Archive for the ‘crowdsourcing’ Category

Time for a new online encyclopedia?

Thursday, January 21st, 2010

Wikipedia is the fifth most visited web site in the world, and the most often cited example of crowdsourcing, but there is trouble in paradise. Created by Jimmy Donal Wales, and its army of users, some say that Wikipedia’s credibility issues are expanding along with it. Is it time for a new online encyclopedia?

Wikipedia has always had its critics, but the Britannica-lovers are getting more vocal of late. The problem is that Wikipedia’s volunteer editors are not increasing at the same rate as the articles, thus the quality of the content is under threat. Compounding this is the fact that the site is being very slow at introducing quality-control measures. Set up with a utopian vision, even a simple change such has having new user entries checked prior to publication is facing resistance because it is seen as being contrary to the wiki ethos.

The site may have reached a tipping point at which expansion reduces the quality of the product. This is a dangerous state of affairs, as once an encyclopedia has too many examples of errors it can rapidly lose the credibility on which it relies.

Right now there is also no clear way to measure who the good editors are, and it is not known how Wikipedia will attract the increase in editors that it needs. Furthermore, there is no way for a reader to assess the quality of an article when they land on the site. The site has crowd contribution, without using that crowd resource to make sure that the cream rises to the top. Should they Digg the site up a bit?

What interests me is that Wales thinks that Wikipeida’s dominance is safe because of its charitable status. He says of Google, “They don’t look at us and see a $1bn revenue opportunity they should be competing for.” I disagree: even though Google’s Knoll is only just over 100,000 articles I wouldn’t count them, or a new entrant, out of the game. Just because Wikipedia doesn’t monetize its eyeballs it does not mean a new company can’t. And if Wikipedia’s problems do expand, then expect a nimble competitor to come in and offer an alternative. One thing we can say for certain is that the top five sites is not going to be a static list over the next few years.

What do you think would make a Wikipedia killer? Have editors share in the AdSense revenue of the pages they edit?  Have an international network of universities create the encyclopedia in return for branding and revenue share?

Crowdsourcing is a BS Idea

Wednesday, January 20th, 2010

Every day I come across at least five new crowdsourcing tools or companies, and what always strikes me is how diverse they are. This crowdsourcing stuff is a phenomenon that is sweeping through many industries.

Today I enjoyed reading about the ways lawyers are now keeping tabs on each other by crowdsourcing information from within individual firms for industry-wide dissemination. Take a look at to see how colleagues are reporting on each other’s job moves from firm to firm in the hope of winning an i-Phone. Although it is not really about the prize: attorneys want to contribute so that this becomes a useful resource and they can keep an eye on who might be coming to join their firm. Junior lawyers can make sure that Scott H. Greenfield isn’t coming to take over their practice area and give them a hard time about trawling for clients on Facebook :-)

Over at Banco Sabadell they have launched BS Idea – a new platform to crowdsource employees’ ideas. It sounds like they have made some efforts to ensure that is more than just an online suggestion box:

  • People can vote on their colleague’s ideas, which creates a sense of competition
  • People can suggest new ideas without censorship. Apparently, somebody in the company classifies the ideas in 5 levels and 17 categories, deppending on how they can be used internally
  • People use the corporate intranet, so they don’t need to use a new login system
  • There is an electronic newsletter in which the best ideas are shared, together with some info on the ones that have been selected
  • Special requests for participation will be addressed by the company periodically so that employees increase the use of the tool related to a certain concern in the bank.

This type of bespoke corporate platform is getting easier and cheaper to set up. I wouldn’t be surprised to see the growth of private platforms take a big chunk out of the profits that the big social media platforms are targetting.

Amongst all the euphoria I always a good post about the challenges of the wiki world. The post by Gasellit is a good one because it provides practical advice on how to overcome the challenges of crowdsourcing.

New Management Paradigm Is Tribal

Tuesday, January 5th, 2010

Yesterday I got a bit ahead of myself by reviewing Seth Godin’s new book Linchpin without having read it. I did read the 60-page preview sent to European readers, but the fact that I think the book lacks some meat makes sense given that my American cousins are being treated to an extra 240 pages, so until we Euros get the full package let’s talk Tribes.

There are few books that will get the skeptic in me excited, and it seems even fewer as I get older, but in Tribes Godin did the trick! Of all his books it is the most relevant to my main area of interest – crowdsourcing. To put it in a nutshell this book inspires you to lead, not manage, and explains that by building a tribe you are creating more value than via a typical top-down approach.

It’s a book of ideas, including the one that you should believe in what you do, and try to create change around those beliefs. You do this by inciting a movement, and providing the structure that enables your tribe to communicate and advance your believe. These are what I consider to be some of the underlying principles behind building a solid crowdsourcing platform.

The book explains that technology, and the emergence of the social graph, are facilitating the conversion of groups into tribes, and making it easier than ever to be a leader. These tools are giving individuals more power than ever before, and there is a real opportunity for those who can reach a mindset where, ‘the safest thing you can do feels risky and the riskiest thing that you can do is play it safe’

Beyond the presentation of ideas, Godin goes on to give you practical advice on how to build a tribe:

  • Publish a manifesto
  • Make it easy for your followers to connect with you
  • Make it easy for your followers to connect with one another
  • Realize that money is not the point of a movement
  • Track your progress

He briefly discusses each, and goes on to explain the guiding principles of forming a tribe, but this is no nuts and bolts guide on how to become are leader. That is a problem for many senior managers – they  know that they gotta change, but they need more than a philosophy. I think that this is where platforms specifically set up to help companies and managers build tribes come into play. Of course, there are big ones like Twitter, but I think we will start to see company-specific technologies. I have a few ideas on this that I will flesh out in future posts.

So where do I stand on Godin’s Tribes? It’s an exciting, and inspiring read. Digest it and build a tribe of your own!

Actually, Crowdsourcing is Evil

Thursday, December 24th, 2009

(note: if you are reading the blog rather than RSS please excuse the design. There have been problems following the Worpress 2.9 upgrade, and I’ll get around to fixing them once Christmas 2009 is behind us.)

Following yesterday’s post about 102 misguided translators blaming crowdsourcing for their woes I have come across an article in the New Scientist with the headline, ‘The sinister powers of crowdsourcing.’ Unlike the translators this reporter actually has a point in noting that the effectiveness of crowdsourcing can also be applied to less alturistic activities than online encyclopedias and cause-driven movements. For example, law enforcement officials in Texas have installed a network of CCTV cameras to monitor key areas along that state’s 1900-kilometre-long border with Mexico. To help screen the footage, a website lets anyone log in to watch a live feed from a border camera and report suspicious activity.

Another example is a system called Internet Eyes, which pays online viewers to spot shoplifters from in-store camera feeds. It’s going to launch in the UK in 2010, and I look forward to being a vigilante for my local Boots pharmacy. A more disturbing application is an Iranian website which is offering rewards for identifying people in photos taken during protests over June’s elections.

The fact that the benefits of mass collaboration are being used by the forces of evil further evidences that their impact. That can only be a good thing.

Merry Christmas!

Crowdsourcing is Evil

Wednesday, December 23rd, 2009

crowdsourcing-translationSo say the 102 misguided translators who have signed up to the petition, “Professional Translators Against Crowdsourcing and Other Unethical Business Practices

According to their petition professional translators and interpreters all over the world have been expressing their concerns over the ethical problems posed by crowdsourcing and how this practice negatively impacts an already suffering industry.

Basically they are saying translation is a skilled task that requires training, whereas crowdsourcing bases itself on non-professional translation provided by people who are not qualified to translate in the first place. In particular, they take issue with Twitter and Facebook asking professional translators who use their sites to provide free online services.

As someone who has worked with translators and interpreters extensively I totally agree that these are highly skilled professions. You really do get what you pay for, and the top professionals can pretty much name their price. I know of a Japanese to English translator who works out of Australia for US$350,000 per annum. Having built up his credibility doing translations for banks in Japan he hopped on a plane to Aus to work freelance from Perth. It wouldn’t be my first choice of location if I could live anywhere, but there you go. I also remember that when we did financial press conferences there was one interpreter who charged $2,500 for an hour, which was around 30% greater than her peers. But we always tried to get her because she was so much smoother than the others.

Whilst I have great respect for translators I don’t see how they can seriously object to companies sourcing poor quality translations if that is what they are happy with. It’s not like someone posing as a doctor and messing up your heart by-pass when they cut into the wrong chamber in the heart.

But what is really going on here is that these crowdsourced translations are pretty good, and thus a serious competitive threat to translators. It’s one further example of the rise of the amateur and the effectiveness of crowdsourcing in certain situations.

Good translators should not be complaining. They should be looking at ways to remain competitive.

Making $470m with a Bunch of Comments

Friday, December 18th, 2009

yelp-googleBack in 2004 Yelp started a web site that listed local businesses, and encouraged people to contribute ratings and comments. Take a look at Pandora’s Jewelry store for an example of a page that is content-rich thanks to the crowd contribution. I have a ratings plug-in on some of my web sites, but what you need to make these things work is the critical mass because people need to see comments before they make comments. Reaching this tipping point is the secret sauce that converts a simple idea into a valuable web property.

Yelp had the benefit of $31m in venture funding to invest in developing a great interface and generating traffic, and now TechCruch is reporting that they may cash in to Google for $500m.  It’s not a bad return for the founders, who are former PayPal execs.

In an earliet post I reported how Google has started suffocating organic search results by pushing them down below the fold. A big part of this is the interactive local maps with ads popping out of them. If the Yelp acquisition goes ahead we can expect more of this. If you are an internet marketer targeting the long tail, then it might be time to start thinking about investing in an authority domain, or raising $31m for that great idea you have.

Right now you can make a few thousand bucks a month from information and affiliate sites, but my sense is that this is going to get harder and harder. With people accusing Demand Media and its eHow site of polluting the internet, then mini sites of lower quality will get taken down with it if there is a clean up.

I welcome your comments below – it’s my $470m strategy.

Paying for Peering

Friday, December 11th, 2009

paying-for-peeringCollective intelligence is touted as a rich resource that companies need to tap into in order to maximize profitability, but is it something they are willing to pay for? Not so far. Until the Fortune 500 start stumping up some serious cash to invest in crowdsourcing it will remain more of a buzzword than a phenomenon. Of course, we can point to Wikipedia, Goldcorp, Linux and others, but tapping the crowd as a strategy is far from widespread as a for-profit strategy despite having a few examples that make for interesting reading.

In the 2006 book Wikinomics, the authors outlined their belief that peering is optimal when three conditions are present:

  1. Object of production is information or culture, thus keeping cost of production low for contributors
  2. Tasks can be divided into small portions, thus making it easy to contribute
  3. “The costs of integrating those pieces into a finished end product, including the leadership and quality-control mechanisms, must be low”

I don’t agree with the third point. If we are going to move on from encyclopedias and logo competitions, then it is my opinion that the technologies designed to leverage all the benefits of crowdsourcing warrant sizable investment. If peer production of goods and services has half the potential that its advocates claim, then this investment will be well worth it.

It is time for companies to start paying for peering, and invest in a resource that is as untapped as Goldcorp’s assets used to be. I’m looking forward to 2010: with more and more companies, such as Chardoix, builidng platforms to help access the crowds we might finally get to see what we can do.

Meet Marketing’s Answer to Alain de Botton

Tuesday, December 8th, 2009
The Dome of Marketing

The Dome of Marketing

Seth Godin is the marketing man’s Alain de Botton. Almost daily he pops up with a short post that casts things in a new light, and energizes you to take on the established post-industrial machine. But by the end of the first morning meeting you have had the Godin knocked out of you, and are back to promoting butter with binikis. What is the solution?

Well luckily Godin is more than a blogger; he writes books that you can immerse yourself in. Books that give you the energy to try and do things differently for at least a week! Maybe things would be even better if de Botton would write a book on marketing, but for now Seth is Guru No.1 for many marketers (and even Scott H. Greenfield likes him!)

The next book due to hit our shelves is Linchpin, and it has already become notable because Godin is going to send a pre-release copy to the first 3,000 people who made a donation of at least $30 to the Acumen Fund. So now 3,000 of the readers who most want a copy of the book are going to fill the blogosphere with reviews before it hits the stand. Godin is bypassing the traditional critic gateway, and reaching consumers through 3,000 of his tribe. When the book launches in January expect a social media explosion.

(I’m getting a review copy myslef. If you want an honest review then check back in January.)

What is going on here is leveraging a crowd for marketing/promotion (crowdsourcing marketing). The problem is that you need a crowd to start with. Well if you don’t have one, then why not gather a crowd to make your product and promote it. There’s a case study of that here, that garnered three million You Tube videos from a standing start.

So there you are, even if you have no product, and no tribe, it is no excuse for not being able to reach three million people with your message. Just don’t let anyone knock the Godin out of you.

Yellow Tail Chardonay Naming Competition

Monday, December 7th, 2009

Yellow-Tail-Wants-You-to-Name-Its-New-ChardonnayAustralian wine company Yellow Tail is holding a contest to find a name for its newest make of chardonnay. You can submit your suggestion by December 9th, and if your name is selected then you win a free shipment of the new wine.

I see this as a PR stunt to generate publicity for a new wine, and as a marketing ploy to make customers feel involved in the brand. Stunts and ploys have their place in the marketing mix, but I don’t consider them crowdsourcing.

Crowdsourcing’s applications extend to complex software development, generating deep information resources, and more. It is a lot more than a naming competition.

This is being reported as a crowdsourcing initiative. Daily Finance notes, “Crowdsourcing is increasingly viewed by marketers as a way to involve consumers in new product launches and generate buzz.” I think that is what this is all about, not tapping into the masses because it is the most effective way to determine a new wine’s name.

My wine name suggestion is ‘Supermarket Special’

Bobby McFerrin Works the Crowd

Saturday, November 28th, 2009

OK so people can sing together in harmony, is this really exciting?

World Science Festival 2009: Bobby McFerrin Demonstrates the Power of the Pentatonic Scale from World Science Festival on Vimeo.

Well the interesting thing is the way the audience coordinate with minimal instruction, like a colony of ants. It’s a nice illustration of the crowdsourcing dynamic, and if you can get it singing as sweetly as this in your business then you are on to a winner. The lecture under discussion at the World Science Festival asked whether our response to music is hard-wired or culturally determined, but whichever it may be, what is hard-wired is our ability to work together to complete complex tasks.