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.

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!

Crazy little thing called “glass”

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The hype has been immense. Wearable gadgets have slowly started to turn into the new fashion statement. Soon carrying a smartphone in your pocket might no longer be enough for a common man!

In fact, the idea of a wearable gadget started long ago when Pranav Mistry introduced his concept back in 2009. For those who haven’t had a chance to watch the presentation, it sure is a must see.

It soon started to evolve. Although not quite in the way Pranav had envisioned yet, we started to see and hear rumors about multiple flavors of what can be classified as a wearable gadget. Soon bands such as the Jawbone Up and Nike Fuelband started to crop up, gaining a significant market share amongst the exercising consumer community. So did the rumors of smart watches .

And then came the Google Glass . Ever since the revolution of the search, Google has been trying to play the game of catch up, right from its gmail service, through android and smartphones to social networking. And finally, they seemed to have found a product line that could possibly be called unique! Built on its ever evolving Android platform, it does provide a possibility of a rather near-seamless integration with the smartphones, while in “transition”. And on April 27th 2013, they quietly released the source code to developers.

Needless to say, the plethora of applications that ran on smartphones, started to send out rumors of their “glass” versions. Twitter perhaps was one of the first to jump onto the band wagon with NY Times in a close second. There was then the announcement of apps such as Evernote, Skitch and Path which google demo-ed at the SXSW 2013 .

The possibilities are limitless. And perhaps one day the eyeglass industry would be transformed as much as the watch industry would soon be. In the meantime, let me leave you with Tim Stevens as he chronicles his days with the Google Glass!

Reading books – a new cost model

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The news at Gizmodo today morning, got me thinking, why do I pay for books I don’t read beyond a few pages! The latest victim was, The Last Templars, by Raymond Khoury – a book which showed an amazing promise in the beginning, with its fast pace and history, but slowly managed to drag into religion and philosophy, making me drop it right then. I almost regretted buying it. It was Amazon 1-click that has emerged as the primary culprit for such impulse buys. It has also become a common dilemma around the globe, not just for ebooks, but printed copies as well. There are two problems that I see here – what do I do with a book that I do not wish to keep after reading, and what do I do, if I do not wish to read a book completely.

I was rather amused a few months back, when I was browsing through the books at the Paradies Shop in St. Louis Airport. I picked up a book and walked over to the counter to pay for it. At the end of the whole transaction, I was given a slip which said that I could return the book after reading, to any of the listed bookstores and get 50% money back. Read and Return , they called it. So when I read about Total BooX and their concept of pay-as-you-go, it did sound intriguing. Atleast it did prompt to jump into the band wagon, and register for updates. I must admit the screenshots look rather impressive. And with the statistics that have been put forth, I must say a person like my father who loves keeping track of things, he would jump on to such a opportunity. Now how much would a page cost? That’s something we will have to wait an watch.

There is another school of thought, which advocates making eBooks free, with adwords and advertisements making up for the cost and any additional profit you expect out of it. Now finding the right balance for that would be an interesting economic problem.

Renting has been another aspect in the world of books. How can that be translated into eBooks, poses the other interesting challenge. Amazon lending Library has found quite an impressive success ever since the launch. But the fact that it is limited to kindle owners hinders its growth to an extend, although I’m sure one of these days it will make its way to the Kindle App as well. And then along came Overdrive , with an attempt to resurrect the ailing hard copy lending libraries. Its concepts such as waiting for a book to be available at the library, and automatically returning the books after the specified due date, has made it almost close to the lending library around the corner that we all are used to. But there is certainly room for growth and innovations. Combining the concepts of Collaborative Consumption along with the revolution of the social media, peer-to-peer lending of ebooks is still an untapped avenue.

Let me know what you guys think.

Second life – Is it ailing?

It was back in 2006-2007 when Second Life started to get a lot of media traction. I, at one time being a self proclaimed addict of Multi User Dungeaon , immediately jumped in to give this a shot. The concept was promising. Although it ran like a snail on my iBook G4 back then, I still continued to drag my way through the world, exporing cities and social life within. But it was only a matter of time before I decided to abandon it, simple due to the performance issue on my antique system.

Then I heard companies started to “buy” land within the Second Life to setup their own Silicon Valley. Startups found Second Life as a launchpad for their ventures . Educational Institutions started to operate and offer courses within this “virtual reality”. Linden dollars as the currency was known within this virtual world, had its own exchange rates with real world money. The concept started to grow like an epidemic. It was amazing, at the same time scary.

And then the hype started to die down. Along with the technical glitches that challenged its progress, regulators (in all spheres of life) started to see potential loop holes that needed to be fixed. Crime, Sex and Gambling became easy alternatives to make quick money. Then I heard 30% of its staff were let go . And slowly it started to disappear from the face of the earth.

Mitch Wagner wrote in computer world back in 2010 – “I use Facebook and LinkedIn to connect with people I already know, and I can occasionally meet new people through Twitter, but Second Life is unparalleled as a way to make new friends and meet people through your computer”.

And its user popularity started to die down . But all is not lost says Linden Lab CEO Rod Humble – “This year the focus is adding more life to the world – artificial life, things like path-finding which hadn’t existed before – and then enabling a suite of tools that will allow people to make things like their own massively multiplayer role-playing game.”

In the words of Rob Humble – “For me, generally, our [business] is shared creative spaces; that’s generally what the company does, but also the weirder the better, I think. If we had a motto, that would be it”.

With a better UI (web based), a more regulated environment and more educational institutions and companies starting to move their “webex” sessions to a “real” second world session, things will start to improve.

And it won’t be long before I take my plunge back in. I’m sure it wouldn’t be as hard to get the world back on its feet.

Think Geek item of the week

Back in the days when phones were a luxury, I remember holding my hand against my ear and mouth to mime a phone call. Little did I realise that think geek would actually make that concept a reality.

Wallaby solves one of those financial dilemmas!

If you are someone like me, I’m sure you must have faced a situation where you took out your wallet at a restaurant and started to gaze at all your credit cards wondering which one to choose in order to gain the maximum rewards. Well, now the answer to this problem is just a click away – Wallaby ! Currently launched just on the iPhone as a free app, wallaby lets you add you credit cards to scrape through their rewards and benefits every time you search for a location. Before you panic, I must say, it does not require you to give out your entire card number. All it needs it the first 6 digits of your card, which uniquely identifies the bank and their list of credit cards. You can then save the ones you own. What that means is, wallaby just mines the rewards programs from each of those cards, which usually stays the same across any user. So the next time you go to a restaurant, all you have to do is to just launch the app and it will tell you based on your location, which one of those cards to pick to pay. Quite a novel idea!

Coached by the mentors at Mucker Lab , the app was launched two days ago at the iTunes Store . While the whole array of credit cards that it presents to you is huge, there is still quite a few missing. For now, it gives you an option to send a message stating the details of the missing card. I’m sure as the user base grows, the database of credit cards will slowly move towards being exhaustive.

Renting is bliss … sharing is divine!

It was almost a year ago that I picked up the book What’s mine is yours – a groundbreaking idea proposed by Rachel Botsman . The idea was called Collaborative Consumption – a thought that wonderfully built itself atop the social media and social networking. The booking was engaging and equally informative. Since then, I’ve always made it a point to visit the site, to pick up on the latest of the ventures that embraced this idea. And thats how I landed on Share some Sugar .

There were two things that caught my eye about this place, amidst the amazingly long list of startups. The first one is obvious – its name. But along with its name, the thought was equally impressive.There is a little bit of history there. Back in India, it was rather common to see people, who just moved into a new location, walking over to their neighbors to ask for a tablespoon of curd (yogurt)! Making yogurt at home was an absolute necessity, as it a staple side dish for every meal, including breakfast at some places. And as I navigated my way through this site, I realized that was exactly the reason for this venture as well! It was a place to rent (for a deposit or a daily rate) or share equipments at home with neighbors – a rather novel thought!

As always with these new websites, I proceeded to register. One of the nice things about the registration was that they auto created a username for you based on your first and last name. Now you do have the option to change it. However, I’ve often had trouble thinking of a user name, esp. when all the ones that I wanted were taken. So I thought that was an interesting feature to have on the registration page, as an option. Once you login, it lets you choose from a variety of items, which were neatly categorized, that you are willing to share.The list includes home furniture through tools and even apparel! I wonder how many actually rent out apparel. But it would be a good idea to have some statistical model built to trend what people commonly rent/share.

Once registered, you can go on to browse for goods that people in your neighborhood are willing to share or rent and perhaps pick one that you are in dire need of. You can also add friends through your Facebook and Twitter contacts – one of those common features in any new social networking site these days. The place is still new and a little localized at the moment as well (I was unable to find anything in my area). But I would love to see it grow into a larger community. Being a proponent of collaborative consumption, what more can make you happier than a site for more sharing through social networking!