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WEB WATCH

Mr. Good Deeds goes to town

March 14, 2004|Christine N. Ziemba

Danny Wallace, a twentysomething Brit and merry prankster, placed an ad in a London newspaper in 2002 with the words "Join Me" and cryptic instructions to send passport photos to his address -- just to see what would happen. That first advertisement yielded a solitary response, but it was enough to trigger a power trip for Wallace: "Suddenly, I was a leader of men."

A few months later, after a few more enigmatic ads and fliers, the BBC comedy producer and freelance journalist launched www.join-me.co.uk, and people have responded con gusto. More than 6,000 "Joinees" worldwide have sent Wallace their passport photos -- some in jest, but others, he says, because of a "fundamental human need to belong."

Wallace had a bona fide cult (or "collective," his preferred term) on his hands -- one he didn't quite know what to do with. "I was very uncomfortable with the word 'cult,' " he says. "Join Me has very little space travel, little or no chanting, and mass suicide is frowned upon." So he made the cult a good one, directing members of his "Karma Army" to perform random acts of kindness on Fridays.

Joinees use the website to relay their "Good Friday" adventures, i.e., buying strangers pints at a pub, or handing out envelopes with money. (Currently, the good-deed counter boasts more than 100,000.) The site also details last year's "Karmageddon" in London: Think Forrest Gump organizing a flash mob.

On a U.S. tour to recruit American Joinees and promote a book, Wallace says he'll also keep his day job at the BBC. "There's no real money," he says, "in cult leadership."

-- Christine N. Ziemba

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