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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 021910

From the home office in Ponte Vedra Beach, Florida, where I’d like to apologize for my irresponsible and selfish blogging behavior…

#1: RT @dhinchcliffe: Toward a Grand Unified Theory of n00bs http://bit.ly/accSYb A pretty darn important post by @dangrover

#2: RT @jayrosen_nyu: I couldn’t take it anymore, so… New post: What to reject when you’re rejecting the wisdom of crowds http://jr.ly/xga4

#3: Crowdsourcing Is the New Collaboration (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/czEivv #e20 #innovation cc: @oscarberg

#4: RT @deb_lavoy Is “collaboration” enough to make teams productive? http://goo.gl/fb/DdVn

#5: RT @a4agarwal The problem with Lexus is while they created great products they know people want, they have no consist… http://post.ly/OMAm

#6: RT @courtenaybird The World’s Most Innovative Companies 2010 http://ow.ly/18Miu (RT @fastcompany)

#7: Building an Innovation Culture >> IndustryWeek #innovation http://post.ly/OQmt

#8: What Does Project Management Have To Do With Innovation? http://bit.ly/bmjTiW > Inside companies, much overlap #innovation

#9: Short track speed skating = grace, control, speed, strategy. Love this event.

#10: If you stare at a mountain long enough, it becomes unclimbable http://bit.ly/cHgPMD

courtenaybird

The World’s Most Innovative Companies 2010 http://ow.ly/18Miu (RT @fastcompany)

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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)

ComMetrics on Crowdsourcing Innovation: You’re Doing It Wrong

ComMetrics is a social media analytics company, a division of CyTRAP Labs GmbH. ComMetrics is well-known in the industry, including its FT ComMetrics Blog Index.

The company published a useful piece, Crowd-wisdom fails businesses. The basic premise is that crowds do not innovate. It’s useful, because it contains both truths and misconceptions about the role of communities in the innovation process.

Let’s break it down.

Innovation via a stadium crowd?

Photo credit: Ian Ransley

The initial point of the post is that “Crowds Innovate – NOT”. And it’s true in its literal sense.

This may be one of my favorite misconceptions about the role of communities in innovation. That crowdsourcing is some sort of mind meld where innovations spring from a collective brain wave.

This quote by ComMetrics both sums up the truth, and the common misconception:

It seems a bit naive to think that going to Dodger Stadium or the LA Coliseum in the hope that crowdsourcing will show people exhibiting the above [innovation] behaviors, and therefore help us innovate faster…

Really now…

Actually, it wouldn’t be naïve if you were soliciting the stadium’s feedback on ways to improve the sport event experience. Understand the different “jobs” the sport event is supposed to do:

  • Outlet for aging or non-practicing athletes
  • Family adventure
  • Business social events and networking

You mean you wouldn’t solicit the stadium crowd for ideas related to what they’d like to see on those fronts? How about their feedback on the stadium management’s and others’ ideas?

The stadium example is a good one, because it offers a chance to parse out the role of crowdsourcing into three dynamics:

  1. Crowdsourcing involves collecting ideas in aggregate
  2. Community feedback brings a diversity of viewpoints to the ideas
  3. Crowdsourcing does not mean 100% of the world’s population

Collecting ideas in aggregate. Stop for a moment and consider that. I’m contrasting that view of crowdsourcing from the hivemind singularity that operates off a single brain wave. While the employees of a business have more of a vested in its success, the actual users of a product or service have a pretty good sense of what they want to accomplish.

Diversity of feedback. Research demonstrates the power of information diversity in increasing the quality of ideas. And crowdsourcing is a marvelous way to capture a broad spectrum of opinion and understanding. If you’re going to get a range of opinions, including wild cards that weren’t expecting, soliciting a community’s feedback is a powerful approach.

Crowdsourcing doesn’t mean the whole world. When I read the stadium crowd quote, I get a subtle ‘dis’ in it. Namely, that there some serious nimrods in the crowd, and what the hell would they know about your business? But that’s a stereotype. For instance, look at the open source operating system Linux. Linux is a great example of crowdsourcing. But you’re not going to find me contributing anything there. I have no knowledge, opinion or interest in it. Crowdsourcing attracts parties interested in the product/service being examined. It’d be too demanding to participate otherwise.

The problems with popularity

The ComMetrics post has two separate points around the problems with popularity. First, is the issue of superusers having too much control over crowd opinion:

The notion that a book might be a must-read because it is highly ranked by many on Amazon does not make it Nobel prize material. The earth did not stand still just because Galileo fell out of favor, nor has evolution been shown to be false due to the faith of believers.

Hence, product reviews driven by superusers and crowds who follow just means that the wisdom of crowds can only be conventional. Volume against quality.

The second point is that simple votes don’t provide enough input on an idea’s value:

Thumbs Up or Down works but fails to explain why: Crowds do not drive and bring innovation to successful fruition in the form of a marketable product. Nor are they the best source for assessing quality – the one that shouts the loudest is heard the most.

Nevertheless, crowds can tell you if they like or dislike something.

There are truths in both of these observations. Amazon superusers are the modern equivalent of tastemakers in pre-Internet society. The people the crowd followed to find the best of things, often read in the newspapers. There are cases where the opinion of an A-Lister can have too much sway.

One key difference is this: today, people have to re-earn their influence over time. If over a sustained period someone falls down and no longer looks forward to the fresh, to the new, they lose their influence. The crowd moves on to someone else who is at the leading edge. Humans have a natural affinity for the new.

Perhaps more importantly, one cannot argue that no one has solid authority over a particular innovation domain. We don’t all wake up as blank slates every morning, having to relearn expertise during that day’s work cycle. There are bona fide, honest-to-goodness authorities on subjects who are motivated for improvement.

Which brings me to the second point about simple up-down votes. These votes do provide valuable feedback. You get an early read on what is resonating with the crowd, which is a valuable filter. But they lack nuances that can help identify the best among ideas that are resonating.

Microsoft’s Wilson Haddow’s observation is spot-on. Companies ought to be able to leverage both the wisdom of the crowd in getting feedback, but also leverage the opinion of authorities as well. Going back to what I wrote earlier…

  • The crowd can provide ideas in aggregate
  • The crowd can collectively weigh in on ideas’ merits
  • Individual authorities are generally needed at later stages of evaluation

And the role of these authorities should include finding valuable ideas the crowd overlooks.

In the blog post Corporate Innovation Is Not a Popularity Contest, I argue that binary feedback mechanisms – up-down votes – fall short. They are valuable, but not enough. And this is something Spigit does with its integration of reputation scores into the innovation process.

ComMetrics makes good points here. And kudos to ComMetrics for taking the time to weigh in on this topic. Their post provides a good framework for considering both the problems and opportunities of working with communities in the innovation process.

Crowdsourcing Ideas: Apparently Marijuana Is All California Needs

California has several big issues that need to be tackled. Our state budget seems to perpetually be in deficit mode, with drawn-out battles for resolving the red ink. The education system, once a shining jewel in the world, now produced some of the low test scores in the country. The state infrastructure must be upgraded to handle the ever-growing population. Our prisons are sagging from overcrowding. Water sources need to be improved for the higherpopulation combined with predictable periods of drought.

So Governor Arnold Schwarzenegger established a novel approach. Let Californians weigh in with their ideas for how to fix the problems the state faces. He set up MyIdea4CA.com, where anyone can tweet their suggestions. So what does the wisdom of the crowd think will help?

Marijuana

Yes, it turns out state leadership has been missing a golden opportunity. Legalize pot, and things improve immediately! Or at least our perception of the problems mellows. Forget wisdom of the crowd. It’s buzzdom of the crowd.

Here’s a list of the most popular ideas as of Friday August 28, 2009 at 6:30 am:

MyIdea4CA.com Most Popular 082809

In the screenshot, and further down the list, there are some more serious ideas proposed. So all hope is not lost in the fumes of a big joint. But you have to admire the persistence of the “legalize dope” crowd. Multiple ideas, multiple votes, top of the leaderboard.

Reminds me of a recent New York Times story detailing  a similar effort by President Barack Obama to elicit ideas from Americans.

The White House made its first major entree into government by the people last month when it set up an online forum to ask ordinary people for their ideas on how to carry out the president’s open-government pledge. It got an earful — on legalizing marijuana, revealing U.F.O. secrets and verifying Mr. Obama’s birth certificate to prove he was really born in the United States and thus eligible to be president.

I fundamentally believe that crowdsourcing works. For instance, our stock markets are a great example of collective wisdom. They provide amazing value in terms of aggregating the opinions of large numbers of people.

Yes, crowdsourcing works. Just be mindful of the crowd from which you’re sourcing.

Google, Yahoo, Microsoft Want to Legalize For-Money Prediction Markets

$500 on the U.S. economy turning positive in the first quarter of 2010!

Wouldn’t it be great if you could put money down on your predictions of future events? If Google, Yahoo and Microsoft get their way, you just might be able to do that.

Money $20sBack in September 2008, Google and Yahoo, united under an organization called Coalition for Internal Markets (CIM), wrote a 28-page letter articulating their support for the legalization of small stakes prediction markets. On April 9, 2009, Microsoft added its support to Google and Yahoo’s letter. Here’s an excerpt from the CIM letter:

CIM believes that small-stakes event markets of the kind first developed by the Iowa Electronic Markets have the potential to provide significant public benefits and recommends that the Commodity Futures Trading Commission propose regulations under which such markets may operate, both as internal markets or as public markets.

I learned of all this through Oddhead, Midas Oracle and Bo Cowgill’s blogs. This has the potential to be quite powerful as a forecasting tool, and a way for people to profit from their prediction acumen.

Just how did this come about?

Commodity Futures Trading Commission Wants Input

The Commodity Futures Trading Commission (CFTC) is the government body that regulates the sale of commodity and financial futures and options.

In May last year, the CFTC put out a public notice that it was soliciting comments on the regulatory treatment of financial agreements offered by prediction markets. So apparently the idea of legalization is on the Commission’s mind. The CFTC distinguishes prediction markets as not including financial agreements on market prices (stocks, cotton, etc.) or broad-based measures of economic or commercial activity. Rather, they define them as:

Event contracts may be based on eventualities and measures as varied as the world’s population in the year2050, the results of political elections, or the outcome of particular entertainment events.

“Entertainment events.” Think American Idol, and putting your money down on who you predict will win. That Adam Lambert?

The CFTC notes that its staff has received “a substantial number of requests for guidance” on the propriety of prediction markets’ use. Sounds like a pretty healthy interest in this sort of thing.

Getting Ahead of the Regulatory Curve

In the CIM letter, Google’s Hal Varian and Yahoo’s Preston McAfee develop three themes:

  • CFTC has the right to regulate these markets
  • Prediction markets provide substantial benefits
  • Propose a set of sensible rules for regulation

Google states that it started operating internal prediction markets in April 2005, and that now it runs 25-30 prediction markets per quarter. The purposes of the markets include forecasts of product demand, internal performance (e.g. product release dates), company news and external business environment factors. Google also uses the prediction markets to assess the strength of relationships between different teams.

Yahoo operates internal prediction markets. It also operates public events, such as the Yahoo!-O’Reilly Tech Buzz Game, in which participants predict which technologies will be popular, and which ones lack merit.

The two primary benefits discussed in the letter for predictions markets are: (i) Generation of useful information by aggregating the opinions of individual participants; and (ii) Hedging exposure by making predictions related to some position an individual holds.

The two companies then smartly propose some rules that would govern the small stakes prediction markets:

  • Total exposure per market of $2,000
  • Maximum loss at $2,000 over the course of a year
  • Non-intermediated, electronic markets
  • Trading could be matching bids and offers, or there could be an automated market maker
  • Program to monitor trading
  • Maintain trading histories for five years

Generally, the letter asks for a fairly flexible approach to the markets, with adherence to core operating principles to ensure fair, open trading.

An Inevitable Question: Gambling?

Perhaps as you’ve read this, the thought occurred to you…isn’t the same thing I can do in Las Vegas? Bet on sports teams? What distinguishes this from gambling? Indeed, in its solicitation for comments, the CFTC asks this:

What objective and readily identifiable factors, statutorily based or otherwise, could be used to distinguish event contracts that could appropriately be traded under Commission oversight from transactions that may be viewed as the functional equivalent of gambling?

The CIM letter notes that gambling is generally associated with sports events and games of chance. It recommends the CFTC develop a definition of permitted markets based on a set of examples, and expand the list on a case-by-case basis.

This question will likely receive the most attention from the public. What will be interesting is how Obama’s administration views this versus Bush’s.

Count Me In

Add my YES vote to this. I think it’d be great to buy and sell positions based on predicted event outcomes. The example I led this post off with, the economic rebound, is a great way to tap public sentiment about the economy. We’ll have to watch how this unfolds.

How about you? Do you favor small stakes prediction markets?

Search Smackdown: Mahalo – del.icio.us – Google

I was reading the Crowdsourcing vs. Expertsourcing: A Misleading Comparison post over at Mashable. In it, Paul Glazowski analyzes a Newsweek article that suggests the bloom is off the Web 2.0 rose. Too much junk is enabled via everyday people logging on, and there’s a movement for more professional, expert information sourcing.

One example of expertsourcing is Mahalo. Mahalo was started to be a guide to Web content. Paid professionals own a topic, they research a number of sites related to that topic, and post the links that provide the best information. In their opinion, that is.

I’ll admit to some skepticism here. Google has been so good at revealing information and letting me see what’s out there. The idea of limiting my results to what someone deems worthy seems so incomplete. I’m afraid I’d be missing something that’d be really important to me.

But Mahalo has gotten some traction, so there’s something there.

I decided to run my own simple test of Mahalo, pitting it against two other ways to find relevant web content: del.icio.us and Google search. Quick backgrounder on those. del.icio.us is a bookmarking/tagging app that lets you save websites you like, and give them terms that have meaning to you. You can also find content on a given subject by searching tags, and seeing what others have bookmarked. Google is, of course, the preeminent Web search engine.

I tested three separate search terms, going from broad to specific:

  • Running
  • Marathon training
  • Tempo run

My scoring system is simple. For each search term, gold, silver or bronze will assigned based on my own subjective view.

SEARCH TERM #1: RUNNING

‘Running’ is a fairly broad topic. There are a lot of areas that may apply, making it a challenge to return results that are relevant . With that in mind, let’s see what the three search apps returned.

Mahalo: SILVER

The foundation of Mahalo’s search results is “The Mahalo Top 7″. These are the seven best links for a given topic. It is the Top 7 where expertsourcing proves its value.

The ‘Running’ Top 7 provide links to two running publications and wikipedia’s entry for running. Another link is to About.com’s page for running, itself a form of expertsourcing. A little uninspired, but a serviceable offering.

Mahalo also has several other sections in its running page. These include health-related topics, oddball sites, web tools and user recommendations. The web tools include MapMyRun.com, which lets you map a run or view others’ running routes. A user recommendation includes LetsRun.com, which is the best site for the competitive runner.

One other thing that’s good. All the links relate to the physical exercise running.

del.icio.us: BRONZE

This search shows both the power and the weakness of bookmark/tagging sites. On the plus side, I love the running results that are returned. Very interesting variety. The downside? A lot of sites that aren’t exercise running-related. Things like “Running a Windows Partition in VMware” and “Internet Explorer 7 running side by side with IE6″. In fact, 26 of the first 50 results were not related to exercise running.

There are interesting sites that del.icio.us users have posted related to running. MapMyRun.com is here. How to Select a Running Shoe by eHow.

Several, but not all of the Mahalo Top 7 appear in the first 50 del.icio.us results.

Google: GOLD

You can see how Mahalo picked its Top 7 websites…they’re all the top results in Google search! Google also returns the fun stuff in del.icio.us.

Then Google offers a plethora of other sites, and only 6 of the first 50 are not related to exercise running. Pretty much everything on Mahalo is there, plus other interesting sites. A site listing running movies. A company that sells the running skirt! Ultrarunning.

SEARCH TERM #2: MARATHON TRAINING

‘Marathon training’ is not nearly as wide open as ‘running’. This search is for someone who has a a goal in mind.

Mahalo: BRONZE

First, let me say that the bronze here is a very strong showing. If there was photo finish, you’d have a hard time telling Mahalo hadn’t won this test. The presented sites are all good and worty of consideration for anyone contemplating a marathon.

There are a variety of programs available here: Runners World, Running Times, marathontraining.com, etc. And to Mahalo’s credit, there’s no listing for Galloway’s training program! Editor bias there, I’ll admit.

I was disappointed that Pete Pfitzinger’s program isn’t shown. It’s my own favorite. But I liked the CrunchGear site, listing stuff marathoners would want.

del.icio.us: GOLD

One thing that immediately struck me this time is that all 50 of the del.icio.us results were related to marathon training. The greater specificity helped del.icio.us here. Also, “running” has several meanings, but “marathon” has few.

Several of the Mahalo Top 7 are in the first 50 results. Missing are the Running Times program, the AIDS national training program and the Boston Athletic Association program. But Team in Training is included (if you’re offsetting charity-related programs).

Several other valuable sites are here. For example, there’s McMillan Running, which includes running pace calculators and marathon time prediction workouts.

Unfortunately, Jeff Galloway’s site is bookmarked here. But…Pete Pfitzinger is included as well. Bonus points for that.

Google: SILVER

Google does its usual excellent job in its results. 6 of the Mahalo Top 7 are here; Running Times is missing from the first 50 results. Surprisingly, Team in Training is not in the top 50 results.

Google gets dinged for no race calculator in the first 50 results. No Pete Pfitzinger. But Jeff Galloway is there! Noooo…

SEARCH TERM #3: TEMPO RUN

A tempo run is a specific training technique in which you hold a fast pace over several miles. It’s a tough workout, but it can advance your performance dramatically. Obviously, we’re now in the technical weeds of running.

Mahalo: DISQUALIFIED

Mahalo has no entry for tempo running. We’ve gone too detailed for Mahalo here. DQ’d.

del.icio.us: SILVER

Use of the term “run” again confuses poor del.icio.us here. 34 of the first 50 results are not related to exercise running. But there are several good sites related to the tempo run. Runner’s World has Learn How To Do A Perfect Tempo Run. Running Times has A Tempo Run by Many Other Names.

And this is one of my favorites…a LetsRun.com post/discussion about Tempo run length vs. speed from 2003. One would have to go pretty deep into the LetsRun site to unearth that one. A true credit to the power of social bookmarks & tagging.

Google: GOLD

Incredibly, all of the first 50 results were related to exercise tempo runs. Very impressive. Lots of good info about the temp run. A LetsRun post/discussion, but different than the one on del.icio.us. Bloggers describing their tempo runs. Formal programs that advise on the pace of the tempo run. Just really good stuff.

Recap: Broad, Narrow, Technical

Broad search: Google, Mahalo, del.icio.us
Narrow search: del.icio.us, Google, Mahalo
Technical search: Google, del.icio.us, (Mahalo DQ’d)

Conclusions that I draw from this admittedly small, subjective test:

  • Mahalo is a good starting point for finding information on something that’s not familiar to you. It only covers broader, more popular categories. It does appear that the Mahalo expert just skims the top results from Google. But the clean interface and human filtering makes it a decent place to start your search.
  • del.icio.us is challenged by results that are not related to the search topic, which is consistent with its user-generated chaotic nature. It’s also a really good place to find hidden nuggets of valuable information not easily found elsewhere. And for a narrow topic with words that do not have multiple meanings, del.icio.us really shines.
  • Google still makes sense as the first place to look. Breadth and depth of results, and it takes on all comers. It also does an exceedingly good job of figuring out what sites relate to a search topic.

One final note in favor of Mahalo. There is research that shows consumers are actually better off with fewer choices than more. Give me 7 good choices, and I’ll be able to begin my journey to learn more about a topic. Give me 50 choices, some great, some terrible, and I’ll be flummoxed as I try to read them all.

Mahalo does have the advantage of providing a simple, limited set of good results to get beginners going. There is value to that.

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