Archive for the ‘crowdsourcing’ category

Web 2.D’0h! Roundup: Message Boards, Razume & Drew Carey, cont’d

8, August, 2008

The latest sweepings from the factory floor of Web 2.0. . .

The Roamin’ Forum

Not long ago I wrote about Twing, a search engine that plumbs message boards for what’s known as “deep content”–the stuff Brother Google and his ilk often miss or dismiss. Twing is a great way to find content you won’t find elsewhere. Some is valuable, some. . .not so much.

Which brings me to an excellent item this week on the Mashable blog, which surveys a group of message boards 2.0. My favorite of the bunch: Lefora, a hosted plug-and-play forum you can attach to just about any site to which you’d like to add talk-among-yourselves functionality. [I’ve kicked the tires on this one on behalf a client, but haven’t implemented it anywhere yet.]

There’s a simplicity to Lefora that I like. Many of the 2.0 message boards tack on features designed to make the board the center of a social community–live chat, blogs, etc. I’m skeptical that’s possible or wise. Still, most of the newcomers are a major upgrade in usability compared to the old-school forums we all knew in our callow youth.

Crowdsource Your Resume?

Speaking of callow youth, a D.C.-based incubator/very-early-stage funder of promising startups called Lauchbox Digital recently previewed an upcoming demo of nine companies in its portfolio. Of the bunch, my favorite is Razume, a service that essentially lets you use the wisdom-of-the-crowds to burnish your resume.

Here’s a snap of my comment on one of the resumes posted on the beta site:

Sure, I’m being tough on the kid, but I’m just trying to help. . . Speaking of professional, though, the site is a model of excellent usability. Should all startups come out of the gate so easy-on-the-brain and friction-free.

Are you sure there are no dumb questions?

I always get a kick out of seeing what keyword searches lead people to this blog. A recent one was “what dorm did drew carey live in at kent sState?”

Alas, the blog entry Brother Google sent the searcher to–the preposterously popular “Al Gore vs. Drew Carey: Another Nail-Biter”–doesn’t answer that question. The entry compares Al Gore’s Current TV left-leaning web video operation to comedian Drew Carey’s libertarian-cranky ReasonTV. [Gore wins by a nose.] Along the way, I confess to having been Drew Carey’s dormmate at Kent State.

But I try to answer all questions on this blog. So, for posterity: Leebrick Hall, 3rd floor.

And finally, our regular sighting of the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse ™:

BigThink, a site that presents brand-name thumbsuckers responding in four-minute videos to the kind of Big Questions that briefly entertain college freshman [at least on the 3rd floor of Leebrick Hall]. What is your personal philosophy? Is the American justice system fair?

Is there a more vivid illustration of medium-message mismatch anywhere online? Pull an all-nighter with a six-pack of Pabst and discuss.


Crowdsourcing Crime:

5, August, 2008

Geographic visualizations of crime data are already old hat. At least since 2005, when peerless journogeek Adrian Holovaty created, people have been mashing up public crime data with various maps to illustrate where, in a manner of speaking, the bodies are buried. [ has since been swept into Holovaty’s latest adventure,], a Baltimore startup launched last month, takes crime mashups to college, providing visual reports on incidents on over 100 college campuses. The picture is not always pretty. Here is a snapshot of the last six months of mischief that’s taken place at the University of Maryland at College Park, the school my son will be attending in the fall:

Looks like those crazy Terps have a blast on campus, doesn’t it?

Meanwhile, take a look at Brigham Young. Crime? Not so much.

The icons are kind of humorous (unless of course you’re the victim of one of the incidents). A spray can shows malicious destruction of property, a moneybag is theft, a fist a simple assault. Handcuffs show a successful collar. Users can choose to view all crimes or just, say, burglaries.

While the site is just launched, it promises to introduce a couple of social media features. It appears students can join a sort of digital neighborhood watch and report crimes. Users can “comment” on specific incidents or collaborate like junior crimesolvers.

Crowdsourced crime reports, “reviews” of certain incidents, collective responses to crime. . .Call me a worrywart, but if I were running this site I’d want to have a skilled moderator–and an even more skilled lawyer on retainer.

It’s worth noting that there’s nothing new to the information here. Campus newspapers always run crime reports. Local cop agencies make this material public. UCrime simply collects the information over time, tags it by type and connects the crimes with geography.

But it’s a good illustration of the power of even a very simple data visualization. The medium transforms a public datastream into a compelling story about a community and what goes on there.

Of course, that story is misleading. Three top-of-the-head reasons:

  • A compact campus with a given level of crime looks more crime-dense than a spread-out one.
  • The visualization does not take into account the size of a student body–“there’s no denominator,” as they say in applied stats class.
  • A quick glance makes it hard to distinguish a campus where there are dozens of open-container violations from one with a lot of gunpoint robberies.

In the end, perhaps the most valuable service is the one that lets students get alerts–via mobile phone, if they like–of crimes occurring within a specified chunk of geography. It’s good to know two kids just had their laptops taken form a certain dorm, for instance.

Of course, there’s nothing keeping a parent from signing up for this service too.

Yikes. What dorm is my kid staying in this fall again?

Crowdsourcing a Restaurant

28, July, 2008

Fascinating story in the Washington Post yesterday [I still get the Sunday “hard copy” of the newspaper] about a Washington, D.C. group that is crowdsourcing a new restaurant.

Web 2.know-it-alls may sniff at calling this project “crowdsourcing” at all. But it’s an effort to harvest the best ideas of a group of enthusiasts and build a restaurant based on all that group input. The article claims it’s the first use of the crowdsourcing technique to build a restaurant. [I did a Google search and by that undependable measure the claim appears to be true.]

Linda Welch, 49, a serial entrepreneur, had gathered 386 Elements community members who have, the article reports, “helped develop the concept (a sustainable vegetarian/raw foods restaurant), the look (a comfortable gathering space with an open kitchen), the logo (a bouquet of colorful leaves) and even the name [Elements].”

“Most businesses are started because you have a great idea, and you take it out to the public to see if they like it,” Welch is quoted in the Post story. “This is the opposite. We’re finding out what people want and doing it.”

As for the genesis: The article continues,

“The Elements project began in February 2007 when Welch [49], who owns area several businesses in the District, purchased the business and liquor licenses of nearby Sparky’s, a coffee shop that had closed. Welch has helped launch 22 startups but has no restaurant experience. She didn’t know exactly what she planned to do with the licenses, other than open a small cafe. Around that time, Neil Takemoto, 40, another local entrepreneur who had worked with Welch, stopped by to chat. When Welch told him about her plans, Takemoto suggested crowdsourcing the restaurant.

“‘I said, ‘Great!’ ” Welch remembers. ” ‘What the hell is that?’ ‘”

Takemoto runs a business, CoolTown Studios, that helps companies use crowdsourcing and other social media techniques to support community development.

Here’s a schematic illustrating the collective developement process from the site his company created to support Elements:

The Elements project is a fascinating attempt at a proof-of-concept using “wisdom of the crowds” to build a real-life, carbon-based business from the ground up.

It’ll also be interesting to see what happens now that the effort has been publicized beyond the core group of enthusiasts and supporters. Since the article has appeared, about 30 people have signed up.

What happens to the wisdom ofthe crowds–and the value of their advice–as the crowd expands? Crowdsourcing theory says things will get better, as greater collective intelligence is tapped.

We’ll see. I, for one, am looking forward to the opening, sometime next year. Process is good. Product is vital for a restaurant.

Which is to say: I sure hope the food’s good.

2.D’oh! Weekly Round-Up: Print ‘n’ Read!

7, June, 2008

Click to Print

A key moment in Web 2.0h. . .really? history: I’ve decided to include in my weekly round-ups one story worth actually printing out on paper to read.

Every once in a while, I find an in-depth article is too long and annoying to read on the screen. It may have more lasting value than even a bookmark allows. Occasionally–occasionally!–there’s a story worth going totally retro with. Hit print. Staple. Read in bed.

[I hereby promise to plant one tree each year to offset my increased forest-products footprint. ]

This week’s Print ‘n’ Read (sm) item:

A long-form interview with John Byrne, Business Week executive editor/ editor-in-chief. A former ink-in-the-arteries guy reborn in his 50s (!) as digital evangelist, he delivers haymakers to his web-averse colleagues and has very smart things to say about how journalism–even hard-core investigative work–can flourish in a digital world.

Favorite idea from the interview: Context, not content, is king.

The interview was conducted by Chris Roush for Talk Biz News. Print out the comments too–the BizWeek vs. Forbes flamewar is an idiot’s delight.

Crowdsourcing for Fun and Profit–But Mainly Fun

A new service called Name This invites companies to have random webbists suggest names for their business, product, idea, dog, etc.

A name-seeker pays $99 for 48 hours of worldwide cogitation. Winners gets $80, distributed among the top namer and “influencers” of the final selection. The remaining $19 goes to Kluster, the company behind Name This.

But Name This is only an adequate business name–clear but not much fun. It’s almost worth spending $99 to see if the system itself can beat its own name. MoniKernels? NameTag? Handler?

And Finally, Our Weekly Sighting of the Fifth Horseman of the Apocalypse ™

Disqus blog proposes an online Commenters’ Bill of Rights.

Wikipedia: Time to Pull the Plug

24, April, 2008

There are many good reasons to deplore Wikipedia, not the least of which is its authors’ cultish smuggery about the righteousness of their cause and the rightness of their content.

Of course there is also its internecine complexity of processes. The documentation tracing the petty bitchery about an entry is often longer than the entry that is produced. The international collectivist negotiation over matters of “fact” is beginning to remind me of the United Nations, but without the fancy New York headquarters.

A recent post by e-health blogger John Grohol left me steaming anew about the nature of the entire enterprise.

The piece details a series of exchanges between a Wikipedia editor and Gilles Frydman, head of the non-profit cancer support community ACOR. The issue was the collective’s refusal to permit links to health-related support groups.

The post includes only one side of the story, and that filtered through the articulate vitriol of Grohol. So I can’t vouch for the details of the exchange. But it is accurate that Wikipedia does not permit links to support groups. [See relevant policy excerpt at end of entry.] On reflection, this astonishes me:

1. Wikipedia is designed to harness the collective intelligence of many individuals, an example of the the classic web 2.0 “wisdom of the crowds.”

2. Online support forums are designed to harness the collective intelligence of many individuals, the classic web 2.0 “wisdom of the crowds.”

Wikipedia leverages the wisdom of the crowds one way. Online support forums do so another way. But Wikipedia won’t assign value to the other–in fact as a matter of policy it pointedly excludes it. Which is to say: The power of the many is a powerful force to disseminate knowledge–except when it’s not.

The hypocrisy is remarkable. To cite just one sad example: The Wikipedia entry on amyotrophic lateral sclerosis (Lou Gehrig/Stephen Hawking disease) is workmanlike. It includes references to mainstream groups like the ALS Foundation. It even includes, god help us, a link to that font of scientific dispassion, the Ride for Life.

But it is utterly silent on the powerful ALS community of PatientsLikeMe, an unusually ambitious patient (and provider) experience- and data-sharing site. To say it serves folks who need to know about ALS far better than Wikipedia–and that it offers a greater amount of authoritative current knowledge–is to understate.

Yet Wikipedia excludes it because it is an online support group, not because it is unworthy. Wikipedia has decided–for expedience? for ideological reasons? for self-interest?–to exclude information not on the merits of an individual source but due to its information class.

It’s a sort of info-bigotry, an attempt to exclude a minority deemed less worthy based entirely on class, not merits. And Wikipedia is itself part of a larger class, web 2.0, which itself suffers similar discrimination!

If we are to exclude one style of responsibly gathering collective wisdom, should we exclude them all? Or–here’s an idea–maybe we should judge individual sources on their merits.

The trouble is, so many people around the world link to Wikipedia, it rides at the top of nearly every topic search results page. This only increases its use and ubiquity, if not hegemony. Its decisions to include and exclude data are magnified across the information universe.

I’m wondering if it’s time for concerned web citizens to stop linking to Wikipedia. If this were to catch on, it would have the effect of diminishing its ubiquity, allowing it to recede to its proper role: a useful but limited, and often deeply flawed, source of information. Just like an online support group, only bigger, and with a chip on its shoulder.

I know, of course, that this is trying to sweep back the sea with a broom. To draw on that U.N. metaphor, maybe it’s time for a different kind of collective action: Wikipedia out of the web. The web out of Wikipedia.

See a continuing conversation about the role of social media in health at this recent post at The Health Care Blog.


[Wikipedia linking policy on support groups. Note the sniff of condescension implicit in the second paragraph. And note how the Awareness and Fundraising Events sections in its medical articles clearly violate this policy!:]

“Wikipedia’s external links policy and the specific guidelines for medicine-related articles do not permit the inclusion of external links to non-encyclopedic material, particularly including: patient support groups, personal experience/survivor stories, internet chat boards, e-mail discussion groups, recruiters for clinical trials, healthcare providers, fundraisers, or similar pages.

“Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, not an advertising opportunity or a support group for patients or their families. Please do not re-insert links that do not conform to the standard rules.”

The 2.D’oh! Round-Up: Crowdsourcing Dead Bloggers, etc.

11, April, 2008

Amazing, amusing and alarming observations from the world of Web 2.0

Miller Analogies Test Item of the Week

Twitter is to Blogging what Telegrams were to . . .

a.) FedEx

b.) Airmail

c.) e-mail

d.) Strip-o-Grams

If you’d read Ted Rheingold’s Web Journal (via TechMeme), you’d know the correct answer is b. At least according to Ted.

Let’s Crowdsource Dead Blogger No. 3!

Veteran newshacks know that in order for lifestyle journalists to legitimately proclaim a trend, they need to find at least three (3) examples of the thing in question.

Inexplicably, the New York Times slipped its blogging-yourself-to-death story into print with only two actual dead bodies at the keyboard. Oh, sure, they found a few people on the edge, and a had a bunch of expert commentary and all that. But still. [Truth told, we are beginning to suspect the Gray Lady broke a hip when she moved into that fancy new nursing home on 8th Avenue. She hasn’t seemed her old self since.]

But remember what they say in Journalism 2.0: The story is a process, not a finished product. So let’s crowdsource that dead-blogger story to find that missing example. There must be another stiff in jammies out there. Drawing on the power of distributed network reporting, we’ll find it.

Just use the comment field below.

But please notify the authorities first.

And finally, from the Are You Sure This Isn’t from The Onion? Dept.

Via The Smoking Gun:

Perez Hilton Calls Blogger A Defamer: Gossip kingpin sues online rival over published sex claims

Crowdsourcing, Like Wildfire

24, October, 2007

The current wildfires and mass evacuations in Southern California have spawned dozens of citizen journalism efforts. It’s a classic case where non-professional “reporters” in various places can create more and more compelling content than a single media group can. And it’s a classic case where big-media ignorance is standing in the way of a transformed public experience.

Here are some highlights on these user-generated efforts, which are moving as fast as the fires themselves.

That’s barely a surface scrub. There are also of course the major media CitJ solicitor/aggegations, like CNN’s iReports and Fox News’ uReport photos.

I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again: The CitJ/ProAm/UGC/whatever movement needs a single aggregator of the best UGC for a big news event so that people can have a single source to turn to–a kind of Citizen Journalism Big Story Surveillance Project ™.

This content could be curated or, perhaps, delivered via sly search algorithms.

But it won’t be done by Mainstream Media. Why? Too proud of their own content, too contemptuous of UGC quality, too unwilling to create pure curation positions, too tied to their efforts at monetizing their core audience’s UGC contributions instead of going out and finding the very best stuff no matter who solicited it, posted it or is trying to make money off of it.

Oddly enough, if any large medium that did create a disinterested but passionately curated, high-usability, real time aggregation of big-news UGC, it would really have something to monetize–and a powerful asset that could reposition itself in the new media landscape.

But I do believe that no matter who creates it, until there is a single, visible, branded aggregation of real-time and recent UGC, the possiblities of this new style of populist journalism will not be made clear to media users. Until it’s gathered and properly presented, this very good and important material will remain on the periphery of the public’s attention.

And speaking of crowdsourcing: Is anybody aware of a big UGC aggregation effort like this on the California fires? If so, leave a message here or drop me an e-mail.

Crowdsourcing African American History

28, September, 2007

The National Museum of African American History and Culture has launched a Web presence years before the museum itself will open its doors in Washington. The idea is, partly, to crowdsource black history.

Soliciting historical material from visitors to virtual museums is not new, but the content already, less than a week into the adventure, is quite powerful. Twenty-two items were posted as of this writing, some including wonderful family photos. Read I Thought They Were Going to Kill Us All,  a first-person report by Joey Robinson reflecting on a singular, tragic experience in Newark in 1967. This stuff passes the user-generated-content quality bar easily.

IBM donated the technology, and having a (relatively) strong tech partner has already paid off.

The main pages feature threadmaps that illustrate links between content contributions. The display on the home page isn’t very well-settled, but click to open up the map on an inside page for a fascinating way to engage with the stuff.

Threadmaps are familiar to information architecture geeks and 2.0 communitarians. But this is the most mainstream use of this technology I’ve seen. With few entries so far the map navigates well. We’ll see what happens when the social network builds and hundreds and thousands of content items pile up.

The public contribution effort, called Memory Book, asks people to geotag and date submissions for eventual display via maps and timelines.

One timeline is already in progress. I have no idea what you call the navigation scheme is uses. It combines a slider with two timelines, one static, full-span timeline from the 1600s to today and another detail-view timeline below. Both lines use transparent graphics to indicate volume of material available at each period. Once you click on a year or period, a text box below spools out details about each event. That’s a lousy description, so check it out yourself. Frankly the usability is not very good.

Saddest detail: All public contributions be vetted for, among other things,  content that incites racial or ethnic hatred.

Introducing: 2.O-phorisms

28, August, 2007

Today I’ve launched a new feature: 2.O-phorisms, a separate page of this blog that will be a gathering place for sharp one-liners that encapsulate key thoughts about building, using or living with the Web.

My inspiration came while writing yesterday’s entry, in which I cited this thought:

The challenge used to be getting the people to the content; now it’s a matter of getting the content to the people.

I have no idea who said it, but it strikes me as a wonderful phrase that captures a moment in Web evolution. I’m sure there are many others, and many better ones.

Have any to contribute? Please click on the 2.O-phorism tab above and add your own as comments. I’ll cut and paste them into the main entry, attributing them to you and in turn to whomever you got them from, so we’ll have one big list.

The rules:

Keep them short. I’d say one-liners only, but some will need two sentences or so.

They should be about building, using or living with the Web.

Please attribute whenever possible.

My hope is that we can crowdsource a list of inspirations, illuminations and provocations that will function as a kind of instant mini-course on Web life.

So leave a 2.O-phorism, and join the fun. I’ve started the list with two examples of unknown authorship.

Needed, Right Now, Today: Crowdsourced Fact-checking

7, August, 2007

After the bizarre press conference by Robert Murray, CEO of the company that owns half of the Utah mine where six miners are trapped, it became instantly clear to me how the tools of Web 2.0 could be harnessed for some sort of public good.

Murray charged an Associated Press reporter by name with inaccurate reporting of the mine disaster, inviting other reporters to ignore his coverage and turn exclusively to him, Murray, for “the truth.”

Rule of journalism No. 47: When the CEO of a company in a difficult situation says to listen only to him for “the truth,” run immediately to other sources to determine said truth.

I won’t get into the parsing of the facts here. My point is how much the world needs independent, 2.0-style collaboration to fact-check media controversies.

Murray’s charges create an ideal opportunity. Imagine a group of people, independent of the media and independent of commercial interests, willing to dig down and find out the facts about Murray’s charges (and the facts about the mine disaster itself). Did AP get it right, or were they indeed depending on the comments of union “lackeys” who “know nothing” about the situation, as Murray charged? [The entire press conference is priceless. I couldn’t find a link to the whole thing, which is destined to become a classic. Anybody out there have a link to the whole thing?] 

AP should, and will, defend itself. (As will Fox News, which also got spanked by Murray as an aside.) Neither had responded as of this writing. [Odd observation: Fox’s home page this afternoon included an item titled “Report: GI Journo Made Up Stories.”]

But those news organs cannot produce credible reports on their own actions. As I’ve written previously, the claims that MSM can cover itself are proof MSM is blind to its own limitations. Frankly, any MSM effort to determine whether Murray is right about AP’s reporting will be suspect.

For some background on crowdsourcing, a term coined in Wired magazine, see this Wikipedia entry on the topic. But since Wikipedia is itself a grand, some say deeply flawed, exercise in crowdsourcing, it may not be any more clear-eyed on this topic than AP is on its own mining coverage.  

What’s needed is a team of dispassionate footsoldiers who band together, with disinterested sponsorship and without the corporate and professional intellectual habits of MSM, to lay out the facts about who’s right and who’s wrong in a public dispute about the facts like this. This project would need to be established and, on a moment’s notice, be ready to jump into action. A sort of Code Blue truth squad. A sleeper cell of citizen fact-finders.

The tools exist. The need is here. The opportunity struck today.

It will be interesting to see if the culture of 2.0 is developed enough to produce a meaningful response.