Voting Twice: The Age of Wikipolitics

January 6th, 2010

Crowdsourcing is Profitable!

The Conservative government’s recent offer of a £1m prize to any software developer that can create a web platform to engage the public in the policy-making process has been held up as electioneering and form over substance. I consider that a bit harsh, but there are some problems with the proposal.

The idea is that this prize will come into effect once the Tories win the next election. That’s stumbling block number one, because you can never discount Mandy’s dark forces. But politics aside, I have an issue with this being partisan. A much better approach seems to be that taken by the USA’s Expert Labs where a non-profit independent entity has been set up to achieve three goals:

  1. We ask policy makers what questions they need answered to make better decisions.
  2. We help the technology community create the tools that will get those answers.
  3. We prompt the scientific & research communities to provide the answers that will make our country run better.

I think that this is a good template, and with proven performer Anil Dash appointed as Director it has a great chance of success.

My second issue is that whilst going out to the crowd to see who can produce the best platform is in line with the mass collaboration ethos I wonder whether it will inspire decent entries. I can’t see it generating the same sort of excitement, or wealthy backers, as launching a man into space:

The Ansari X Prize, a $10 million award for the first privately built, manned rocket ship to fly in space twice in a span of two weeks, captured the imagination of many engineers and high net worth individuals. Eventually it was won by a rocket funded by Microsoft founder Paul G. Allen that achieved the feat on the 47th anniversary of the Russian Sputnik, the first artificial satellite to be launched into space.

Also, the rules for winning Ansari were very clear cut, whereas judging crowdsourcing  platforms is far more subjective.

By the time the conservatives win the next election, if they do, then I am sure that this idea will already have been refined by the feedback they are getting now. And whether or not Cameron succeeds, the trend to wikipolitics in developed countries is clear. Individuals in democratic societies will be able to vote and contribute post-election.

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New Management Paradigm Is Tribal

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!

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Is Godin’s Linchpin any good?

January 4th, 2010

Seth Godin

[note: This review is based on the electronic excerpt that was distributed to international readers. Once I get a full physical copy it will be revised. The actual book is five times longer than the document I reviewed. i.e. this post can't fully answer the question in the title.]

Today marketing’s philosopher Seth Godin shipped his new book Linchpin, and it is quite a departure. Godin has always been one to rally the troops, but this reads more like a self-help book than sharp marketing analysis. As the author says, ‘My goal is to persuade you that there is an opportunity available to you, a chance to significantly change your life for the better.’ The basic premise of the book is that the post-industrial paradigm is totally broken, and this means we should stand up and change the way we behave in the workplace, whether as employees or entrepreneurs.

I feel like Godin is taking advantage of the fact that we are in a recession to make his point. Whilst he is correct in stating that job growth is flat and that we are in a negative wage cycle, he does not highlight the fact the economy is cyclical and we have seen this many times before. Instead he paints the current economic situation as evidence that in the face of competition and technology the Fortune 500 way of doing business no longer works. It’s a bit of a stretch if you ask me. When Charles Leadbeater estimates that crowdsourcing will disrupt 20 percent of the developed economies I think it is a more realistic assessment, and thus the other points in his book We-Think carry more weight.

But I can’t fault Godin’s motives as he just wants his readers to seize the opportunities that the current changes are creating. I’ll give him a pass for using that basic sales tactic of instilling fear to create a need. I don’t think you can go wrong by following his mantra, ‘The bargain is gone, and it’s not worth whining about and it’s not effective to complain. There’s a new bargain now, one that leverages talent and creativity and art more than it rewards obedience.”

The title of the book comes from the idea that it is the individual in the organization who collects, connects, and nurtures relationships who is indispensable. The author opines that these linchpins are the essential building blocks of tomorrow’s high-value organizations. Is there anything really new is stating the importance of relationships in business? I don’t see this as an insight – am I missing the point? If so please be linchpin-like, connect to me and let me know what I am missing.

When Godin states that ‘The only way to get what you’re worth is to stand out, to exert emotional labor, to be seen as indispensable, and to produce interactions that organizations and people care deeply about’ he is going back to ideas that he has put forward many times before. In his book Tribes he shared the lessons he learned at Spinnaker where at the age of 24 he got company-wide buy-in by publishing an internal newsletter reporting on how his products were progressing. I guess there is no harm making such a valuable point again, but for me it is another reason why I consider Linchpin a refresher for Godinites rather than something new they can sink their teeth into.

When I read “The law of linchpin leverage” I really felt like I was being drawn into Tony Robbins territory. The law states that “The more value you create in your job, the fewer clock minutes of labor you actually spend creating that value.” The point that Godin is trying to make is that in order to be a linchpin you only have to be a dynamic innovator for a small percentage of the total time you are working, but it may be misinterpreted as the idea that you can achieve more by doing less.

I agree with the premise that you need to be fearless, but not reckless, and I am fascinated by the idea that we are all artists. Godin writes, ‘You can be an artist who works with oil paints or marble, sure. But there are artists who work with numbers, business models, and customer conversations. Art is about intent and communication, not substances.” He defines art as a personal gift that changes the recipient, and I agree that thinking about our roles in this way is a great way to facilitate becoming linchpins.

Overall I think that this would be an exciting and inspiring book to readers unfamiliar with Godin, but for those that have read him before, then shame on you if you aren’t already following the advice in Linchpin!

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What do we think?

December 31st, 2009

Charles Leadbeater’s book We-Think (2008) didn’t really get me excited about crowdsourcing, but it did help me analyze it in a structured fashion. It’s a book that takes a look at large-scale, shared creativity, and examines why it is happening, how it works, and the long-term impact it may have. One thing that comes across clearly is that it is a well-researched book, and in the spirit of the open-source movement you can access the primary research via the writer’s web site.

Leadbeater starts out by taking us through what he considers the three essential ingredients of successful We-Think: participation, recognition and collaboration. The most important point he makes is that the mass of individual contributions need to be organized for any sort of productive output. In my opinion it is advances in the technologies that can structure and filter massive inputs that will truly advance crowdsourcing, and see it become a standard tool in many businesses.

In the next chapter ‘The roots of We-Think’ Leadbeater identifies the geek, the academic, the hippie and the peasant as the key groups that have formed the hybrid culture of We-Think. Whilst these might be the origins, I think the mix we have today has become radically more complex, as an entire generation from all backgrounds is taking mass collaboration in their stride.

Leadbeater’s view is that a good core around which a community can form is critical. He sees the crowdmanage process as one where smart individuals have a creative conversation and then invite others to contribute. It is difficult to disagree with his statement that groups ‘with larger sets of diverse tools and skills are at an advantage if they can combine effectively to take on complex tasks.’

At first I thought Leadbeater has it wrong when he says that ‘Blogging is high on participation, low on collaboration,’ but after reflection on the point I would have to agree. The sort of collaboration that leads to significant production does not often emerge from blogs. Leadbeater is explicit about the five conditions he considers necessary for advanced We-Think:

  1. A small core creates something and invites further discussion
  2. The project must motivate contributors/be exciting
  3. Tools should be distributed, experimentation cheap, and feedback fast
  4. Product should benefit from extensive peer review
  5. Tasks should be broken down into modules around which small teams can form, and there must be clear rules for fitting the modules together

These are excellent points to bear in mind for people developing crowdsourcing and crowdfunding platforms.

In his chapter “The We-Think Business” Leadbeater exposes the flaws in the standard management approach, and opines that wikinomics will change the way we work, consume, innovate, lead and own production. Well that would mean that it’s going to change just about everything, and I’d have to say he is spot on there. Later in the text Leadbeater is brave enough to quantify the impact of crowdsourcing, and estimates that it will disrupt 20 percent of the developed economies. That’s a bit of a thumb suck on his part, but it’s nice to see someone making a projection rather than talking in evangelistic general terms. He goes on to look at science, engineering and public service, and gives some specific examples of the direction that he thinks things are going in. I am very interested to see how participative consumption develops over the next few years.

The penultimate chapter “For Better or Worse?” examines the impact of this disruption on society. I found it stone cold boring, but I have to admit that it is important to consider these factors, and not just focus on the nuts and bolts of the changes that are taking place.

Overall this is a very thoughtful book that got me thinking on a deeper level about certain aspects of crowdsourcing. Rather than just talk about what is happening today, Leadbeater puts some brainpower into thinking about how the innovation process is changing, and the impact that will have on all aspects of society.

Have you read it? What did you think?

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Inside Sellaband.com

December 28th, 2009

In the below video I follow-up on last week’s post reporting on the poor performance of Public Enemy in raising cash via crowdsourcing platform sellaband.com. We take a look inside the web site to see what it does to encourage a community. I think that it could learn a trick or two from Facebook and LinkedIn, and that integrating with other social media platforms could also give it a boost.

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Is public policy crowdsourcing undemocratic?

December 26th, 2009

The US government is turning to crowdsourcing to shape its public policy via new independent initiative Expert Labs, which will develop a platform to tap into the expertise that sits outside the Federal Government. The Director of the new venture, Anil Dash, is a man with over 250,000 Twitter followers, and a blogger since 1999, so it’s fair to say he has a good handle on social media tools.

In his launch presentation below Dash notes that there are always going to be more experts outside the beltway, but falls short of saying that there is greater expertise. My view is that the main challenge for Expert Labs is going to be to create a platform that filters the volume of ideas into a meaningful flow for government to make use of.

Dash’s ambitious aim is that by leveraging the Expert Labs crowdsourcing platform, the magnitude of the issues that the US government successfully tackles will be increased. On the other hand, I imagine that critics of the approach contest that democracy is already a perfect example of crowdsourcing, and that since the crowd has cast its vote based on an election manifesto, having a second election of ideas is undemocratic. These concerns will need to be mitigated by the scope of the platform’s influence.

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Crowdsourcing Books

December 25th, 2009

Hope you are all having a great Christmas day. I didn’t get any books as gifts this year, which is unusual, but when it comes to crowdsourcing books I already have quite a few.

Over the coming weeks I will discuss some of the texts that have influenced my thinking, and look how the ideas they present tally with the real-life examples that are emerging.

I find that a lot of the books drag, and are a bit turgid. Also, the ‘case studies’ tend to lack sufficient detail to make them useful templates. That’s all for today – it’s time for the next round of turkey.

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Actually, Crowdsourcing is Evil

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!

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Crowdsourcing is Evil

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.

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Sellaband Ain’t Selling

December 21st, 2009

I went for my first video post today. Let me know what you think. I have see a few first video posts on blogs like Chef Patrick’s. In their fine tradition mine is a bit dodgy, but as with Patrick’s there should be a pick up in quality in future posts as I explore video-making further.

In the video I take a look at sellaband.com, and its  failure to crowdfund a Public Enemy album. We can’t blame SellaBand for the demise of aging rappers, but overall the site doesn’t exactly looks like it’s setting the world alight. I want to see crowdfunding platforms succeed big time, and in a future video I am going to take a look inside the members’ area of SellaBand and highlights some ways I think it could improve.

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