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Crowdsourcing for a Billion Dollar Business – Cisco I-Prize

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.

The E-Learning Revolution, by Patrick Mellacher

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.

Webcam Game Show Network, by Philip Palmieri

Yes, you read that right: a game show network. Believe it or not, this idea has the highest price per share right now. Let’s find out why.

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:

  • Everyone logs in at the regular time for the game show
  • People have their web cams fired up (which chatroulette shows is a growing trend)
  • Someone logged in to the game show site is selected at random to play

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.

The Cisco Home Energy Mediator, by Robert Dziekan

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.

Touch Immersion VR: A wearable device for physical interaction within a virtual environment, by Benjamin Rafael Intal

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:

  • Healthcare
  • Defense
  • Gaming
  • Learning
  • Construction and infrastructure

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.

EmoTransmission: Transmitting Emotion in Multiplayer Gaming “Feeling Transmission On Games”, by Ali Khalil

I like the way Ali introduces this:

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.

Crowdsourcing’s Many Flavors

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.

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