iCrowd – Unraveling the power of crowd in the web world

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I must begin with a confession. I am a terrible Apple fanatic. So any resemblance in the title here is not a mere coincidence. But I assure you, the resemblance stops here. This is a concept – one that can perhaps be described as a concoction of a multitude of concepts that have already been floating around. Through the posts that follow, you will find me elaborating more on every one of those concepts to unearth a common theme across them – the crowd. Over the past five years, as social media and networking have started to mushroom around the web world, with smartphones and tablets becoming a common man’s gadget, several companies have started to make use of the data that is updated by users around the globe. And indeed many of the entrepreneurs and thinkers of this era have started to find correlations amongst these efforts. And along came several concepts, those which have gradually started to become an everyday term. Among them, Collaborative Consumption coined by Rachel Botsman , Crowd Sourcing coined by Jeff Howe of the Wired Magazine and Cognitive Surplus by Clay Shirky have grown significantly, in parallel.

While each of these talk about the influence of crowd in the functioning of the today’s world, analyzing and categorizing companies and organizations among various buckets, each have their own distinction. They portray a very specific aspect of the crowd and collectively they can encompass the iCrowd, in its entirety. Collaborative consumption talks about the idea of sharing what you have with a stranger, through a common platform for sharing, that is built upon trust. The product that is shared can vary with an organization that lay forth the platform. Airbnb, Taskbunny, A Spare to Share are all examples of this sharing. Rachel Botsman through her ground breaking talk at TED and her book What’s mine is yours , laid the foundation to this categorization of sharing, into buckets based on services .

Crowd Sourcing, coined back in 2005, talks about the idea of converting user input data into useful information, in the form of trend or recommendations or even just a single point of data depicting the state based on the data gathered from the “crowd”. I have spoken extensively about Crowd Sourcing and have tried to classify them into some reasonable buckets. SkyMotion, Waze, Minutely are all applications that have presented information from a large repository of user input data. There are then the amazon recommendations providing you with a list of products that “other customers” looked at, after viewing a particular product, in which case the input is user data collected passively. We will look into both these situations and how they play a part in the information transfer.

Cognitive Surplus is a more recent term, yet to be defined exhaustively. Clay Shirky describes it as a form of constructively making use of an individual’s free time towards a particular goal. Add in the crowd dimension and you now have an “organization without an organization”. Wikipedia is perhaps the best example of this “revolution”. Although Wikipedia has been around for quite sometime, identifying the concept that made it a huge online encyclopedia was as recent as 2009. As more and more efforts start getting categorized under this umbrella, cognitive surplus can be yet another powerful concept making use of the power of crowd.

In the coming weeks, I will hoop through each of them in more detail, pointing out examples that illustrate the common link and the distinctions.

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CrowdSourcing Classified

The term crowd sourcing is rather generic in its own ways. Although coined for a specific function, it soon grew into being a broad term interpreted differently by every organization that has crossed its path. Therefore it might be essential to classify the different aspects of crowdsourcing and identify buckets of projects/organizations that can be put under each. Here is a small effort towards one such classification. Wikipedia in its own way has a different interpretation for the same.

Open Democracy: or Crowdvoting as Wikipedia calls it.
Ever since life began, democracy has been prevalent . Taking that to product design can hence be just an afterthought. Several organizations across the iGlobe has successfully used this method to better understand the consumer needs and interests.

Lego CUUSO is one such. Termed as “just a normal way of doing things” in today’s generation, Lego was able to create the famous Lego MineCraft using power of the crowd.

ThreadLess – an online shirt design company – is yet another, taking advantage of the crowd.

In a perfect world, the underlying principles for all such organizations are the same. Users submit a product design, which is then put up for voting. When the voting number reaches a particular threshold, the product is formalized and staged. Of course the user who submitted the design gets a share of the royalty.

Data Sourcing:
Skymotion and Waze are perhaps the best examples for this. Obtaining the wealth of the data provided by users to portray information. I spoke about Waze and Skymotion in my previous post.

In fact, Wikipedia, can also be viewed as one such entity leveraging the power of the crowd.

Now, the means of providing the information can be direct or indirect. In all the cases above, the information was provided by the users, consciously and hence can be termed as direct. Take the example of Google’s Flu Prediction . The trend has been graphically represented using the search terms related to flu that people search across different parts of United States. In this case, information is gathered passively and hence can be classified as indirect.

Open Sourcing:
Although this term has been in existence since the early 1960s, I feel it could now fall under the umbrella of crowd sourcing. Essentially the development of the product or the software was done by the masses. The ever so popular Linux is perhaps the best example for this.

CrowdFunding or Micropatrionage:
This is one of those which has been less prevalent, but you do see pockets of such organizations cropping up all around the iGlobe. The idea again, follows along the same lines – use crowd to fund projects. Although it can be revolutionary, it does come with a pinch of salt. Whenever an individual is expected to “invest” money, however small it is, there is a sense of ownership that gets built around it. It is for this same reason that the Crowd Funding Exemption Movement was set up to successfully lobby the JOBS Act

KickStarter is one such companies, which has been rather successful in funding projects and startups through small deposits collected through their website. Most prevalent in film community for the making of independent films, for channels such as Sundance , KickStarter has been successful in harnessing the power of crowd to fund a large number of undertakings.

While examples can be drawn from all aspects of the web world, I’m hoping these broad classifications can be a good start to better define crowd sourcing. Let me know your thoughts.

Next up: Why do organizations move towards Crowd Sourcing?

While you wait, let me leave you with this interesting video on crowdsourcing.

The art of crowdsourcing

Crowd Source

With the emergence of social networking as a formidable force in this Internet era, taking advantage of its powers in fields other than just entertainment was only an obvious consequence. The word crowdsourcing first emerged back in 2005, coined by the editors of Wired Magazine. Jeff Howe from wired magazine defines it as the act of a company or institution taking a function once performed by employees and outsourcing it to an undefined (and generally large) network of people in the form of an open call. This can take the form of peer-production (when the job is performed collaboratively), but is also often undertaken by sole individuals. The crucial prerequisite is the use of the open call format and the large network of potential laborers.

It is the ability to harness the data exchanged by the population aka “the crowd”, and use them to produce information useful for the same crowd. Jeff Howe went on to become a proponent in this field, citing examples from all around the Internet Globe (the iGlobe, as I would call it) on how the power of the masses can be strategically taken advantage of. Sometime back, I happened to mention about one of those terms which has been gaining popularity, viz Collaborative Consumption . Crowd sourcing can be viewed as a subset of this idea.

Perhaps one of the biggest in the industry to take advantage of this was Waze . With its data being fed in by the millions of drivers on the road, it started to become a powerful navigation system, often even claimed to have been surpassing the giants such as google maps and apple maps . But as has been the common norm amongst the technology industry, it too got acquired for a huge price by one of those giants.

But that was only the beginning. Along came Sky Motion in a different field – the weather! Forecasting weather has always had its degree of unpredictability. The intensity of the weather conditions have been known to be inaccurate often times. What if you have a real time update from a person who is actually in the middle of it? That is exactly what Sky Motion has tried to do. Although not as widely accepted yet, just as in the case of Waze it does have the potential to turn into something big. Now they are not the only ones that have imbibed this idea in weather. Weddar is another one such company. So now we have a healthy competition!

As weather and traffic seemed to have started to see the useful side of crowdsourcing, Im sure many more would follow. What was ones the supreme power of the ancient civilizations, the society, could soon turn into the superpower in the Internet Civilization!