Mike Carson wanted to change the world with a website. He’d built websites as businesses—he’s currently the co-founder and CTO of "cloud-based solutions" site WizeHive—but this time he wanted to do something for the world, something big. He researched world hunger, but couldn’t figure out what he could contribute. "Hunger: It’s a huge problem," he says. "It’s really overwhelming."
The website he built instead takes on something much smaller than world hunger, and that’s kind of the point. It’s a platform to ask small favors of the Internet, inspired by the urge to do one favor in particular.
The way Ask.io works is that anyone can submit a "favor." If chosen, it's put on the simple homepage on Monday, as a simple short paragraph. "My sister is 26 and has been suffering from MS since she was 18," starts one. "Can you send her a postcard from where you're from with a simple message?"
The project’s genesis can be traced to Mike’s wife, Kristen Carson, in two different ways. They were in a coffee shop together when she read a quote in a book that immediately reminded her of Mike and prompted her to read it to him. "Not all of us can do great things. But we can do small things with great love"—Mother Teresa.
"It really had an effect on me," says Mike. "I was spending all this time trying to think of this huge ‘how can I make the world a better place?’ and sometimes I was ignoring the smaller things and I wasn’t being as good to the people that were around me."
The other inspiration was Kristen herself. She has ulcerative colitis and had just spent eight days in the hospital, only to be sent home, still suffering. She was forced to put off and eventually decline a job she had wanted. Mike had canceled a surprise birthday party he had planned. "I thought, ‘Well, why don’t I get all my friends to send cards,’" he says, "but then i thought, ‘Well, maybe I could ask everyone in the world.’"
Ask.io's first favor: "My wife is not well and was recently hospitalized, but her birthday is coming up. I think it would make her happy to receive a lot of birthday cards. Could you please send her a birthday card?" And then he posted Kristen's name and their address.
He kept the site’s launch a surprise, and so when Kristen walked in with the first handful of cards, Mike watched expectantly, and Kristen was pleasantly surprised at the idea that her friends had remembered her birthday and sent her cards. The first card she remembers wasn’t really a card at all, but a piece of paper, signed by someone she didn’t know. "At the time I was just disappointed that they weren't from people that I knew," says Kristen. "I felt it was a little foolish for assuming it was friends."
Mike on the other hand, found himself surprisingly moved. "It feels in some ways that this meant more to me," he says. "These people were giving a card to my wife, and it was a favor to me."
But as time went on and more cards poured in (the most she’s gotten in one day, at the time of this writing, is 27) she’s found herself looking forward to 12:30, when the mail arrives. She’s gotten cards from the U.K. and India. One person sent a drawing his nine-year-old daughter did when she was three that he’d been keeping at work. "She said that it’s butterflies," says Kristen. Someone from Australia sent pictures of his dog. "He loves his dog so much, it brings him so much joy, he wanted to send it to me," she says.
It’s these efforts—of strangers so clearly trying to bring another joy—that are, so far, the goal of the project. "We look for favors that we think would be the most meaningful, and which would be best suited for people helping out from all over the world," says the FAQ. "Usually specific and personal favor requests seems to be best for this."