens to the money – unrestricted budget or program-specific, how reporting happens and deliverables will be measured.

    The above is probably too “insider” for my wider point: Talk to the person asking you for money or read all of their materials (annual report) and if possible go to the organization’s office and ask how their funds are distributed and the overhead for the agency. Better yet, volunteer and go to the organization’s events, open meetings or community outreach. All these steps will make you feel more involved and a true partner for change.

    It can be hard work, but simply writing out a check is a bit too easy when we’re talking about social change IMHO.
    Great topic and discussion – thanks.

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    Great post – very encouraging to see on your blog and being spread through twitter. The exciting part is that when the right people, people of influence in the social media world, get inspired to start talking more about this topic … then more people will take notice … and at least begin to think/post more about it.

    Seeing how @Kanter was able to spread the word and how you helped get it out to even more brought a very practical point home for all of us trying to affect social change through new age tech tools. 3K raised in a matter of hours – beautiful!

    Another great thing that has happened through this post and the traffic on twitter is the publicity for some great web sites.

    Thanks for sharing these:
    http://www.sm4sc.com/
    http://www.socialmediaforchange.com/

  • http://twitter.com/franswaa frank

    Great post – very encouraging to see on your blog and being spread through twitter. The exciting part is that when the right people, people of influence in the social media world, get inspired to start talking more about this topic … then more people will take notice … and at least begin to think/post more about it.

    Seeing how @Kanter was able to spread the word and how you helped get it out to even more brought a very practical point home for all of us trying to affect social change through new age tech tools. 3K raised in a matter of hours – beautiful!

    Another great thing that has happened through this post and the traffic on twitter is the publicity for some great web sites.

    Thanks for sharing these:
    http://www.sm4sc.com/
    http://www.socialmediaforchange.com/

  • http://gauravonomics.com Gaurav Mishra
  • http://gauravonomics.com Gaurav Mishra
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  • http://www.manuscrypts.com manuscrypts

    chris, you should check out the site thepoint.com. it helps organise and take action on causes.. if you haven’t done so already, that is :)

  • http://www.manuscrypts.com manuscrypts

    chris, you should check out the site thepoint.com. it helps organise and take action on causes.. if you haven’t done so already, that is :)

  • http://www.whylessnetwork.com John Carson

    http://www.whylessnetwork.com/ is a new social network in soft launch that aims to help people in need meet those who can offer assistance.

    Give hope, not a poke!

    Cheers,
    John.

  • http://www.whylessnetwork.com John Carson

    http://www.whylessnetwork.com/ is a new social network in soft launch that aims to help people in need meet those who can offer assistance.

    Give hope, not a poke!

    Cheers,
    John.

  • http://www.onlinefundraisingblog.com BethP

    re: Money never hurts. I raise money for short-term and long-term projects/investments with Firstgiving fundraising pages and encourage others to do so as well. For example: http://www.firstgiving.com/bapbwm. Easy, and efficient, I use social media to raise awareness and money simultaneously.

  • http://www.onlinefundraisingblog.com BethP

    re: Money never hurts. I raise money for short-term and long-term projects/investments with Firstgiving fundraising pages and encourage others to do so as well. For example: http://www.firstgiving.com/bapbwm. Easy, and efficient, I use social media to raise awareness and money simultaneously.

  • http://a.viary.com thaumata

    Woo! Kiva is awesome! I love them so much I am thinking about asking for Kiva credits instead of doing a wedding registry.

    I like this topic a lot. We have so much technology doing a whole lot of nothing in the echosphere we call Web2.0. We should be working hard to inspire others, not to repeat them. I think social networks designed to put social change orgs in better touch with each other would be welcomed with open arms. Imagine if you could have some kind of list of skills and goods to barter between big groups that was verifiable and transparent! When I google corn, maybe I want to know how much there is and WHERE it is and who needs it the most.

    Also, I have to mention Second Life here for a moment, because they get so much bad press but there are a ton of lovely people using it for social change. They host all kinds of meetups and charity rallies. This year, their relay for life event raised over $200,000 USD through both cash donations and digital creations put up on the block. That is, people created something cool that doesn’t actually “exist” in real life, and sold it to change something that does.

    Keep on with this topic! You have a lot of ears and could do some real good with it.

  • http://a.viary.com thaumata

    Woo! Kiva is awesome! I love them so much I am thinking about asking for Kiva credits instead of doing a wedding registry.

    I like this topic a lot. We have so much technology doing a whole lot of nothing in the echosphere we call Web2.0. We should be working hard to inspire others, not to repeat them. I think social networks designed to put social change orgs in better touch with each other would be welcomed with open arms. Imagine if you could have some kind of list of skills and goods to barter between big groups that was verifiable and transparent! When I google corn, maybe I want to know how much there is and WHERE it is and who needs it the most.

    Also, I have to mention Second Life here for a moment, because they get so much bad press but there are a ton of lovely people using it for social change. They host all kinds of meetups and charity rallies. This year, their relay for life event raised over $200,000 USD through both cash donations and digital creations put up on the block. That is, people created something cool that doesn’t actually “exist” in real life, and sold it to change something that does.

    Keep on with this topic! You have a lot of ears and could do some real good with it.

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  • http://www.sikisizle.in SikiÅŸ izle

    nice.