My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 032610

From the home office in CTU, where I’m taking control of ’24’, not going to let it be canceled

#1: RT @scobleizer http://bestc.am/T90 This is Paul Pluschkell CEO of @spigit which is cool ideation software used by tons of companies. Now onto @pipioinc

#2: Wow – my moment in @dahowlett‘s spotlight: Enterprise 2.0: let’s be careful out there http://bit.ly/bQR3vj Great stuff, needs several reads

#3: Enterprise 2.0 and our tendency to think and talk in terms of efficiency http://bit.ly/cDe3mO by @oscarberg #e20

#4: Discussion is a good thing! RT @rawn Had to write disagreeing response to spigit post “Maslow’s Hierarchy of E2.0 ROI” http://bit.ly/9ltJo6

#5: Avoiding Innovation Chaos inside Companies (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/anh1cY #innovation #e20

#6: RT @govfresh Manor in WSJ: ‘A Hotbed of Tech Innovation: the Government of Manor, Texas’ http://bit.ly/aUyxbF #gov20

#7: Is Crowdsourcing Disruptive? http://bit.ly/aYybmt by @stephenshapiro > Cost per design vs cost of acquisition #innovation

#8: Can truly great design be done the open source way? http://bit.ly/bcZszD by @cdgrams > a bazaar or a cathedral? #design

#9: Actual newspaper headline: “Republicans turned off by the size of Obama’s package.” http://bit.ly/crhh2O #hcr?

#10: RT @skydiver “One of the things I love about Twitter is that you can totally make up quotations.” – Abraham Lincoln

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.

[tweetmeme source = “bhc3”]

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.

[tweetmeme source = “bhc3”]

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 031210

From the home office at SXSW in Austin, where I’m not…

#1: Is Collaboration Enough for Knowledge Management? http://bit.ly/bXdNhj by @deb_lavoy #e20 #km

#2: What Enterprise 2.0 vendors can learn from FourSquare http://tinyurl.com/y9bsxc6 by @markfidelman

#3: RT @Irregulars Wikipedia’s Decline and the 7 Types of Human Motivation http://bit.ly/atzPLC

#4: White House expands Gov 2.0 with landmark crowdsourcing directive (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/auo6FK #gov20 #innovation

#5: “Contests are increasingly being used as a tool to solve society’s most entrenched problems” http://bit.ly/9KFJmy #crowdsourcing

#6: RT @VentureBeat Spigit offers social media platform for company contests http://ow.ly/1q0m44 #crowdsourcing

#7: RT @elldir Woops! Too long ago I told @bhc3 that I would post how I think about different dimensions of innovation. http://bit.ly/dcNd7s

#8: Five inter-related innovation problems that an organizational structure should address – Scott Anthony HBR #innovation http://post.ly/SOB2

#9: Reading @bokeen‘s write-up of his chatroulette experience. Damn funny, and pretty much what I’d expect. http://bit.ly/9Wnd20

#10: RT @anildash I’m surprised none of you dorks camped outside of your own house last night, then ran back in to order an iPad

Is Crowdsourcing Disrupting the Design Industry?

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:

  • Requesting organization posts a request for submissions to a design crowdsourcing site (e.g. 99designs, crowdSPRING, MycroBurst, etc.)
  • Interested designers review the request, and create their entry
  • They submit their entry to the site
  • Requesting organization selects its favorite, pays the winning designer the announced fee

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?

Designers’ Beefs with Crowdsourcing

Three aspects of crowdsourcing design raise concern for many in the design industry:

  1. Lack of compensation for designers whose entries are not selected
  2. Diminishes the design profession
  3. Not sustainable in the long term

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…

Why Are Crowdsourcing Design Contests Growing?

I saw this comment from Jason Aiken of 99designs (March 1, 2010):

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?

Build your portfolio: Not all designers in the world have 10 years experience and a roster of paying clients. For those starting out in the business, the competitions provide great fuel for creating designs. If you want prospective clients to see what you’re capable of, the design competitions seem to offer a chance to create that portfolio. Benefits:
  • You need to think not abstractly about design principles, but concretely about how a design project relates to a business
  • Competitions are great for elevating one’s focus and creativity
  • You can benchmark yourself against other submissions, including those selected if yours is not

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?

Sustainability and Reach of Crowdsourcing Design Contests

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.

Next question: how much can crowdsourcing chip away at the traditional areas of the design industry? There’s a gap that crowdsourcing addresses (Erica’s post, Bokardo’s post):

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.

The Disruptive Potential

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/reputation
  • Smartsourcing

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.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 022610

From the home office at a table in front a congressional hearing where I’m explaining why I didn’t actually put any brakes in my cars…

#1: All your authentication are belong to us http://bit.ly/d2S177 by Forrester’s @TomGrantForr > Facebook Connect is pulling away

#2: RT @defrag wow. twitter moving to Cassandra (#NoSQL) – http://bit.ly/9z8nvp – so, FB, Digg, Twitter all on NoSQL. oracle, are you listening?

#3: Interesting: Why the iPad can’t use flash http://bit.ly/bG6X9K > How do you “mouseover” with your finger?

#4: RT @BBHLabs Bored of reading that @foursquare is the ‘new Twitter’; it’s a different kind of utility altogether – http://j.mp/9s8GDD

#5: Study – Distributed Idea Generation Outperforms Team Brainstorming (Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/dffHzL #innovation #crowdsourcing

#6: Crowdsourcing Collaboration in Education http://bit.ly/aPmSj0 by @eduinnovation > Educators can tap large networks #innovation

#7: How to Fail at Innovation http://is.gd/98YUh by @timkastelle > “The way to fail at #innovation is to try to avoid failing”

#8: The Side Effects of Open Innovation http://bit.ly/9hIaQI by @lindegaard “it’s very much about managing change” #innovation #e20

#9: 10 tips for Successful Crowdsourcing http://post.ly/OxhU

#10: RT @exUnited Southwest Airlines selects Spigit for innovation mgmt http://bit.ly/blTGO3 Innovation is like LUV – deliberate, not accidental

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)

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 121109

From the home office in San Francisco where I’ll be taking an indefinite break from golf…

#1: On top of Chatter, Salesforce buys GroupSwim http://bit.ly/8KxLGe (by @benkepes) Ever, ever deeper into #e20

#2: Check out: Enterprise 2.0 – Someone Has To Sell This Shit http://bit.ly/5XypZV #e2conf > funniest title so far #e20

#3: So very interesting: Let’s talk about chickens and e2.0 http://bit.ly/7xyDNj by @merigruber “Teams” of star performers are less productive

#4: Intellipedia suffers midlife crisis — Government Computer News > Still “just a marginal revolution” #e20 http://post.ly/EDLK

#5: Social networking is the creation of relationships, collaboration and knowledge around social objects. [credit to @gapingvoid here]

#6: What will power next-generation businesses? http://bit.ly/8TAGkI by @dhinchcliffe #community #crowdsourcing #e20 #innovation

#7: Three Secret Weapons Of Innovation: Sensemaking, Weak Signals Reading And Futuretyping. Which One Of Them Do You Cur… http://post.ly/EfDV

#8: Organizations’ Innovation Dark Energy – Employee Motivations (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/7XAwk6 #innovation

#9: RT @johntodor Here’s my take on Hutch Carpenter’s Four Quadrants of Innovation. http://bit.ly/BUX8u #innovation

#10: Thanks @guykawasaki for picking up my Four Quadrants of Innovation blog post: http://bit.ly/6HsXE1 @innovate #innovation

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.

How Should Tweets Be Ranked in Search Engine Results?

Tweet searchAnyone remember when Loic LeMeur had the temerity to suggest Twitter rank its search results by the number of followers people have? His post, with 109 comments and reaction from Michael Arrington, Robert Scoble and many others, clearly struck a nerve.

Fast forward to the past couple weeks. Both Microsoft Bing and Google announced deals to provide tweets in search results. Let me say that again: Google and Bing will be providing tweet search results!

Bing’s version is the first out the gate. In light of the earlier brouhaha, this may come across as insensitive…but I have to ask:

How should tweets be ranked in Bing and Google search results?

I hope your answer isn’t, “I wouldn’t.” Because that’s contrary to what made Google such a global powerhouse used by billions every year. And why Microsoft is working hard to increase Bing’s market share. Google and Bing built their business by presenting search results based on the authority of websites. This system of authority (e.g. PageRank) makes the results relevant to users.

So what about running searches for tweets? Should their presentation be utterly devoid of any authority ranking? Does it make sense to just show the latest tweet containing a given term? After all, that would simply be imitating what Summize (aka Twitter Search) does.

First, a good question to ask is, why do people want to search tweets? How does this differ from web search?

Why Are You Searching Tweets?

To my mind, there are three use cases where people will search for tweets rather than search for websites:

  1. Find people
  2. Find latest on a subject that won’t show up in search engines yet (lack of indexing, lack of authority)
  3. Jump into conversations on something

Find people: You’re interested in a topic, and want to find others who can either improve your knowledge on it or with whom you want to connect. This is using Twitter as people search. The model for all of here is, you are what you tweet. It’s what makes you findable to others.

In this case, my sense is that people will have an desire to find those who would have the most authority on a given topic.

Find latest on a subject: The appearance of an article or blog post in the search engines can take a while. That contributes to the challenge of finding the latest. But the more pressing issue is the display of new articles in the search results. A good article or post on a subject, such as Enterprise 2.0, is likely not going to be ranked very high in the Google or Bing search results. No one links to the article yet, and it competes against a bunch of other incumbent articles in the search indexes.

If something shows up on the third page of Google’s search results, does it really exist?

This issue is even more pernicious for current events. The San Francisco Bay Bridge has been closed for several days now. It seems every estimate about when it will reopen has been wrong, meaning we all have to scramble to figure out our commute for the next day. To get the latest on the Bay Bridge, I searched Google, including the aggregate news results. Everything was too old when I did that, reflecting previous pronouncements. I needed what people knew right now. I went to Twitter, and found tweets that told me the latest status. Very helpful.

To find the latest on topics, I think there is a role for leveraging some sort of authority. People who have established credibility can be good first filters on what’s relevant and useful. For Enterprise 2.0, what is Dion Hinchliffe tweeting? For the Bay Bridge, I most trusted the KTVU tweet I saw.

Jump into conversations: This is Twitter as water cooler. You know something is going on. But how do you connect with people? Searches are good for this. Hash tags for conferences or big stories. Take the recent fraudulent #balloonboy story. It definitely captivated everyone. But even now, you’ll see tweets like this:

Watch top quality streaming Movie -> Up here http://cli.gs/dpNT5N Make $ From Home #mileycomeback #balloonboy

What is that? That’s someone taking a popular hash tag and polluting the search stream with spam. Again, a case where adding some authority to the tweet search rankings will help.

Tweet Authority Criteria

Keep in mind that “authority” is used in the context of Google and Bing searches. Of course web searches miss many authorities on subjects, but they work pretty well for giving relevant information.

I categorize the bases of authority in three buckets:

  1. Relevancy of tweet stream to a subject
  2. Crowdsourced signals of authority
  3. Effectiveness in providing relevant content

As a point of reference, Bing’s initial measure of relevance was reported to be the number of followers a person has. Let’s look at the three categories of authority.

Relevancy of Tweet Stream to a Subject

The first basis for authority should be…does someone tend to post about a given topic? Frequency of posts are a good marker that a person has something of interest to share. If someone is going to be deemed an authority on a subject, I’d expect a fair number of tweets related to it.

One twist that would make this better. A semantic basis for linking terms. For example, if some one searches on Foo Fighters, consider people whose tweet streams include posts about “music” frequently as having higher authority.

Crowdsourced Signals of Authority

What does the crowd think of a given person or tweet? Let’s start with a single tweet. If someone posts something on a given topic, and it gets retweeted a lot, that should count hugely in terms of its authority for a given topic.

OK, now for the general stats. How many followers does someone have? Yes, it’s getting gamed. So the presence of a high number of followers isn’t an automatic definition for authority. But it does have relevance in constructing authority.

The benefit of computing this for users is that the authority of those who follow a person can be an input into his or her own authority.

Next… Twitter Lists. Number of followers is not the end of the story. Lists have two characteristics that can be used to compute authority. First is the number of Lists one is on. Tim O’Reilly is on over 2,500 Lists. No surprise – he really made ‘web 2.0’ ubiquitous in our culture.

But an even better indicator of authority is embedded in Lists. How does the crowd characterize a person? Those Lists are valuable for granting higher authority for a given topic.

Effectiveness in Providing Relevant Content

When someone tweets, how do people react? Robert Scoble has a good take from his blog post:

  1. Number of retweets of that tweet
  2. Number of favorites of that tweet
  3. Number of inbound links to that tweet
  4. Number of clicks on an item in Twitter search

I particularly like that #4 item – number of clicks. Once these tweets are in the Google and Bing search results, the clicks can be measured. These are powerful bases for measuring someone’s authority.

I’d add a measure for how often a shared link is clicked; say bit.ly’s click information. While the actual number of clicks tracked by bit.ly is wrong, let’s assume it’s wrong in a similar fashion for everyone. So the bit.ly clicks counts can give a measure of relative effectiveness in providing content.

What Do You Think?

That’s my somewhat exhaustive description of inputs for ranking tweets in Google and Bing search results. There’s more that would be needed. I can think of incorporating some element of time decay in how tweets are presented as well. But this post is long enough.

What do you think? How would you rank tweets in the big search engines?

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.

My Take on Crowdsourcing Published on Business Week’s Website

Business Week’s Editor for Innovation and Design, Helen Walters, recently asked the crowd for their opinions on crowdsourcing, via Twitter:

thoughts on crowdsourcing? @jtwinsor has written a bw op-ed but we want to publish the crowd’s take, too. (pls RT!)

I replied with a couple tweets, which I then coalesced into a single thought via email. Business Week recently published ten of these opinions. Here’s mine:

BusinessWeek quote on crowdsourcingYou can see all of the opinions, and the a link to John Winsor’s op-ed here. Another contributor, Braden Kelley, also wrote up his Business Week crowdsourcing comment on his blog Blogging Innovation.

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.