FreeRice.com is the latest in Hunger Site clones, and is making headlines all over for one simple reason: it's actually fun. When you visit FreeRice, you're not presented with a million ads and a 'click here' button. Instead, you're presented with a multiple choice question asking you to define an English word:
- wooden boards
- faint light
'Ooh, ooh, I know that!' So you click the correct answer and BOOM! You're told you've just donated twenty grains of rice, and here's another word to try for another twenty grains. Ooh, educational!
Update 2008-08-29: You can now choose from other topics, such as elements (match the symbol), German (something I've wanted for ages), grammar, world capitols...
Twenty grains? The Hunger Site gives 1.1 cups.
Actually, until November 28, 2007, it was only ten grains per correct answer.
Okay, sure, twenty grains of rice is nothing. It takes around 30 000 grains of polished long-grain rice to equal one pound1. (Though rootbeer277 makes the excellent point that this is uncooked rice. A pound of uncooked rice is a lot of food after cooking.) What gives?
Here's the thing: The Hunger Site lets you donate once a day, and it's a chore. FreeRice lets you play (yes, I said 'play'. It's a game, I tell you!) as often as you'd like. I donated 10 000 grains my first day, and I'm fast approaching that 30 000 sum. It took the site just 34 days to reach one billion grains of rice2 (and in fact they've gotten that many in the past eight days alone). No doubt this is largely thanks to publicity from the Washington Post, Digg, Reuters, and countless smaller news sources. The big question is whether it will continue to thrive after the initial publicity. I'm suspect it will decline some, but it has an advantage over most donation sites.
I very rarely visit The Hunger Site any more. It's boring, has way too many ads, is boring, has pop-up ads (I think--I block pop-ups, but that means they get less revenue so I feel guilty), and--oh, yeah: it's boring. FreeRice isn't about clicking a button (though there are, of course, three small ads). It's a trivia game where the prizes are rice for the poor. Get three words right (in a row) and you go up a level (= harder words). Get one wrong and you go down a level. The FAQ says very few people get above level 48. I've only reached level 45 and I intend to keep playing until I reach 60 (the highest level), and probably long after. Compare your level to that of your friends. Prove yourself better than everyone else! After all, that's what's really important, right? Oh, yeah, that and feeding the poor. But feeding the poor is usually boring, as is learning new vocabulary. Playing a game is fun. Yay!
Once the meme-like spread of it dies down, so too might the daily donation totals, but I suspect it will hold interest better than the traditional 'click this button' donation site.
Where the rice goes
The rice is distributed by the United Nations World Food Programme. They're a good lot. The rice really goes to people in need, not the local showing of The Rocky Horror Picture Show.
Update: gnarl helpfully points out that some bloggers are questioning the math3
However, I don't see any cause for alarm. The official WFP site lists FreeRice as a way to donate4, and surely the hundreds of newspapers (and the advertisers) took some time verifying that it's not a scam before giving it all that publicity.
For that it's worth, the FreeRice FAQ states 'FreeRice and its sister site Poverty.com have not made a penny from this. Nor does it cost us much, as our only significant expense is our servers.'