The Toronto Star article Online beggars needy, nervy discusses the rise of Internet begging sites; panhandlers on the information superhighway, who have set up websites that baldfacely ask for money. PayPal helps this phenomena along, making it easy and safe to toss these individuals a buck or two from one's credit card. The begging individuals range from the truly needy (crippled under the weight of U.S. medical bills, for instance) to people on a lark who think, "why not? It costs me nothing, and it's not like I make a nuisance of myself on the street somewhere."
Although the article notes that there are lessons here for charity fundraising, the tone of the article is one of disbelief, with the same undercurrent of "weird geeks with no life" that occasionally pervade stories about internet romances. Believe me, Erin and I know this when we see it.
Day by day, the internet community takes on the characteristics of communities of bricks and mortar, so I suppose it should come as no surprise that internet panhandling might materialize. But there are differences, too. The internet remains a medium of choice. Nobody is forced to use it. Nobody has to wander its streets; instead, we teleport from house to house, finding what we're looking for. Nobody is forcing us to confront the depravities of our society, so I doubt pure begging is going to achieve the same results, especially considering that these beggars are a few steps up on the truly downtrodden of our society: we have access to a computer and we know how to use it, after all. Unless our needs are really serious (as in crushing medical bills), there is no reason for a visitor to toss a dime, unless that visitor wants to.
A better comparison could have been made with street performers, with a further comparison to the professional web performers. Consider Sluggy Freelance, a web comic that tops most print comics currently in syndication. There are great many fans online who flock to the website, putting ad revenues in creator Pete Abram's pocket. Many come away entertained enough to purchase associated books or t-shirts, and some even toss a few bucks Pete's way. And Pete is not alone. I myself am a regular reader of User Friendly and GPF.
The individual sites that receive donations don't just beg, they entertain. They review movies, they pontificate, they occupy a reader's attention. They have more in common with the characters in our greatest cities who flop down a hat and strum a guitar, dance a jig, or mime.
Even I sell advertising. My website Transit Toronto has 200 Mb of articles, maps, reports and photographs on the subject of public transit in the Greater Toronto Area. It has around 5000 visitors per month. As it costs a bit to maintain this site, and because it provides a good reference service, and it receives the most visitors of all my websites, I feel no shame in making back some of the costs of this website through advertising space and donations.
Erin and I own three domain names: Transit Toronto, clarksbury.com and ZPoems.net. We pay around $30 US to host these sites, over and above the cost of connecting to the Internet and maintaining the domain names. We do this because it's fun, but if you enjoy our websites and don't mind parting with a buck or two, I've set up an account with PayPal to accept your internet donations (see the button below).
Donate or don't donate. I'll continue to prance on the internet's sidewalk for as long as I enjoy it. But I certainly appreciate your attention.