Wired Pursuits

Posts Tagged ‘social media

Leveraging the crowd for its artistic talents.

In the category of it’s “incredible what hundreds of people around the world who don’t know each other can collectively create,” artist Aaron Koblin leverages the power of the crowd to create an amazing crowdsourced video one frame at a time.

The Johnny Cash Project allows anyone to recreate, alter, or embellish a frame from the late Johnny Cash’s last video. Using Flash-based tools, individuals across the world add their unique mark to create a stunning and visually arresting video. From simple line art to more complex multi-textured renderings to words and symbols that flash across the screen, the video is transformed into a truly amazing piece of work.

How it works.

  • On the site, visitors can create their own renditions of a frame, explore others’ work, and even search by highest rated or most recent.
  • Using drawing tools built into the interface, visitors can render frames using a number of different styles such as pointillism, realistic, and abstract.
  • Visitors can also “vote up” individual frames to move them to the top of the stack for inclusion in the video.
  • Clicking on an individual frame shows you information on the artist and allows you to watch how the frame was created in either real time, 2x, or 3x speed. That is, you watch a replay of what the individual artist drew.

Illustrating our humanity through massive amounts of data.

Aaron Koblin believes that modern technology makes us more human and has a number of projects where he transforms massive amounts of data into visualizations that tell us something about ourselves. For more on Arron, check out his 2011 Ted Talk.

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Instead of turning to paid analysts, or internal experts some companies are using the crowd to help improve the accuracy of demand forecasts as well as better manage inventory and manufacturing capacity.

Predictive markets, often also referred to as information markets, aggregate the knowledge of the crowd to make predictions regarding unknown future events. By aggregating distributed knowledge the predictions of the crowd are often more accurate than when companies rely on only a handful of experts.

How do they work?

In prediction markets, individuals buy and sell “futures” or “shares” based on their beliefs regarding the probability of the event taking place. If they are correct, they are rewarded for their efforts. Because of U.S. laws related to online gambling, rewards often take the form of play money, gift certificates, or recognition within the market.

What is interesting about prediction markets is their structure creates incentives for individuals to act on their closely held information. Because rewards are tied to correct predictions, individuals in the crowd who have access to more information, which may aid in their understanding of the market, tend to buy more shares than those who are just guessing.

For example, Google uses over 300 internal prediction markets to assess events such as customer demand for new products (“How many Gmail users will there be on January 1, 2009?”), company and product performance (“When will the first Android phone hit the market?”), and competitor performance (“How many iPhones will Apple sell in the first year?”). In addition to new sources of predictions, Google has used these prediction markets to better understand and improve the flow of information within their company.

Do predictive markets work?

As with many new uses of the crowd, we have only scant evidence regarding the effectiveness of prediction markets. Best Buy reports internal prediction markets designed to predict holiday sales of gift cards were 99.5% accurate compared to a 95% accuracy rate from external consultants. Intel also reports success with their internal “forecasting markets.”

Faced with the difficult task of predicting demand of products requiring lead times of months or even quarters, Intel found their internal markets were at least as accurate as official figures and in some cases more accurate by 20% (i.e., 20% less error).

There is, however, evidence that outside factors can impact results of these markets. Some data suggests employees may be overly optimistic regarding company performance tending to artificially inflate positive results. For publically traded companies, stock performance can influence predictions upward or downward in line with the latest market swings. And finally, there are also numerous issues related to providing the right incentives for participation as well as obtaining executive buy-in for such initiatives.

Often the term crowdsourcing is associated with large groups of people contributing information or data (e.g., Wikipedia), with product innovation (e.g., Dell’s IdeaStorm), or with advertising (e.g., Doritos and Pepsi superbowl ad). But a number of companies are also leveraging the crowd to better serve customers and reduce those long wait times.

One area where the crowd is being leveraged is to supplement or even replace call centers. Because companies often struggle with issues related to ensuring operators have the right level of expertise to efficiently and effectively answer incoming questions, some researchers are suggesting that turning to active user communities as a source of expertise may be a more efficient and cost effective way of providing continuous and expert-level support. Active community members often represent the most knowledgeable customers and are likely already providing advice as part of their online activities. Even if only a small percent of calls can be re-directed to these über-users, it could result in substantial cost reductions and potentially more satisfied customers.

Companies such as HP, Microsoft, and AT&T are currently leveraging their user communities to supplements call center staff. In fact, Intuit reports a reduction in total support calls for TurboTax during tax season by 40%. Other companies such as giffgaff, a UK mobile phone operator, leverage their user community forums to handle 100% of their customer support issues, most within 5 minutes. In addition to leveraging their own communities, companies are working with intermediaries who connect them with other knowledge communities. For example, FixYa.com is an online service that “leases” access to knowledgeable crowds to help companies supplement their current customer support services. And Arise leverages 120,000 highly trained, home based independent contractors to provide high quality support resulting in a 25-30% cost savings relative to traditional brick-and-mortar call centers.

Of course, there are many potential issues with leveraging the crowd for customer service. How do you motivate über-users to act as on-call experts? How can you ensure that someone in the community can answer the question in a timely fashion, after all they don’t work for you? And what are the risks of having non-employees act in a capacity that suggests a company sanctioned response? Certainly these are difficult questions.

So the next time you call a customer service line, you might strike up a conversation and see who’s actually answering the phone.

I ran across this new saying at a panel discussion I was on regarding teaching with technology. Got me thinking. Has Google replaced thinking? Has Twitter replaced speaking?

I don’t think so. I think it’s more a comment on the impact the Internet and social media is having on our culture. Both positive and negative. We now have new ways of learning about new topics and verifying facts.

But with all the user generated content on the web, how do we ensure the accuracy of what we’re reading? Studies on Wikipedia have shown it is as accurate as the Encyclopedia Britannica. But what about other sources? Do sites referenced by a Google search provide us with accurate information?

There used to also be another saying, “If it’s printed in the newspaper it must be true.” Is society transferring that (potentially unknowingly) to the Internet?

No, I don’t mean crowdsourcing is “for the birds,” as in worthless. I literally mean crowdsourcing for birds. Here’s an interesting application of turning to the crowd to generate data – bird data.

Cornell Lab of Ornithology and the National Audubon Society have joined together to leverage the collective productivity of the crowd to accomplish a task they would never be able to do on their own. They have created the online site eBird.org.

eBird enlists the help of bird watchers across North America to collect and document the presence of specific bird species. Using the eBird site, birders can report sightings and access the latest data on bird populations across the western hemisphere.

By leveraging the interests of the crowd and providing the ability for them to easily contribute to a shared cause, site sponsors are now able to accurately track bird populations more quickly and economically than they could with in-house staff. In 2006, more than 4.3 million observations were submitted by bird watchers across the country.

Interestingly, the site doesn’t have any collaborative tools where birders can talk to each other, but it doesn’t appear to need them to generate a sense of community.

If you know of other sites that leverage the crowd to collect data, please let me know.

Just watched a commercial for Domino’s pizza that made think about the impact of social media and online consumer comments on corporations. The commercial went something like this:

  • Domino’s holds an old fashioned, face-to-face, videotaped focus group.
  • A number of individuals in the focus group express their displeasure at Domino’s pizza – they basically say it sucks.
  • Domino’s reworks their entire pizza to address customer issues.
  • They go back to each person in the focus group (supposedly surprising them) and ask them their opinion of the new Domino’s pizza.

What’s interesting is that the commercial highlights the fact that Domino’s is responding to consumer criticism. Domino’s is making sure that everyone knows they are responsive. In fact, they have a whole site dedicated to their “Pizza Turnaround Documentary.

Years ago (prior to online social media) corporations would have just made the change and come out with a “new and improved” campaign.  I believe this new, “I’m listening” approach is a product of the new social world and the power that online social technology affords consumers.

Sure consumers have let their views be known to corporations and friends before, but nothing has been as powerful as the Internet for letting others know what you think. Corporations are recognizing that airing your dirty laundry is good for credibility and business.

Kudos to Domino’s for listening. And, kudos to social media for making them.

Title: Enterprise 2.0: New Collaborative Tools for your Organization’s Toughest Challenges

Author: Andrew McAfee (not the security guy)

Pub Date: 2009, Harvard Business Press

This is not another “2.0” fluff book. McAfee’s book is a great overview of the changing competitive landscape and the role Web 2.0 tools can play in helping enterprises stay competitive. How? Mostly by helping enterprises become more innovative within and outside their corporate walls.

Corporations can no longer rely on inside R&D and product development teams as the only means of innovation. Instead, if they want to remain competitive, they must reach out to employees throughout the enterprise, as well as vendors, customers, and even competitors. McAfee believes (and I agree) that enterprises who use new collaborative Web 2.0 tools to facilitate innovation inside and outside their enterprises will be more successful than those who don’t.

Using real examples along with current research findings McAfee outlines the potential and benefits of Web 2.0 tools for innovation within large and small enterprises.

Some tidbits:

  • “Enterprise 2.0…allows good new business ideas to emerge from anywhere and spread organically, rather than being developed at the center and imposed from the top down.”
  • “I have yet to come across any true horror stories – scenarios that make me question whether the risks associated with deploying [Web 2.0 tools] actually do outweigh the benefits.”
  • “I do not advocate that decision makers should ask for quantitative ROI analyses, either before approving and Enterprise 2.0 effort or to assess its progress.” A controversial statement to be sure, but McAfee makes a compelling argument for this stance.

Best piece of advice:

“Enterprise 2.0 is about abandoning the assumption that unilateral control is the best way to achieve desired outcomes, and instead trusting in people’s ability to interact productively without constant supervision from above.”

Want to hear more?

You can keep up with McAfee here:


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