WU students launch Web site to make a better America

Puneet Kollipara

Two Washington University students recently hit the Web to ask people a simple but important question: “What can we do to make a better America?”

On Feb. 12, sophomores Sam Bear and Mark Davis took the first step toward answering this question by launching a Web site, known as For A Better America (FABA), located at forabetteramerica.org.

The site combines a message board-like interface with social networking tools to encourage people to get together, get involved and share their ideas for improving the country.

“Something that was really important to me was getting people more involved in the political process themselves,” said Bear.

Registered FABA users can post message threads with their ideas for improving America. Other users then comment on the ideas and vote to approve, disapprove or stay undecided.

Some of the more popular ideas on FABA have called for voting for certain presidential candidates in this fall’s election, producing more environmentally-friendly packaging materials, increasing education affordability and legalizing same-sex marriage.

Bear encourages users to post any ideas they may have, regardless of political affiliation.

“It’s really just a forum to discuss anything,” said Bear. “One of the things we’ve tried to make clear on the About Us page is that we don’t want this to be a Democratic site or a Republican site. We don’t want this to be all about a certain set of ideas.”

Hundreds of users are now registered on the site, including University students and numerous others from across the country, and the number continues to grow every day.

“I know people have enjoyed using [the site] and have told me it’s a little bit addictive,” said Bear. “There are people who don’t think of themselves as politically-minded people but who have spent some time on the site, and if they haven’t learned something, they’ve at least thought about things that they don’t think about normally.”

But according to Davis, who coded the Web site, FABA is not just politically oriented.

Users can also address issues outside the sphere of politics, and many users have posted threads encouraging users to recycle more often, read more often, volunteer and even learn to play a musical instrument.

Other features include the ability to add friends, or “chums,” and the “action” feature, which allows users to tag ideas with actions that they are taking to fulfill them.

“We don’t want people just to be talking about issues,” said Bear. “We want to push them to discuss these ideas, to form their opinions and then to take it off their computers and go out into their communities.”

The Web site also includes a blog, and although Bear is the only one who can currently post entries, he hopes eventually to expand the feature to others.

Students who have used the Web site have generally enjoyed the experience.

“I really like the site [because] it pertains to this problem that is confronting America [which is] the collapse of civil society and the inability to access each other. It does it in a way that multi-user blogs do not because it has the interface where you choose the ideas and nobody is really elevated above anyone else,” said sophomore Dylan Suher, a regular user. “I think there’s a lot of potential there, and I hope more people join up and engage each other.”

“The site’s a really cool idea. I think it’s really cool how we can voice our opinions and talk with other people around the country and sort of hash out the issues and see what’s really important to us instead of what politicians want,” said sophomore Laura Harbron.

Future ideas for the site include micro sites focused on individual communities, such as For A Better St. Louis, as well as more social networking features. The duo did not voice any potential plans for partnering with other organizations.

“At this point we’re going it alone and hoping to continue to gain some usership,” said Davis.

But while some features may be missing right now, Bear knows that one thing isn’t missing.

“If there’s one thing this site is missing, it’s certainly not ambition,” said Bear.

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