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Crowdsourcing for a Billion Dollar Business – Cisco I-Prize

Crowdsourcing continues to grow in popularity and importance across a number of industries. Tac Andersen, at the South by Southwest Interactive event in Austin, took in the buzz there, and notes that crowdsourcing is heating up. Digital strategy, marketing and design firm Last Exit called crowdsourcing a top digital marketing trend for 2010.

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With that as context, let’s discuss the Cisco I-Prize. What’s that? I-Prize is an open innovation competition where anyone from around the world can propose ideas. Specifically, ideas that can be $1 billion businesses. This is the use of crowdsourcing to find major business units. Winning team earns $250,000.

Submission of ideas to the I-Prize site, which is powered by Spigit, runs through April 30, 2010. There are already 597 ideas on the site. Anyone can post an idea, and other people discuss it. You can even request to join someone’s team if you like a proposal enough, and the idea owner thinks you can add value. 32 ideas advance to the semi-final selection round.

One note about how the I-Prize works. Participants get virtual currency to buy and sell shares in ideas. Like a stock market. And 8 ideas with the highest price per share (“People’s Choice”) will advance to the semi-final selection round, along with 24 ideas hand-picked by Cisco officials (“Judge’s Choice”).

So the idea trading will matter.

I wanted to write about five ideas that I found interesting. Will they be $1 billion businesses? I don’t know for sure. But these ideas address current markets that reach into the billions of dollars. And I like some of the edgy thinking that goes into them. Along with descriptions, I’ve included their share price performance charts. Note that to view the ideas, and to trade them, you need to be registered on the I-Prize site.

The E-Learning Revolution, by Patrick Mellacher

Patrick’s idea is for students to collaborate and teach one another. Any student can record a lesson on any subject. Other students find this recording, view it and rate it. Top rated tutorials rise to the top.

A key element of his plan is closing the feedback loop. Specifically, how did those who viewed the tutorial perform on their tests? If their performance was above average, the student who uploaded the tutorial gets extra credit.

Because they’ve shown good mastery of the subject, and helped others learn as well.

In a discussion around the idea, Patrick comments:

The other main difference is that my system wants to encourage students to teach each other, not to force them to do so. Not every student is a good teacher, and it should also be possible to achieve the highest possible grade by only learning for yourself. There are, however, students that are very well prepared but fear to be unlucky and therefore want to secure a good grade. In the current system, they mostly try to learn even more(even if they don’t have to) and are not interested in teaching other students. My idea could change that dramatically.

This would be a big help in the education system, distributing the teaching load beyond teachers.

Webcam Game Show Network, by Philip Palmieri

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

Game shows are a staple of networks, and they continue to get good slots in prime time. Why not port this experience over to online participants? The basics of this idea are:

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

Right now, you can watch a game show, enjoy the contestants’ fumbling around and wonder if you could do better. With this idea, you just may get the chanced to find out. No flying to an L.A. studio to participate. Just sit in front of your PC at home.

This concept wouldn’t need to be limited to game shows. In response to one commenter on his idea, Philip wrote:

Fantastic, i love the idea about real pundits talking about live events..  this could be huge…  Post-sports games, let the community be analysts, or political events too…

Man, I could see the sports talk after a game. People would love that.

The Cisco Home Energy Mediator, by Robert Dziekan

Cisco currently has technology that helps companies mediate the energy usage of their facilities. What Robert proposes is to extend this into the consumer home market. We can see the power usage, by appliance, at any time via a web interface. And control it accordingly.

Here’s how Robert describes it:

This would give the users who elected to use this service the ability to manage their electricity usage, and truly see what devices in the home were using the most electricity, allowing them to run reports that show historical usage, and the option to set policies that would throttle usage in certain areas, or at least alerting a user if they are going to violate policy (for instance, by virtually running a laundromat in their home one week, exceeding their normal laundry device usage by 300 percent and increasing the high energy usage of devices like the dryer).

Aside from these reports and controls, the home mediator could send alerts when something is amiss for an appliance. I like this idea, and it’s something that’s being discussed out there. Tim O’Reilly noted this at the Web 2.0 Summit last year:

Consider the so-called “smart electrical grid.” Gavin Starks, the founder of AMEE, a neutral web-services back-end for energy-related sensor data, noted that researchers combing the smart meter data from 1.2 million homes in the UK have already discovered that each device in the home has a unique energy signature. It is possible to determine not only the wattage being drawn by the device, but the make and model of each major appliance within – think CDDB for appliances and consumer electronics!

If the cost of the system was relatively low, there seems to be a strong ROI for this. And there are a lot of homes out there.

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

Virtual reality holds a lot of potential, providing a user with the simulation of experiences beyond her physical location. Estimates put the market size well into the billions of dollars. Areas of growth for virtual reality include:

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

This idea is for a device that provides sensory stimulus in a virtual environment. Combine the physical with the virtual to improve the reactions people have when using virtual reality environments. It envisions delivering these touch sensations: movement restrictions, temperature, pressure, shock. The proposed technology involves servo motors and solenoids, and small cavities with a viscous fluid.

Making what’s virtual more tangible for users strikes me as a really good idea.

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

I like the way Ali introduces this:

Internet protocols now handle many different types of data, information, voice, and video…etc. But what about feelings like anger, happiness, satisfaction, fear, hate or sadness?

The framing of emotions as data to be captured and transmitted. Definitely edgy. And not out of the realm of possibilities. I mean, who would have guess checking in our locations would be so popular?

Ali envisions emotions integrating into the game experience. Imagine you’re playing one of those multiplayer online games. As you see others, you can get a read for the emotions they are feeling. Which is something that would occur in “real life” if you were engaged in fighting a big battle on your imaginary dragon beast.

There is technology out there which can enable this idea. Here’s how Ali describes it:

There are many types of biofeedback sensors available, able to detect such conditions as skin temperature, muscle tension, and pulse. Analysis of a persons voice could be done with a voice analyzer, as a persons voice is rich with information about a persons emotional state. These sensors and other input devices could be integrated into a device that would cover part of a persons body, like a glove or vest. This device would then be connected to a hardware input device and the software that resides on it would perform the necessary analysis and conversions, tying the detected emotions to the character in the game or simulation.

Good stuff, and something I can see the gamers liking a lot.

Crowdsourcing’s Many Flavors

I wrote previously about crowdsourcing and its effect on the design industry. Well, this is an entirely different approach. It rests on the ideas of others. This does not run into the spec work = free work controversy seen elsewhere. Someone might argue, why not start your own company off these ideas? Well, anyone is free to do so, and not propose them here.

But not all of us are itching to shuck it all take on the risk of entrepreneurship. Mortgages, kids, success in current careers…these are factors that would limit one’s interest in striking out on one’s own. Sometimes, you just have a good idea.

There are 592 other ideas on the I-Prize site currently, beside these five. Go see crowdsourcing in action.

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My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 100909

From the home office in Oslo…

#1: I’d like to publicly state for the record that I never accept sponsorship or freebies for my blog posts…because no one ever offers any…

#2: The Nobel Peace Prize for Obama is a signal to him, a very large signal, to keep doing what he’s doing. It’s not an achievement award.

#3: Did you see @defrag‘s mashup of Gartner Hype Cycle & Moore’s Chasm? http://ow.ly/tr6d Social media/E20 in trough of visionary adoption

#4: Firms Need a System for Recognizing and Empowering Innovation Catalysts (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/RlMS8 #innovation #wbf09

#5: Slideshare Gets More Serious About Monetizing Their Business http://ow.ly/t79P Two options: Adshare, Leadshare

#6: Hamel: WL Gore manages T&E this way = all expenses posted online for peers to see. Outcome? No need for restrictions. #wbf09

#7: Lucas: “Never imagined people would go frame by frame in Star Wars, and tweet their friends about its [cinematic tricks]” #wbf09

#8: Pickens: I’m more powerful in Washington D.C. now because I have 1.6mm people signed up in support of my energy plan. #wbf09

#9: Lencioni: Need to be able to disagree on things. Need trust for this to work. Conflict without trust is politics. #wbf09

#10: http://twitpic.com/k68s4 – I’m at a wedding that starts in 10 minutes. My son is ring bearer.

From the home office in Oslo…

#1: I’d like to publicly state for the record that I never accept sponsorship or freebies for my blog posts…because no one ever offers any…

#2: The Nobel Peace Prize for Obama is a signal to him, a very large signal, to keep doing what he’s doing. It’s not an achievement award.

#3: Did you see @defrag‘s mashup of Gartner Hype Cycle & Moore’s Chasm? http://ow.ly/tr6d Social media/E20 in trough of visionary adoption

#4: Firms Need a System for Recognizing and Empowering Innovation Catalysts (via Spigit blog) http://bit.ly/RlMS8 #innovation #wbf09

#5: Slideshare Gets More Serious About Monetizing Their Business http://ow.ly/t79P Two options: Adshare, Leadshare

#6: Hamel: WL Gore manages T&E this way = all expenses posted online for peers to see. Outcome? No need for restrictions. #wbf09

#7: Lucas: “Never imagined people would go frame by frame in Star Wars, and tweet their friends about its [cinematic tricks]” #wbf09

#8: Pickens: I’m more powerful in Washington D.C. now because I have 1.6mm people signed up in support of my energy plan. #wbf09

#9: Lencioni: Need to be able to disagree on things. Need trust for this to work. Conflict without trust is politics. #wbf09

#10: http://twitpic.com/k68s4 – I’m at a wedding that starts in 10 minutes. My son is ring bearer.

My Ten Favorite Tweets – Week Ending 061909

From the home office in Tehran…

#1: RT @Brioneja The Future of Energy: A Realist’s Roadmap to 2050. Which technology will finally free us from oil? http://bit.ly/FXg7A

#2: People’s interest in the real-time web is as much a social thing as it is a need to stay on top of events as they happen.

#3: In case you didn’t know…Atlassian’s new release of Confluence 3.0 includes status updates: http://bit.ly/yNZn4

#4: RT @rhappe the tight engagement you build with a small group will go viral… a big group with a lot of ‘extras’ won’t have the same

#5: RT @prwpmp Very insightful article in today’s WSJ about the power of daydreaming! http://bit.ly/2hJZMs {Daydreaming = AHA! moments}

#6: Which are most likely to survive in social media-driven news world? The mega global media (e.g. NYT), regional newspapers or local papers?

#7: New Spigit blog post: Kaiser Permanente Crosses the O-Gap in Innovation http://bit.ly/PNcom #innovation

#8: What is the magic number where the size of a group outstrips its ability to stay on top of everyone’s ideas? 25? 50? 100? #innovation

#9: Is there such a thing as the “avg distance” between a firm’s employees & its customers? SMBs’ avg distance < enterprises’ avg?

#10: ABC7 prediction market: Will the Dow Jones Industrial Average end 2009 below 2008’s year end close? http://bit.ly/1rjAt My vote = NO

My Ten Favorite Tweets: Week Ending 040309

From the home office in Detroit, Michigan…

#1: Tim O’Reilly talks about how every appliance has a unique electrical signature. Useful for ID/control. #w2e

#2: Nice shout-out from @jowyang on my move to Spigit http://bit.ly/1aqFO

#3: Writing my own bio for a press release for Spigit. I agree with @tacanderson http://bit.ly/FO7M I find it painful to do these.

#4: Perhaps a note of caution in any Twitter acquisition talks…YouTube may lose $470m this year. http://bit.ly/OxZrx

#5: Gartner predicts that by 2011, enterprise microblogging will be standard in 80% of social software platforms http://bit.ly/4CFdRm

#6: RT @SameerPatel Add Your Twitter Blog to Technorati Directory http://bit.ly/1aEguw by via@labnol

#7: SocialText raises $4.5 mm, lays off six: http://bit.ly/Y3icM In line with the times. Nice fund raise.

#8: Great to meet @thomashawk last night at FriendFeed meet-up. Nice collection of pics of people that were there: http://bit.ly/r1pD

#9: Just finished touring the #w2e floor w/ @mediaphyter Great to meet in person!

#10: Using the word “users” in write-up. Alternative is “employees, customer, partners”, which is wordy. Or “people”, which describes 6 billion.

What does this mean? “Organize the world’s energy”

Through a Fred Wilson post, I decided to check out Umair Haque’s call for the development of technologies that will help a number of the world’s problems:

Organize the world’s hunger.
Organize the world’s energy.
Organize the world’s thirst.
Organize the world’s health.
Organize the world’s freedom.
Organize the world’s finance.
Organize the world’s education.

The piece lays out some strong indictments of capitalism and the focus of web 2.0. To be honest, that’s pretty damn offputting for me. Socialistic urges don’t interest me.

But Fred Wilson is a smart guy, so I decided to read through Umair’s post and all the comments. I really wanted to know what he meant by “organize the world’s” problems.

As I read the comments to Umair’s post, I saw a recurring theme. Businesses and providers of capital just don’t get it, just don’t have the right incentives for this. No one really had a good answer for changing these dynamics. But the post made for some good venting, such as this comment by Platypus:

Bloggers are the online equivalent of “ladies who lunch”–a bunch of rich people chattering amongst themselves about how they’re going to spend their afternoons.

In the post itself, Umair provides an analogy that really helped me understand what he’s thinking. And it’s less socialistic than his preamble sounded:

Google utilized a market – AdWords – to utterly eviscerate a stale, broken media value chain. Here’s a more visceral example. Muhammad Yunus revolutionized finance – not by collecting more money to lend, but by using communities to fundamentally alter the value equation of lending to the poor. The result was industry transformation.

See the similarity? Two vastly different industries – finance and media – were both revolutionized by new DNA. It was new ways to organize and manage that exploded the boundaries of value creation.

The new DNA to which Umair refers is the web 2.0 ethos – people’s contributions and ideas create new value in hidebound industries. Also note that in both cases there was an organizer for people’s contributions. Google for web pages, Muhammed Yunus for the solicitation of capital. Here’s a graphical depiction of what he’s talking about:

Yes, that looks like most social media sites. Hence the web 2.0 angle.

But it’s hard to apply this model to heavier, capital goods sectors. Google applies the above model to digital information. Microcredits apply the above model to digital currency transactions (until the “last mile” where someone actually needs cash).

Capital goods aren’t as easy as transferring digital information. Moving water is capital intensive. Energy production and transfer is capital intensive. Agriculture is capital intensive. These don’t lend themselves well to the disruptive flows that digital information does.

With oil and gas prices through the roof, I want to stay on that problem. There are two ways to read the New DNA when it comes to energy.

  1. Web 2.0 allows more people to find out about energy production, usage and alternatives
  2. People will create their own sources of energy, the way they might create their own blogs

In #1, people could provide information of value to the organizing entity. Paul Kedrosky asks about something like this in a tweet:

why is there no Mint/Wesabe for home energy use? i want a tool that integrates all my energy/water/etc into a single web dashboard

Not bad, it puts conservation at the forefront. And you could compare your usage to that of others.

In #2, people would actually provide power to the organizing entity. Well, that becomes more capital intensive. Honey, we’ve left the web.

But there are probably some good possibilities out there. Solar panels for every home sounds plausible. And in Fred Wilson’s post, there’s this idea from one of the comments:

The friend I refer to in my comments on HN: he’s a grad student who has built a small-scale digestor that can convert any type of waste — human/animal/food — into usable energy. He is not a guy for hype, but he says it could technically replace every septic tank in America. That’s huge.

I don’t how real that idea is. Sounds promising. How much energy would it really produce? My dinner scraps probably won’t power much. In that comment though, I do see that there are people much more learned in the field of energy than me. So I won’t discount the possibility that individuals could create new sources of energy. But it does seem like a stretch, just based on my physics courses where we learned about the law of conservation of energy. I don’t where the untapped energy sources are around my house.

So we’ll see what Fred comes up with over the next year or two in relation to Umair’s post. Was Umair’s manifesto more feel good exhortation or the start of innovation desperately needed in a number of areas?

*****

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