Emerging Trends in Crowd Sourcing

You may have heard of the Netflix competition to improve the level of its predictions.  The DVD-rental company offered $1 million as well as continued ownership of intellectual property to anyone who could boost the accuracy of its predictions by 10%.  These winner-take-all races seem to fit in well with another 21st-century trend—crowdsourcing, or seeking help from others (often for no compensation) via the Internet. Indeed, many of the teams in the Netflix competition, including BellKor's Pragmatic Chaos, depended on such far-flung collaboration as teams came from different countries.

According to Wikipedia, “Crowdsourcing refers to the act of taking a task traditionally performed by an employee or contractor, and outsourcing it to an undefined, generally large group of people or community in the form of an open call. The term has become popular with business authors and journalists as shorthand for the trend of leveraging the mass collaboration enabled by Web 2.0 technologies to achieve business goals.

A recent Business Week article argues that crowdsourcing will expand and that its impact on traditional businesses marketing, design and advertising needs to be clearly understood.  Some analysts, meanwhile, have predicted this practice of opening up a task to the public instead of keeping it in-house or using a contractor will be the demise of those businesses because of the downward pressure on prices. If LG crowdsources a new cell phone design on CrowdSpring for $20,000, as it did recently, what happens to the old model of paying a design firm millions of dollars for the same project?

The author expects communities and marketplaces to evolve further, supplying a more efficient and creative way for companies to engage with and harness the crowd for help. The increasing complexity of problems has also caused a rise in mass collaboration. Customers, of course, are increasingly demanding participation. They expect the ability to co-create and lead innovation, and their volubility has forced companies to devise creative solutions to be competitive in a new bottom-up age.  Challenges include managing submissions in line with business objectives and compensating people fairly for their ideas and how it will affect businesses such as design, marketing and advertising.

L’Aquila G8 Meeting and Climate Change

Earlier in the year, I blogged about Climate change, so the G8 meeting last week in Italy gives me an opportunity for some updates, but I should add that these remain rather disappointing. 

Last week, G8 leaders made an agreement that sounds great – by 2050, they’ll cut the number of worldwide greenhouse gas emissions by half. It’s an improvement to Kyoto Protocol, at least, but it does not set short term objectives which limits its impact.  The statement on climate change approved by summit participants also includes a promise of an 80 percent reduction in carbon emissions by the world's richest countries, however, developing nations, including China and India, were quick to criticize the accord, insisting that the G8 cut their emissions by more.  The G8 declaration leaves it to individual nations to decide their emission baseline and the G8 countries also could not agree on a pledge to help fund poorer countries moves toward cleaner energy.

G8 leaders also agreed to restrict global temperature rises to no more than 2 degrees (Celsius) above pre-industrial levels – which had long been resisted by the US.  But the G8’s consensus is hardly airtight – it’s not yet legally binding, and no one has thought of a good way for rich and poor nations to share the burden.

The world leaders said they were determined to reach a comprehensive deal at a United Nations summit in Copenhagen this December, to reach agreement on a successor treaty to the Kyoto protocol, which expires in 2012.  Despite promises from G8 leaders on climate change, concerns were raised that other countries invited to attend the summit would not commit to some of the provisions.

The Role of Social Networks in the Coverage of Michael Jackson’s death and Events in Iran

Two events over the past 10 days have been announced and developed on social networks before traditional media.  Just last Thursday, the announcement of Jackson death blocked Google research access for queries related to Michal Johnson.  TMZ which broke the story had several outages, and Twitter crashed, and Widipedia seemed to be in temporarily overload.  One of the reasons is that it was a daytime event when people were using their cell phones at work to download the news.  While the scale of the response may be unprecedented, the pattern was not:  News search, reaction, tributes. 

The other major event that was mostly tracked through Twitter was the events in Iran.  A recent article in the NY Times analyzes the advantages and limits of Twitter in this situation.  I am including below some excerpts of this really interesting article.  “Twitter did prove to be a crucial tool in the cat-and-mouse game between the opposition and the government over enlisting world opinion. As the Iranian government restricted journalists’ access to events, the protesters have used Twitter’s agile communication system to direct the public and journalists alike to video, photographs and written material related to the protests.

1. Twitter Is a Tool and Thus Difficult to Censor:  Twitter aspires to be something different from social-networking sites like Facebook or MySpace: rather than being a vast self-contained world centered on one Web site, Twitter dreams of being a tool that people can use to communicate with each other from a multitude of locations, like e-mail. You do not have to visit the home site to send a message, or tweet. Tweets can originate from text-messaging on a cellphone or even blogging software. 

2. Tweets Are Generally Banal, but Watch Out: “Tweets by their nature seem trivial, with little that is original or menacing. Even Twitter accounts seen as promoting the protest movement in Iran are largely a series of links to photographs hosted on other sites or brief updates on strategy. Each update may not be important. Collectively, however, the tweets can create a personality or environment that reflects the emotions of the moment and helps drive opinion.

3. Buyer Beware:  Nothing on Twitter has been verified. While users can learn from experience to trust a certain Twitter account, it is still a matter of trust. And just as Twitter has helped get out first-hand reports from Tehran, it has also spread inaccurate information, perhaps even disinformation.

4. Watch Your Back: Not only is it hard to be sure that what appears on Twitter is accurate, but some Twitterers may even be trying to trick you. Like Rick’s Café, Twitter is thick with discussion of who is really an informant or agent provocateur. Government agents have created some accounts to mislead the public.

 5. Twitter Is Self-Correcting but a Misleading Gauge:  Twitter is a community, with leaders and cliques. Of course, Twitter is a certain kind of community — technology-loving, generally affluent and Western-tilting. In that way, Twitter is a very poor tool for judging popular sentiment in Iran and trying to assess who won the presidential election. “

6. Twitter Can Be a Potent Tool for Media Criticism:  Just as Twitter can rally protesters against governments, its broadcast ability can rally them quickly and efficiently against news outlets. One such spontaneous protest called out CNN last weekend for failing to have comprehensive coverage of the Iranian protests. This was quickly converted to an e-mail writing campaign. CNN was forced to defend its coverage in print and online.”



Other Social Networking Websites

Beyond Facebook, Myspace and twitter, ATT.net had on its front page this week a list of some social networking websites I had never heard of. These show the potential of networking on basically any topic of interest: work, sports, art, books, support groups, generation issues.

SportSymphony – www.sportsymphony.com    Sport Symphony is sports social network intended for amateur and recreational athletes. It allows members to upload and share sports video and images, helps teams find members and members to find teams, assists coordinators with the organization of sporting events, and enables recreational centers to promote and manage sports leagues.
Virb – www.virb.com/  Viirb is an artistic network that proclaims itself to be a community where its members can contribute photo and video media portfolios. Virb allows members to share their interests in a simple online format.

Meetup – www.meetup.com  From Bar-Hoppers in Atlanta to the Web Content Mavens in Washington DC, Meetup has created a place where local groups of any kind can organize face-to-face "meetups."

Eons – www.eons.com   Eons is an online community targeting baby boomers. It offers games, photo and video sharing, groups, forums, and health and fitness information specifically targeting the needs of baby boomers.

LibraryThing – www.librarything.com A site for book lovers, LibraryThing is an online book club that allows you to catalog your books while connecting you with other readers based on similar book prefrences.
Yammer – www.yammer.com Yammer is a corporate social network and productivity tool that allows members to connect and share with people within their company or organization.

Epernicus – www.epernicus.comEpernicus is a professional networking site for research scientists. It allows researchers all over the world to connect and expand their network to help make advancements in their research.

Disaboom – www.disaboom.com Disaboom connects individuals living with disabilities or those caring for someone with disabilities. This support network offers articles, blogs, forums, and health information on a range of disabilities.

CafeMom – www.cafemom.com CafeMom is a social network for moms and moms-to-be. It is a support network connecting experienced and new moms offering advice, how-to articles, and anything that you may need to know about being a mom.

Happy social networking!

VC Investments in Cleantech remain Strong

Well, this is my first time on this blog.  I have worked with Bill for 10 years in IBM where  he writes one of the most successful internal blogs and I was really excited when he authorized me to participate in this blog.  Among emerging trends and opportunities, I am thinking of focusing on Cleantech for a couple reasons.  Beyond my personal interest, this is an opportunity that I can discuss in any job interviews I hope to get over the next few months…  Whether it is hype or reality, people and companies always show interest and understand at least some aspects of it.  VC investments are a good benchmark to measure the potential of emerging technologies.

According to  PWCC / Reuters / National Venture Capital Association data, VC investment cuts were notable in 2008 (-8% in volume, -4% in deal volume) - this was the first year since 2003 that total investments slowed.  The brightest spot was investment in clean energy technologies which increased 52% to $4.1B.  Seven of the 10 largest deals for the year were in this area.  By contrast investments in  Software companies fell 10% and life sciences startups 15%, even though biotech and medical device startups were the top investment sector for 2008. 

Cleantech investment focus is on solar energy and photovoltaic companies which received $1.8B in 2008.  Startups that make energy from other sources, including ethanol and nuclear energy were next, getting $561M or 14% of the total.  Other major investments benefitted companies that recycle chemicals and battery startups. 

A little European pride to finish — Deloitte 2008 Global VC Survey shows that Europe is emerging as a new leader behind the US for Life Sciences and Cleantech — led by Germany and the UK.  Will have to find out where France stands…