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Why crowdsourcing works

CrowdCrowdsourcing is a method of solving problems through the distributed contributions of multiple people. It’s used to address tough problems that happen everyday. Ideas for new opportunities. Ways to solve problems. Uncovering an existing approach that addresses your need.

Time and again, crowdsourcing has been used successfully to solve challenges. But…why does it work? What’s the magic? What gives it an advantage over talking with your pals at work, or doing some brainstorming on your own? In a word: diversity. Cognitive diversity. Specifically these two principles:

  • Diverse inputs drive superior solutions
  • Cognitive diversity requires spanning gaps in social networks

These two principles work in tandem to deliver results.

Diverse inputs drive superior solutions

When trying to solve a challenge, what is the probability that any one person will have the best solution for it? It’s a simple mathematical reality: the odds of any single person providing the top answer are low.

How do we get around this? Partly by more participants; increased shots on goal. But even more important is diversity of thinking. People contributing based on their diverse cognitive toolkits:

Cognitive toolkit

As described by University of Michigan Professor Scott Page in The Difference, our cognitive toolkits consist of: different knowledge, perspectives and heuristics (problem-solving methods). Tapping into people’s cognitive toolkits brings fresh perspectives and novel approaches to solving a challenge. Indeed, a research study found that the probability of solving tough scientific challenges is three times higher if a person’s field of expertise is seven degrees outside the domain of the problem.

In another study, researchers analyzed the results of an online protein-folding game, Foldit.  Proteins fold themselves, but no one understands how they do so. This is particularly true of experts in the field of biochemistry. So the online game allows users to simulate it, with an eye towards better understanding the ways the proteins fold themselves. As reported by Andrew McAfee, the top players of Foldit were better than both computers and experts in the field at understanding the folding sequence. The surprising finding? None had taken chemistry beyond a high school course. It turns out spatial skills are more important to solve the problem than deep domain knowledge of proteins.

Those two examples provide real-world proof for the models and solution-seeking benefits of cognitive diversity described by Professor Page.

Solution landscape - cornstalksProblem solving can be thought of as building a solutions landscape, planted with different ideas. Each person achieves their local optimum, submitting the best idea they can for a given challenge based on their cognitive assets.

But here’s the rub: any one person’s idea is unlikely to be the best one that could be uncovered. This makes sense as both a probabilistic outcome, and based on our own experiences. However in aggregate, some ideas will stand out clearly from the rest. Cognitive diversity is the fertile ground where these best ideas will sprout.

In addition to being a source of novel ideas, cognitive diversity is incredibly valuable as feedback on others’ ideas. Ideas are improved as people contribute their distinct points of view. The initial idea is the seedling, and feedback provides the nutrients that allow it to grow.

Cognitive diversity requires spanning gaps in social networks

Cognitive diversity clearly has a significant positive effect on problem-solving. Generally when something has proven value to outcomes, companies adopt it as a key operating principle. Yet getting this diversity has not proven to be as easy and common as one might expect.

Why?

Strong weak no tiesBecause it’s dependent on human behavior. Left to our own devices, we tend to turn to our close connections for advice and feedback. These strong ties are the core of our day-in, day-out interactions.

But this natural human tendency to turn to our strong ties is why companies are challenged to leverage their cognitive diversity. University of Chicago Professor Ron Burt describes the issue as one of structural holes between nodes in a corporate social network in his paper, Structural Holes and Good Ideas (pdf). A structural hole is a gap between different groups in the organization. Information does not flow across structural holes.

In and of themselves, structural holes are not the problem. Rather, the issue is that when people operate primarily within their own node, their information sources are redundant. Over time, the people in the node know the same facts, develop the same assumptions and optimize to work together in harmony. Sort of like a silo of social ties.

Idea quality vs diversity of connectionsThe impact of this is a severe curtailment of fresh thinking, which impacts the quality of ideas. Professor Burt found empirical evidence for this in a study of Raytheon’s Supply Chain Group. 673 employees were characterized by their social network connections, plotting them on a spectrum from insular to diverse. These employees then provided one idea to improve supply chain management at Raytheon. Their ideas were then assessed by two senior executives.

The results? Employees with more diverse social connections provided higher quality ideas. To the right is a graph of the rated ideas, with a curve based on the average idea ratings versus the submitter’s level of network diversity. The curve shows that with each increase in the diversity of a person’s connections, the higher the value of their idea.

Employees with access to diverse sources of information provided better ideas.  Their access to nonredundant information allowed them to generate more novel, higher potential ideas. Inside organizations, there are employees who excel at making diverse connections across the organization. These people are the ones who will provide better ideas. They are brokers across the structural holes in social networks.

Professor Burt provides the key insight about these brokers:

People connected to groups beyond their own can expect to find themselves delivering valuable ideas, seeming to be gifted with creativity. This is not creativity born of genius; it is creativity as an import-export business. An idea mundane in one group can be a valuable insight in another.

An “import-export business”. Consider that for a moment. It’s a metaphor that well describes the key value of the brokers. They are exchange mechanisms for cognitive diversity. They are incredibly valuable to moving things forward inside organizations. But are organizations overly dependent on these super-connectors? Yes. Companies are leaving millions on the table by not enabling a more scalable, comprehensive and efficient means for exchanges of cognitive diversity.

Would if we could systematize what the most connected employees do?

Systematize the diverse connections

Crowdsourcing doesn’t eliminate the need for the super-connectors. They play a number of valuable roles inside organizations. But by crowdsourcing to solve problems, companies gain the following:

  • Deeper reach into the cognitive assets of all employees
  • Avoiding the strong ties trap of problem-solving
  • Faster surfacing of the best insights
  • Neutralize the biases that the super-connectors naturally have

As you consider ways to improve your decision-making and to foster greater cross-organizational collaboration, make crowdsourcing a key element of your strategic approach.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter, and I’m a Senior Consultant with HYPE Innovation.

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Is Google+ More Facebook or More Twitter? Yes

Quick, what existing social network is Google+ most likely to displace in terms of people’s time?

Another Try by Google to Take On Facebook

Claire Cain Miller, New York Times

This isn’t a Facebook-killer, it’s a Twitter-killer.

Yishan Wong, Google+ post

A hearty congrats to Google for creating an offering that manages to be compared to both Facebook and Twitter. The initial press focused on Google+ as a Facebook competitor. But as people have gotten to play with it, more and more they are realizing that it’s just as much a Twitter competitor.

I wanted to understand how that’s possible. How is it Google+ competes with both of those services? To do so, I plotted Google+’s features against comparable features in both Facebook and Twitter. The objective was to understand:

  • Why are people thinking of Google+ as competitor to both existing social networks?
  • How did the Google team make use of the best of both services?

The chart below is shows where Google+ is more like Facebook or Twitter. The red check marks () and gray shading highlight which service a Google+ feature is more like.

A few notes about the chart.

Circles for tracking: Twitter has a very comparable feature with its Lists. Facebook also lets you put connections into lists; I know because I’ve put connections into lists (e.g. Family, High School, etc.). But I had a hard time figuring out where those lists are. in the Facebook UI. Seriously, where are they for accessing? They may be available somewhere, but it’s not readily accessible. So I didn’t consider Facebook as offering this as a core experience.

+1 voting on posts: Both Google+ and Facebook allow up votes on people’s posts.Twitter has the ‘favorite’ feature. Which is sort of like up voting. But not really. It’s not visible to others, and it’s more a bookmarking feature.

Posts in web search results: Google+ posts, the public ones, show up in Google search results. Not surprising there. Tweets do as well. Facebook posts for the most part do not. I understand some posts on public pages can. But the vast majority of Wall posts never show up in web search results.

Google+ One-Way Following Defines Its Experience

When you look at the chart above, on a strict feature count, Google+ is more like Facebook. It’s got comment threading, video chat,  inline media, and limited sharing.

But for me, the core defining design of Google+ is the one-way following. I can follow anyone on Google+. They may not follow back (er…put me in a circle), but I can see their public posts. This one-way following is what makes the experience more like Twitter for me. Knowing your public posts are out there for anyone to find and read is both boon and caution. For instance, I’ll post pics of my kids on Facebook, because I know who can see those pics – the people I’ve connected with. I don’t tend to post their pics on Twitter. Call me an old fashioned protective parent.

That’s my initial impression. Now as Google+ circles gain ground in terms of usage, they will become the Facebook equivalent of two-way following. Things like sharing and +mentions are issues that are hazy to me right now. Can someone reshare my “circle-only” post to others outside my circle? Do I have to turn off reshare every time? Does +mentioning someone outside my circle make them aware of the post?

Google has created quite a powerful platform here. While most features are not new innovations per se, Google+ benefits from the experience of both Twitter and Facebook. They’re off to a good start.

I’m @bhc3 on Twitter.

Three Pluses, Three Minuses of Quora as a KM System

This question was posted on Quora, “In 10 words or less, what is Quora?” My answer:

Powerful application of crowdsourcing and social networking to knowledge management

Knowledge Management (aka “KM”) is a field that I don’t have personal experience in. It’s supposed to be practices, processes and systems where valuable knowledge of workers is collected and made available for others. KM continues to be an important topic for enterprises these days, but it also freighted with many failures and disappointments.

Without the benefit of a KM history, I wanted to look at Quora in the context of someone with an objective today: how do I make it easier for employees to find and share their knowledge?

In that cntext, I see three really good things about Quora, and three things that distort its value.

The Pluses

Purpose-Built: A premise of Enterprise 2.0 is that tools need to be lightweight and flexible for multiple purposes. That’s what you get with microblogging, wikis, blogs, forums. The problem there is that the flexibility undermines their value for delivering on specific needs. One must wade through a lot of other stuff to get to what you want.

Quora is purpose-built. It’s not a place for sharing links you find interesting or talking about the American Idol selection process. It’s a place where you know there will be relevant questions, and often good answers. Which means they can focus on delivering to the purpose, not try to be all-things to all people. Important for KM.

Crowdsourcing: Very, very important. Quora leverages the the principles of crowdsourcing to elicit knowledge. It’s not just a system for experts. Too often the focus of people is to get “the experts” on the record, assuming most others have little to add. That is a shame.

The ability to follow topics allows people to track areas of either interest (to find answers) or expertise (to provide answers). As Professor Scott Page notes in his book, The Difference, everyone has a unique set of cognitive skills. To assume there are the “masters” and then there’s the “riff raff” is to lose a significant percentage of knowledge. Crowdsourcing ensure broader opportunity to get at all relevant knowledge.

Social networking: We have people we like to follow. They may be friends, and we enjoy their takes on things. Or they may be people we admire, and who have demonstrated a capacity to provide valuable answers. The personal connection here, that we have an interest in a person as opposed to a topic is valuable.

By letting me follow people, I am exposed to things that have a higher likelihood of interest to me. We can’t all be on Quora, or a KM site. But some portion of our networks will be, and seeing what they’ve been up to keeps me interested and contributes to a serendipity in acquiring knowledge.

It’s also encouraging to know I have a set of people who are receptive to me questions and my answers. Much better than a cold system of questions and answers only.

The Minuses

Discerning the wheat from the chaff: Quora gets noisy. For some, too noisy. That happens in an open platform. There will be some great answers to questions, but some pretty bad ones too.  In terms of KM, some argue for restricting participation to only the known experts:

Few are blessed with serious, specifically relevant knowledge or know-how. Any system which facilitates overly broad participation will inextricably bury any expert knowledge under a pile of low value chatter. I am persuaded that for valuable ideas & thoughts to produce innovation there need to be a highly afferent and efferent system capable of synthesizing powerful multidimensional analytical databases with the know-how of subject matter experts, the imagination of visionaries and the creative mind of innovators who do not fret from the challenge of thinking.

The community culture needs to have a strict sense of what’s valuable, what’s not. And up-vote and down-vote accordingly.

Lots of followers means lots of up-votes: This is the downside of social networking. Some people have HUGE numbers of connections. Which means they have a built-in audience for their answers above and beyond the topic followers. An army of followers can come in and cause an answer to move to first position based on that alone, regardless of answer quality.

A good solution here is to employ a form of reputation to weight those votes. Don’t let just the volume of votes determine the top answer, look at the reputation of those who are voting.

You could also weight the answers themselves according to reputation, although I’m a little wary of that. Makes it harder for new voices with quality contributions to get traction.

Incentives to participate: I’m busy. You’re busy. We’re all busy. Who has time to participate? This will always be an issue. With things like microblogging, there’s a core communication need they satisfy. So that more closely aligns with my day-in-, day-out work. But answering some distant colleague’s question?

There are a lot of ways to address this. Getting participation early on from enthusiasts goes a long way in terms of demonstrating value (something Quora has done). Getting kudos for good answers is a huge motivator. Obviously, getting a good answer just once is critical to seeing the value. And Q&A seems like a perfect activity for applying game mechanics.

All in all, I really like the KM potential for Quora. It doesn’t need to be as heavily active as Twitter, but benefits from a broader participation than what is seen in Wikipedia. The minuses are challenges to overcome, but they are not insurmountable.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 010810

From the home office in Sacramento, where Governor Schwarzenegger laid out an initial budget that will take 11 months to resolve and pass…go ahead and get your California jokes ready now…

#1: If this topic interests you – Designing for Innovation through Competitive Collaboration – I ask for your #e2conf vote http://bit.ly/8xuQuC

#2: The Wisdom of Crowds Like Me http://bit.ly/4WM1Bi #crowdsourcing

#3: How Do Product Managers Reject Bad Ideas? http://bit.ly/7j6Ax0 by @chriscummings01 #innovation

#4: Jessica Hagy: The Visual Grammar of Ideas :: Articles :: The 99 Percent #innovation http://post.ly/HcJL

#5: Should you be thinking about Enterprise 2.0 in 2010? http://cli.gs/th9me by @dahowlett > A rare, rare bit of optimism there #e20

#6: MITRE’s intranet, including its Spigit deployment, is named to Jakob Nielsen’s Top 10 Intranets for 2010: http://bit.ly/5jrgJY #e20

#7: RT @dhinchcliffe The K-factor Lesson: How Social Ecosystems Grow (Or Not) http://bit.ly/8aEQEQ

#8: RT @paujoral Great quote by @wimrampen: “the name of the (social networking) game is how to participate in knowledge flows”

#9: Just had to use the “Let Me Google That for You” site for a colleague: http://lmgtfy.com/

#10: This is both funny and so true: Effect of Bay Area earthquakes on Twitter traffic http://twitpic.com/x3c10 (h/t @louisgray)

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 010110

From the home office in the future, where I’m currently reviewing all these 2010 predictions with a skeptical eye…

#1: How Companies Increase Innovation – WSJ.com #innovation http://post.ly/GubP

#2: RT @chuckfrey Amazon’s Jeff Bezos on two ways to approach customer-focused innovation: http://ow.ly/QIbl #innovation #strategy

#3: RT @briansolis Ideas Connect Us More than Relationships (video interview) http://bit.ly/8wPTzf

#4: Outstanding, detailed post on Enterprise 2.0 adoption from @ITSinsider & the @20adoption council: http://bit.ly/516Cv4 #e20

#5: Designing For Social Traction by Joshua Porter #design http://post.ly/GoE6

#6: Intellipedia anyone? “Preventing the Terrorist Attack: Massive Failure in Collaboration” http://bit.ly/6AQgPV #e20 #gov20

#7: 2010 Predictions from @jkuramot of Oracle AppsLab: http://bit.ly/7ainDr “Reputation will be all the rage in 2010.” > Agree

#8: RT @matthewemay Six years ago this USAToday essay by Jim Collins changed my entire view of the world. http://is.gd/5HPPu

#9: RT @davewiner: Anil Dash, an upper-caste Twitterer, explains to low-life scum like you and I, what it’s like up there. :-) http://r2.ly/yxbt

#10: My 5 1/2 y.o. son on why he didn’t see a friend’s kindergarten girl from the sister school in his coed class: “All the girls look alike.”

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 111909

From the home office in the restarted Cern Large Hadron Collider along the French-Swiss border…

#1: What Shaun White & Snowboarding Can Teach You About #Innovation http://ow.ly/E8h7 Get exposure for ideas early, so others can digest impact

#2: Managing Employee Innovation Communities (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/3SREBr #innovation #e20

#3: City of Manor’s “citizens’ innovation” project (using Spigit) is featured on WhiteHouse.gov blog: http://ow.ly/DURl #gov20

#4: RT @CarolineDangson #IDC Social Survey: workers say they use IM for ‘collaboration’ & social networks for ‘sharing’ – thinking about diff

#5: RT @rotkapchen: RT @wimrampen Social Media Disrupts Decision-Making Process http://bit.ly/2KTUIz (via @GrahamHill)

#6 RT @tjkeitt Starting the process of researching #e2.0 technology pushed into business processes (CRM, ERP, project management, etc.). This is the future.

#7: RT @kevinmarks says @Caterina “Google never got social software – Knol means you have to write a whole article; wikipedia combines tiny contributions” #w2e

#8: Pitching Sequoia? They want to know which deadly sin your company lets customers indulge in http://ow.ly/DGn1 by @glennkelman

#9: Checking out: The Awesomeness Manifesto http://ow.ly/DmID by @umairh Much to love in that one #innovation

#10: Time Magazine is apparently torn between naming Twitter or the Economy as its “Person” of the Year http://ow.ly/CRbB

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 111309

From the home office in my watery swimming pool on the moon…

#1: RT @innovate: The 50 Best Inventions of 2009 http://ow.ly/BVB0 #innovation I like #40 Edible Race Car. #9 Tweeting by thinking?

#2: RT @lindegaard: Tough Questions and Great Answers: General Mills Steps Up to the Open Innovation Plate: http://bit.ly/2nEXSv

#3: Microsoft Bing team gets kudos for #innovation. First tweet search, now Wolfram|Alpha integration http://ow.ly/BrHC

#4: Is Twitter Trying to Lure You Back to Twitter.com? http://ow.ly/AfcU by @robdiana > Maybe a way to drive page views for ads?

#5: Regarding new Twitter retweet function, @stoweboyd has some good points about it http://ow.ly/AIl7 Inability to add text is a miss

#6: October was a slow traffic month for the social networks, in a detailed look by @louisgray http://ow.ly/BCgU Facebook still growing

#7: UK Guardian discusses how to deal when your boss is on Twitter (& links to my #cisco fatty blog post f/ March) http://ow.ly/Bkrf

#8: Check out: Driving Adoption is anti-2.0 http://bit.ly/1ksZAr #e2conf > Leave it to @rotkapchen!

#9: Do we create the world just by looking at it? http://bit.ly/1kdTOs “Human body is a just barely adequate measuring device” #quantumphysics

#10: Commentator on NPR this AM criticizes Californians for social liberal/fiscal conservative & not wanting taxes. Western libertarian strain!

It’s an Innovation Geekfest! AT&T’s Tech Showcase

On Thursday, November 5, I attended the AT&T Technology Showcase in San Francisco. The Tech Showcase presents some of the latest cool inventions coming from AT&T Labs. Imagine a highly professional, well-resourced Maker Faire. AT&T calls the showcase, “The Art of the Possible”, stressing the experimental nature of this stuff.

While I’m not actually a geek, there were some cool things there. And notice the iPhone usage in these inventions.

For easy reference, I’ve included some anchor links below:

iPhone Microprojector

AT&T iPhone microprojectorThis was really cool. It’s a device that lets you broadcast video and images on any surface. You insert your iPhone into the microprojector and point it where you want to display. It uses three-color lasers to display images. With lasers, the image is always in focus, regardless of distance from the display surface.

The inventor stressed the medical uses of it. He showed how a brain scan would look. Doctors can view results on-the-fly, on any surface. This gives them the ability to react much more quickly to medical conditions.

But another guy watching this and I both had the same thought: this would be great for business. Sales presentations held on your iPhone. It also seems like something that work at trade shows.

And how about watching videos through your iPhone? Not on the small iPhone screen, but broadcast on a nearby wall or a screen in the back of a car seat? That would be pretty slick.

iPhone as Voice-Powered TV Remote

For the ultimate in minimizing the steps needed to find a show: the voice-powered TV remote. Here’s how I saw it work:

  • Say something like “basketball this evening”
  • System searches a show schedule for “basketball” instances
  • It’s intelligent enough to understand “evening” as a set of defined hours
  • Serves up a list of programs that match the voice-entered search
  • Pick the one you want, watch or record it

To use this, you need an Internet Protocol (IP) TV. For a demo, see MG Siegler’s YouTube video, taken as part of his TechCrunch coverage:

Ad Hoc Social Networking

Under the research initiative, “Just in Time Mobile Services”, is this wild concept.You ask total strangers to provide you with information about some location in which you’re interested. Here’s a process flow:

Ad Hoc Social Networking process flow

Say there’s some place you want to go to, but it can be hit-or-miss there. Maybe too crowded, not enough people, delay in some event, etc. You reach out this Ad Hoc Social Network. The Network system finds people who are in that location. They agree to answer a question. You check out the ratings for those people, select the one with a sufficient rating. You then ask them about the location. After they give you an answer, you determine whether the answer was good, and rate them.

All of this done anonymously.

Key here are the ratings. Your rely on those with better online reputations. As for incentives to participate, maybe there’s some lessons in foursquare (points, badges, mayors).

Internet Protocol TV

AT&T offers a digital TV content  delivery service called U-verse. It uses Internet Protocol to deliver signals, and competes with Comcast and other cable providers, as well as satellite TV providers. There are some cool experiments developed for U-verse, including a few they aren’t ready to make public.

Here are some of the cool things they’ve done in the Lab for IPTV:

Use iPhone pictures to find programs: The monthly U-verse guide provides information on upcoming programs, including photos from those programs. Use the iPhone to snap a picture of a program. Send it to the application in the  IPTV. The TV matches the picture from the iPhone to a program, and shows a list of upcoming episodes. Record the ones you want.

Twitter: Add a scrolling ticker to the bottom of your screen. You when this would be good? When BIG stories break that capture the nation’s attention. They invariably have # hashtags. Have a running ticker of hashtags across the bottom of your screen while watching live coverage from a new station.

Throw media objects from phone to TV: Say you have a video on your iPhone 3GS. With this app, you simply “throw” it to the IPTV. The video will be loaded to the TV, and begins to play. If you had an IP stereo, this would work for music.

FamilyMap: Want to know where your kids are? This app tracks the signals for your family’s phones, and plots their locations on a map. A FamilyMap. I’m going to remember this for my kids in about a decade.

Telehealth Remote Monitoring

At the World Innovation Forum, futurist Paul Saffo said that sensors are the BIG next technology wave. The telehealth remote monitoring project shows one way this will be true.

At the Technology Showcase, one Labs researcher showed off a sensor that tracks the foot signature of people (“smart slippers”). With four sensors in a slipper, it tracks the unique foot signature of an individual. The sensors will measure the footstrike, and provide data that can identify if something is off. If something is off, family and care providers can be alerted.

AT&T has a vision to develop sensors that can track a number of health related conditions. I took a picture of a poster that gives a high level view of their direction. Notice the age demographic of the couple under “You” to the left of the picture:

AT&T Telehealth Remote Monitoring

This is an area of growth, not just for AT&T, but for the technology industry overall. The New York Times just ran a story about this topic, Watch the Walk and Prevent a Fall. The article noted:

Researchers are beginning to apply the digital tools of low-cost wireless sensors in carpets, clothing and rooms to monitor an older person’s walking and activity. The continuous measurement and greater precision afforded by simple computing devices, researchers say, promise to deliver new insights on risk factors and tailored prevention measures.

If The Graduate were remade today, the man at the graduation party would whisper “sensors” in Dustin Hoffman’s ear.

GeoCasting

Finally, I took in the GeoCast demo. What is GeoCasting? It allows you to communicate between mobile handsets without the need for a cell or data network.

Sort of like an updated version of walkie talkies.

This is essentially a very localized peer-to-peer way of communicating. It relies on sensing nearby phones. The use case demo I saw related to public safety. Imagine there is a disturbance of some type on a college campus. School authorities would have access to a broadcast application, which would localize instructions to students on the campus. If you were inside a building where the disturbance was occurring, you’d get one set of instructions, perhaps telling you the safe way out. If you were on a different part of campus, away from the problem, you’d get instrucitons to stay in your room and lock it down.

GeoCasting is an innovative way to localize information out to mobile handset holders. One could see interesting commercial applications for this, such as retailers sending messages to consumers nearby.

Good stuff coming from the AT&T Labs guys. Look forward to some of this becoming commercial. I may seriously have to get U-verse TV when it becomes available in my neighborhood.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 103009

From the home office, waiting for the Great Pumpkin in the pumpkin patch…

#1: NIH grants $12mm to create a national, Facebook-like social network for scientists http://ow.ly/xtAD Goal? Find collaborators

#2: RT @jowyang Ritz Carlton’s mktg chief says hotel mgt at each property spends 1 hour reviewing online convos each am –even tweets #forbescmo

#3: The Time I was Written Up for Blogging http://ow.ly/x3ph by @tacanderson Lesson on employees and social media

#4: Skating to where the puck will be – Apple & advertising http://ow.ly/xnXJ Apple has offered to rebuild a Chicago mass transit stop?

#5: Very cool: Los Angeles adopts Google e-mail system for 30,000 city employees http://ow.ly/x3hP Cloud makes inroads #saas

#6: 84% of firms say #innovation is important to firm success. 51% of firms do not have anyone who is steering the innovation ship. #iai09inno

#7: 10 examples of minimum viable products http://ow.ly/xbi1 Cool list of minimalist approaches to engage customers & build product

#8: Stuck trying to write that next blog post? 100 Ways to Find Ideas for Your Blog Posts http://ow.ly/wA1T from the LifeSnips blog

#9: Geek alert! RT @PaulSloane: @DougCornelius RT Awesome T-Shirts for twins: http://bit.ly/14LYeI

#10: OK, figure this one out. @gaberivera created a tweet that links to itself. See for yourself: http://bit.ly/2IIkJG

Bonus just for this week…

#11: Small change to my Twitter bio…I’m now VP of Product at Spigit. Carry on…

Innovation ROI – Why Every Enterprise 2.0-Enabled Connection Counts

In a recent post on the Spigit blog, Study – Collaborative Networks Produce Better Ideas, I described the research of Professor Ronald Burt. He found that employees who are better connected across the organization generate higher quality ideas than those with limited connections. Wider access to the ideas, knowledge, experiences and judgment of colleagues makes employees stronger in innovation.

I posted this write-up in the Continuous Innovation group on LinkedIn. One person made this observation:

Need to keep in mind that collaborative networks have little to do with technology. There are certain personality types that keep the organization connected. The proportions of those people in an organization is related to the specific corporate culture.

There’s a good alternative perspective. That really, the same people that connect via collaborative networks are those that would be doing it in an offline world as well. The rest of the employee population likely continues to work in a more insular world.

I see it differently though. First, I agree that there are people with natural connector personalities. They would span the different parts of the organization no matter what. Anyone think David Armano wouldn’t be one of those types?

But not everyone need be an uber connector to see benefits from plugging into a more connected network. My personal experience on sites like Twitter and FriendFeed tells me that everyone benefits from these online social networks. We may not all be uber connectors, but we do increase our degree of connectedness.

The graph below is my concept for how this effect manifests:

Offline vs online degree of connectedness
Assume a population of employees: 25 in this hypothetical example. The blue line is the level of connectedness for employees working the way they have for decades. Your connections tend to be local and departmental, with some tenure you gain a larger informal network. In Professor Burt’s terms, most workers are relatively insular in terms of who they access for information and ideas. But some broker connections across different corporate “tribes”.

The red line represents the level of corporate connectedness for employees including the ability to find others online. To me, this is a no-brainer. Of course people are going to connect with others they wouldn’t have otherwise. The number, diversity and depth of connections increase.

The gray zone between the red and blue lines represent that improvement. Some people won’t get too much increase. They really are in-person types of connectors. But others thrive in the online environment. They have more specific interests, and didn’t know who else in the organization held them. Through the social software, they find more people with interests similar to theirs. Or at least with experience relevant to their interests.

Don’t need to be an uber connector there. Just need to be able to make connections.

Next…the ROI math.

The Natural Logarithm Method

Take a look at the graph below. It shows the scatter plot of how ideas were rated for different employees (Y axis). The X axis represents the degree of connectedness for employees, based on actual social network analysis conducted by Professor Burt in his study:

Measuring Innovation ROI from E2.0 Connections

The scatter plots show that employees who have a high diversity of connections across the organization provided higher quality ideas. The converse holds true as well.

Regression shows the equation that represents the observations:

Value of Idea = 5.51 – 0.91 * ln(Level of Network Constraint)

The equation shows that, on average, every increase in a person’s level of connectedness with different parts of the organization produces higher quality ideas. Note the natural log curve. The effect increases as connectedness improves. What I like about that is that the benefits increase, even if the work of increasing employees’ network diversity gets more difficult as you try to connect those last holdout groups.

Extrapolate the effect out to the organization at large. Raising the overall level of workforce connectedness will have a salutary effect on the average quality of ideas generated. In an era of ever higher levels of market volatility, improving the organizational “innovation IQ” is a critical aspect of surviving and thriving.

One thought on the accelerating benefit – increased idea quality – as connectedness improves. In a large population, would this have any correlation to network effects?

It’s not perfect, but Professor Burt’s analysis demonstrates a strong ROI basis for leveraging social software to increase the diversity of connections.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 102309

From the home office in Kabul, Afghanistan…

#1: Twitter’s Web Traffic Flatlines http://ow.ly/viH9 …while Facebook continues to grow.

#2: Initial take on MSFT’s Twitter integration (http://ow.ly/vLGF)…that is sweet! Now will they show tweets beyond the last 3 days?

#3: RT @danschawbel REPORT: 65.6% of CMO’s feel that social media should be done in-house http://tinyurl.com/ygdjtfb

#4: If the Enterprise 2.0 crowd wanted to share a link, my guess for the top 5 services: Twitter, Facebook, LinkedIn, Posterous, Yammer. Agree?

#5: Study – Collaborative Networks Produce Better Ideas (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/3xoPM5 #e20 #innovation

#6: Interesting point from #spc09 – SharePoint is a critical driver of MSFT’s future growth. #e20

#7: Two SharePoint 2010 articles – RWW http://bit.ly/1zjI49 | @olivermarks http://bit.ly/4f9en0 – paint a good picture of its #e20 initiatives

#8: Southwest Airlines is running a “test lab” of ecofriendly products on its new Green Plane http://ow.ly/w3fR

#9: RT @Cubba: @bhc3 I thought this was timely based on our conversation at Patsy’s; http://bit.ly/1WQGwH = “10 Tips for Retrosexing on FB”

#10: http://twitpic.com/m13gk – It’s pumpkin patch time! Kids have their own. #halloween

Could FriendFeed have crossed the chasm?

FriendFeed folds it up

FriendFeed folds it up

FriendFeed is now part of Facebook. For many of us FriendFeed users, this was quite a shock. We didn’t know exactly what FriendFeed’s future was, or how it was going to make money. But Twitter has set the current mental model of not worrying about such things. And in some ways, Amazon.com did the same in the 1990s with its grow-don’t-make-money strategy. In both cases, the companies persevered and are now enjoying mainstream success.

Rather than follow this model, FriendFeed sold itself to Facebook. Perhaps this is a case where the founders saw something we didn’t. After all, for every Twitter and Amazon, there are thousands of startups that don’t make it.

But given the heavy attention and usage of FriendFeed by the technology Early Adopter crowd, it’s worth examining this:

Could FriendFeed have crossed the chasm?

I’m referring, of course, to Geoffrey Moore’s classic and still-relevant book where he examines the challenges of moving from the Early Adopters to the Early Majority segments in the technology adoption cycle:

Crossing the Chasm

The biggest issue is that what appeals to Early Adopters doesn’t work for the Early Majority. If you’ve tracked public reaction to FriendFeed, doesn’t that sound familiar?

In Moore’s book, he counsels that companies need to establish a toehold in the Early Majority segment by focusing on a vertical niche. Let’s use that approach in examining FriendFeed’s options.

FriendFeed’s Early Majority Options

In the table below, I’ve come up with six possible use cases that might have been bases for breaking into the Early Majority. Each use case has a potential Early Majority niche noted. And each use case has one or more existing competitors listed:

FriendFeed Early Majority Options

Let’s analyze things by use case…

Company public groups: In this use case, companies set up shop on FriendFeed, with their own groups filled with content. PepsiCo set up one, called Pepsi Cooler. The idea is a stream of content produced by a team from Pepsi. If you look at the stream, it’s primarily tweets.

If FriendFeed had decided to pursue this option, it needed to create points of permanence on the page. Having just a stream of content makes it hard to establish objects that focus on your brand and let’s you run events. Creating an experience like this was something that would have given FriendFeed groups more value.

Alternatives? Companies run their websites, upgraded with social media streams of content. And Facebook has really pushed this with its pages effort. Facebook’s 200+ million members gives it a big leg up here.

This would have been a tough one to break into the Early Majority, as Facebook really owns this niche. The easy ability to stream content would have been FriendFeed’s advantage.

Collaboration spaces: Let employees work together on projects in their own private groups. Content can be streamed in certainly, but more important, people can post things directly into a collaboration space. Teams can comment on posted items to advance projects. Documents can be included in posts, letting the same version be accessed by everyone. Direct messages can be sent to one another.

In June of 2008, I wrote Using FriendFeed Rooms for Work: What’s Needed? In it, I argued that FriendFeed could be used for getting work done in teams. I saw some things I’d want there: better “stickiness” for current projects and documents. Can’t have everything fly by in a stream. Also, accept RSS feeds of document changes from Google Docs, Zoho and other cloud office productivity apps. Chris Brogan saw the potential too in a post from August 2008,  How to Use Friendfeed as a Collaborative Business Tool.

Collaborative business apps are an area of overall growth, but one that is filled with competition. Atlassian  has been delivering this for a while with its Confluence wiki, and Basecamp is a favorite small business collaboration tool. More recent entrants like SocialCast have added activity streams as part of their core functionality.

FriendFeed could have been a strong player here, but it needed a lot of focused feature development.

Social web monitoring: This is my use case. FriendFeed has a marvelous way of handling RSS feeds into separate groups, and managing people and groups into separate lists. I found these to be quite helpful for staying on top conversations and content that is getting attention. I actively monitor three groups formed specifically to be my “news tickers” on the social web. I don’t use them as communities for conversations, but as information management tools.

The real-time feature is great for this purpose. As soon as something is made available via RSS, or in Twitter’s case it’s posted, you’d see it show up in your groups. I find this to be highly valuable for jumping into conversations on Twitter, and to understand what’s buzzing now.

FriendFeed doesn’t have the powerful analytics and structure of the new premium Social CRM apps. I’d argue that for SMBs, that’s not needed. What’s needed is an ability to stay on top of topics and conversations relevant to your industry. ReadWriteWeb’s Marshall Kirkpatrick was seeing the same thing in How FriendFeed Could Become the Ultimate Social Media Tracking Service.

To my mind, this is the use case that was most promising relative to unmet need and dearth of competition. And FriendFeed had great technological advantages here in terms of its SUP work and real-time updating. Feels like an opportunity missed.

Real-time conversations: When FriendFeed made the switch to real-time updating by default, one thing users gained was the ability to see new comments on threads without constantly refreshing the page. Thaty meant you could engage others easily on the page as people posted back-and-forth.

For live events, this is pretty fun. It’s great to share a common moment this way. Be it sports, political events or technology conferences. And that’s what makes me think the real-time conversation platform would be great for online media sites. Imagine CNN.com outfitted with real-time conversations by FriendFeed. News events are constantly, and always will be, unfolding. Giving site visitors a way to converse quickly with one another would be great. Admittedly, this real-time conversation flow is something that is already present for webcasts.

The limitation for the value of real-time conversations is (i) the existence of alternatives; (ii) limited utility for most people. Twitter isn’t real-time, but it doesn’t have to be. It’s a good-enough conversation platform with a large subscriber base. Forums will do the threading work for multiple participants. And the people that got the most use out of real-time were social media A-Listers who get a lot of comments on their threads. Most people don’t get that level of interaction. So the value of real-time conversations was lost on them.

Following friends’ activities: This was the original purpose of FriendFeed: “FriendFeed is a service that makes it easy to share with friends online. It offers a fun and interactive way to discover and discuss information among friends.” Makes sense…”friend”…”feed”.

The challenge is that it is quite RSS dependent on friends’ streams. Which means people need to have content available via RSS. That’s still a slowly growing dynamic. The other issue is similar to that described above for company public groups and collaboration spaces: lack of ability to create more permanent objects on your profile. If Friends don’t RSS, they need a good way to manage content they directly post.

This really is Facebook’s game. Once they added the ability to follow RSS feeds of friends, much of the rationale for FriendFeed was lost, at least in terms of following friends. There’s still a great use case in following people that may not qualify for the traditional definition of “friends”. But you can stay on top of the likes of Craig Newmark, Robert Scoble, and others.

Personal information management: If you participate in several different social sites, you can create a diverse amount of content: tweets, Flickr photos, blog posts, YouTube videos, SlideShare presentations, etc. As you create it, you want to be able to reference it. The most obvious way to do that is to go to each site individually and search for some part of your content.

FriendFeed is marvelous for managing all the different content in one place. This is something I talked about recently in Three Reasons You Need to Be on FriendFeed *Now*. One place for all your content, with amazing search capabilities. Much better than what Twitter offers. With FriendFeed, you can actually access old tweets via search.

This use case is great, but it’s ability to penetrate the Early Majority is questionable, at least for now. It takes people who have these diverse social sites where they’re posting content. As we know from the 1-9-90 rule of participation, the number of people actively posting new content is still relatively low. But as social sites proliferate, I believe you’ll see increased numbers of people posting original content. 1-9-90 may apply to any one site, but viewed from a portfolio perspective, the ratio will be higher for the general population.

Am I missing something?

Those are the use cases that come to my mind. What do you think? Did I miss some important ones? And how about the assessments I made for each of the use cases? On target?

My own thought is that FriendFeed had a great opportunity for social web monitoring. It’s an area of growing interest, and FriendFeed had the technology and raw feeds to be a big player there. More and more, the mainstream is interested in the workings of and information available on social media.

Let’s see if Facebook sees a similar opportunity.

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