March 27, 2010 2 Comments
From the home office in CTU, where I’m taking control of ’24’, not going to let it be canceled…
Observations on technology and business from someone who should know better
March 27, 2010 2 Comments
From the home office in CTU, where I’m taking control of ’24’, not going to let it be canceled…
March 20, 2010 Leave a comment
From the home office on Capitol Hill, where I’m pushing hard this weekend to get the historic Potty Parity Act passed for this great nation of ours…
#9: My 5 y.o. son is asking me if I can connect my laptop to the “Albert server” of his school. He’s 5! How does he know about servers?
March 15, 2010 9 Comments
Crowdsourcing continues to grow in popularity and importance across a number of industries. Tac Andersen, at the South by Southwest Interactive event in Austin, took in the buzz there, and notes that crowdsourcing is heating up. Digital strategy, marketing and design firm Last Exit called crowdsourcing a top digital marketing trend for 2010.
With that as context, let’s discuss the Cisco I-Prize. What’s that? I-Prize is an open innovation competition where anyone from around the world can propose ideas. Specifically, ideas that can be $1 billion businesses. This is the use of crowdsourcing to find major business units. Winning team earns $250,000.
Submission of ideas to the I-Prize site, which is powered by Spigit, runs through April 30, 2010. There are already 597 ideas on the site. Anyone can post an idea, and other people discuss it. You can even request to join someone’s team if you like a proposal enough, and the idea owner thinks you can add value. 32 ideas advance to the semi-final selection round.
One note about how the I-Prize works. Participants get virtual currency to buy and sell shares in ideas. Like a stock market. And 8 ideas with the highest price per share (“People’s Choice”) will advance to the semi-final selection round, along with 24 ideas hand-picked by Cisco officials (“Judge’s Choice”).
So the idea trading will matter.
I wanted to write about five ideas that I found interesting. Will they be $1 billion businesses? I don’t know for sure. But these ideas address current markets that reach into the billions of dollars. And I like some of the edgy thinking that goes into them. Along with descriptions, I’ve included their share price performance charts. Note that to view the ideas, and to trade them, you need to be registered on the I-Prize site.
Patrick’s idea is for students to collaborate and teach one another. Any student can record a lesson on any subject. Other students find this recording, view it and rate it. Top rated tutorials rise to the top.
A key element of his plan is closing the feedback loop. Specifically, how did those who viewed the tutorial perform on their tests? If their performance was above average, the student who uploaded the tutorial gets extra credit.
Because they’ve shown good mastery of the subject, and helped others learn as well.
In a discussion around the idea, Patrick comments:
The other main difference is that my system wants to encourage students to teach each other, not to force them to do so. Not every student is a good teacher, and it should also be possible to achieve the highest possible grade by only learning for yourself. There are, however, students that are very well prepared but fear to be unlucky and therefore want to secure a good grade. In the current system, they mostly try to learn even more(even if they don’t have to) and are not interested in teaching other students. My idea could change that dramatically.
This would be a big help in the education system, distributing the teaching load beyond teachers.
Game shows are a staple of networks, and they continue to get good slots in prime time. Why not port this experience over to online participants? The basics of this idea are:
Right now, you can watch a game show, enjoy the contestants’ fumbling around and wonder if you could do better. With this idea, you just may get the chanced to find out. No flying to an L.A. studio to participate. Just sit in front of your PC at home.
This concept wouldn’t need to be limited to game shows. In response to one commenter on his idea, Philip wrote:
Fantastic, i love the idea about real pundits talking about live events.. this could be huge… Post-sports games, let the community be analysts, or political events too…
Man, I could see the sports talk after a game. People would love that.
Cisco currently has technology that helps companies mediate the energy usage of their facilities. What Robert proposes is to extend this into the consumer home market. We can see the power usage, by appliance, at any time via a web interface. And control it accordingly.
Here’s how Robert describes it:
This would give the users who elected to use this service the ability to manage their electricity usage, and truly see what devices in the home were using the most electricity, allowing them to run reports that show historical usage, and the option to set policies that would throttle usage in certain areas, or at least alerting a user if they are going to violate policy (for instance, by virtually running a laundromat in their home one week, exceeding their normal laundry device usage by 300 percent and increasing the high energy usage of devices like the dryer).
Aside from these reports and controls, the home mediator could send alerts when something is amiss for an appliance. I like this idea, and it’s something that’s being discussed out there. Tim O’Reilly noted this at the Web 2.0 Summit last year:
Consider the so-called “smart electrical grid.” Gavin Starks, the founder of AMEE, a neutral web-services back-end for energy-related sensor data, noted that researchers combing the smart meter data from 1.2 million homes in the UK have already discovered that each device in the home has a unique energy signature. It is possible to determine not only the wattage being drawn by the device, but the make and model of each major appliance within – think CDDB for appliances and consumer electronics!
If the cost of the system was relatively low, there seems to be a strong ROI for this. And there are a lot of homes out there.
Virtual reality holds a lot of potential, providing a user with the simulation of experiences beyond her physical location. Estimates put the market size well into the billions of dollars. Areas of growth for virtual reality include:
This idea is for a device that provides sensory stimulus in a virtual environment. Combine the physical with the virtual to improve the reactions people have when using virtual reality environments. It envisions delivering these touch sensations: movement restrictions, temperature, pressure, shock. The proposed technology involves servo motors and solenoids, and small cavities with a viscous fluid.
Making what’s virtual more tangible for users strikes me as a really good idea.
Internet protocols now handle many different types of data, information, voice, and video…etc. But what about feelings like anger, happiness, satisfaction, fear, hate or sadness?
The framing of emotions as data to be captured and transmitted. Definitely edgy. And not out of the realm of possibilities. I mean, who would have guess checking in our locations would be so popular?
Ali envisions emotions integrating into the game experience. Imagine you’re playing one of those multiplayer online games. As you see others, you can get a read for the emotions they are feeling. Which is something that would occur in “real life” if you were engaged in fighting a big battle on your imaginary dragon beast.
There is technology out there which can enable this idea. Here’s how Ali describes it:
There are many types of biofeedback sensors available, able to detect such conditions as skin temperature, muscle tension, and pulse. Analysis of a persons voice could be done with a voice analyzer, as a persons voice is rich with information about a persons emotional state. These sensors and other input devices could be integrated into a device that would cover part of a persons body, like a glove or vest. This device would then be connected to a hardware input device and the software that resides on it would perform the necessary analysis and conversions, tying the detected emotions to the character in the game or simulation.
Good stuff, and something I can see the gamers liking a lot.
I wrote previously about crowdsourcing and its effect on the design industry. Well, this is an entirely different approach. It rests on the ideas of others. This does not run into the spec work = free work controversy seen elsewhere. Someone might argue, why not start your own company off these ideas? Well, anyone is free to do so, and not propose them here.
But not all of us are itching to shuck it all take on the risk of entrepreneurship. Mortgages, kids, success in current careers…these are factors that would limit one’s interest in striking out on one’s own. Sometimes, you just have a good idea.
There are 592 other ideas on the I-Prize site currently, beside these five. Go see crowdsourcing in action.
March 13, 2010 Leave a comment
From the home office at SXSW in Austin, where I’m not…
March 9, 2010 13 Comments
This is an issue that I simply cannot wrap my head around. Spec work appears in the design field infinitely more times than any other industry. It absolutely floors me that people think that it is even remotely ethical to build their businesses by tearing down ours.
Mark Hemmis’s comment on AIGA policy statement on spec work
The past couple years have seen an increase in the use of crowdsourcing by companies to procure design assets. It works like this:
These design requests are often for logos, but for a number of other types of initiatives as well. For example, 99designs’ list of requests (to the right) gives some sense of the types of projects.
So far, so good, right? Well, a lot of designers think not. As Mark Hemmis’s comment above shows, these open spec work contests have been raising the ire of the designer community.
Is crowdsourcing ripping their industry asunder?
Three aspects of crowdsourcing design raise concern for many in the design industry:
Compensation: To be competitive, individuals will need to invest some time in designing a submission for a company. With a good number of entries, this equates to a decent number of hours invested. As Pamela Pfiffner writes:
The problem is, spec and crowdsourcing can lower your value and hourly rates so far that minimum wage looks like a fat paycheck.
Her statement takes things to a logical extreme – someone would have to do nothing but spend their time entering contests. But she does a good job framing the issue.
Diminishing the profession: The issue with crowdsourcing is that it says, “this stuff is easy!” A commenter on this post, How NOT to Design a Logo, baldly gives this concern legitimacy:
Logo design contests are great, its the only way I go. I get my pick of 5-10 designs for less then $20. Designers these days are a dime a dozen, be happy you get the work.
The design industry has characteristics of being craftsman, as well as strategists. At least the higher end firms do. Sentiments like that are grating.
Not sustainable: The concern here is that over the long term, the economics of crowdsourcing will cause existing designers to exit the industry, and potential designers will opt for different careers. Here’s how Jacob Cass thinks about it:
Design contest sites are not the future of graphic design… nor do I see a time when it ever will be, however, in the long term I believe spec work is going to be detrimental to the design industry… both devaluing design and designers as a whole.
The argument here is that rather than expand the pool of talent for design, crowdsourcing will ultimately reduce the industry.
So designers themselves are lining up against these types of crowdsourcing design contests. Which begs the question…
Truth is – 99designs is growing by leaps and bounds. We have record numbers of projects being launched and have needed to hire new staff to help us keep up with the growth.
The motivation of organizations seeking design work seem clear enough – tap a large network of creativity, manage expenses within budget. But what are those designers doing there?
It seems that not all designers are of the same mind about these crowdsourcing design contests. Some actually embrace them. Why?
Personal interest: Some projects just pique the interest of a person. Maybe there’s a day job with a paying company, and then a chance at night to do things “your way” on a project of interest. The project taps some areas you want to pursue, or maybe allows you to try something out without concern as to whether the client will ultimately want the design.
Extra business: Everyone is hustling in a weak economy. If your design business has some slack in demand, why not apply the available creative resources toward an occasional crowdsourcing project? If you’re a professional shop, presumably your odds are better than most.
Access to high-end ad agencies: This was the case when Porter Crispin + Bogusky solicited logo designs for their start-up client Brammo, maker of electric motorcycles. They ran the contest through crowdSPRING. The contest sparked plenty of debate, but also saw 700 entries. One reason was that young up-n-coming designers wanted the chance to impress a firm of the caliber of PC+B, who can send many paying clients their way.
That’s the designer participation set of motivations. I guess the best way to think about companies’ motivation is this:
Do they get results?
Since the number of requests from companies is growing, design crowdsourcing sites are working at some level. If they weren’t, word would spread pretty quickly and companies would stop using them. This comment from designer Morgan Stone on Alex Bogusky’s blog post about PC+B’s use of crowdSPRING is illuminating:
As a designer… crowdsourcing scares me. I think it has to do with the harsh reality that sometimes it doesn’t take experience or a big title to design something truly amazing.
What’s the staying power of the crowdsourced design contest approach? And will it disrupt the industry, in the Clayton Christensen sense?
Altimeter Group’s Jeremiah Owyang wrote last year, “Without a doubt, Specwork (like crowdspring or 99 designers) is here to stay – economics will drive this forward.” For the buyers, yes. But the supply side of the equation – the designers – is that here to stay?
I believe it is. The numbers say it is. Here’s what I mean:
In a 2009 article, Forbes noted that there are 80,000 free lance designers in the U.S. alone. Add in the talent from around the world, and you can see that there is a large of pool of creativity. Maybe 200,000 designers globally? 99designs claims roughly 54,000 designers on its site.
Designers have some motivation to participate in crowdsourcing design contests, as noted for the reasons above. It’s not like every designer will submit regularly. But every project reaches some new set of designers, and occasionally gets a repeat one as well.
All it takes is for a business seeking design work is maybe 30, 40, 50 submissions? As a percent of the global number of designers, that’s not much.
40 / 200,000 = 0.02%
Here’s what one designer said about getting clients from crowdsourcing sites:
I’ve had direct clients and also have been one of those in the crowd. Surprisingly, some of my best clients are the ones that followed me from these crowd sourcing sites. That’s probably because they’ve already been through a working process with me, and they like what they’ve experienced, so there’s no mismatch of expectations like a new client.
I do see the sustainability of the business. It’s complex, but there are enough people who do see advantages to participating. Even if only for certain periods of their lives or only on occasion. I don’t see entering crowdsourcing design contests as a full-time pursuit for someone.
Many designers in the debate note the importance of establishing a rapport with clients, and understanding their clients more deeply than a set of colors and fonts. A firm such as Nocturnal Graphic Design Studio appears to deliver value through deeper relationships and more strategic approaches with its clients.
But Erica’s point above is well-taken. Sometimes, you’re not in the market for that level of involvement. Small and mid-sized businesses do not need the full horsepower of high-end design firms. As one designer (snootily) commented on the PC+B blog post about using crowdSPRING:
99 designs and their nefarious brethren have a client roster whose market recognition for the most part is similar to that of “joe’s morgue & jerky outlet.”
Of course, this may not be contained to SMBs.
Have you checked out what Mountain Dew is doing with crowdsourcing (aka “DEWmocracy”)? As Wired notes in a January article:
Mountain Dew is asking consumers to choose three new sodas, from selecting the flavors to naming them, designing the cans and choosing the ad agency to promoting the product.
Not all of this is crowdsourcing design, but it is an edgy experiment in leaving the professional firms behind.
Right now, as Steve Douglas of the Logo Factory notes, the biggest chunk of business is for logos. Which you can see at the start of this post in the 99designs project list.
The U.S. Census Bureau had the graphic design industry generating $2.8 billion in revenue in 2002. It is a large, diverse, complex industry. My expectation is that design contest crowdsourcing will encroach more into large enterprises for tactical projects, as the smaller businesses continue to use them and get good results. Large companies’ efforts, such Mountain Dew’s DEWmocracy, Unilever’s crowdsourcing contest for a TV campaign for its Peperami snack food, and Doritos’ crowdsourced Super Bowl ads, add fuel to this.
Two things are needed for the crowdsourcing model to encroach further into the design industry:
Leaderboards let prospective buyers know who the best are. We see them on Topcoder for programming contests. It’s a way to establish visibility and credibility far beyond the recommendations you maintain on your own site. It will take some changes by the crowdsourcing sites, enabling recognition for designers who do well in contests, even if they are not picked. It also would need to have different bases for identifying top designers.
The other wrinkle is to allow a form of smartsourcing. Once the top designers are identified, they are invited for larger companies’ design projects. This is pretty similar to the current state of things, except the basis for access changes somewhat. It’s not just business relationships a designer/firm has established with the big ad/marketing.brand agencies. It’s based on performance.
With these two elements, I can see how crowdsourcing becomes more important, more disruptive, in the world of business design.
I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.