New Position & Google Flight Simulator

flightsim

“Ladies and gentlemen, we’re currently approaching Helsinki…”

Back to blogging after the summer. At the start of June I took up a position as a Developement Manager at eChannels, TeliaSonera Finland – a decision that at first surprised many but one that so far has felt very good. We’re a 30 strong department with roughly half the people actually being employees of Satama, so I’m kinda working part at the client and part at a creative digital agency. People are cool and resources exist for doing things that really matter, so it’s rewarding in that way.

Just read about the Google Flight Simulator (via Mashable). A fine example of Google’s playful and explorative culture. You can start your flight with an F-16 (my obvious choice, having been a prominent Falcon pilot in my Amiga 500 days…) or an SR22 (for more laid back circling around your hometown). Made a few low passes over our house, a very cool and fun feature, although a totally useless one. To activate the flight sim, just press ctrl-alt-A (while being over the U.S.)

The FLIRT Model of Crowdsourcing – Tools

tools

Finally we come to the last of the FLIRT elements, the Tools of the crowdsourcing effort. Without properly executed, functional, usable and well designed platform and tools, even the best founded effort goes to waste. This issue is in large part technical and should reflect the decisions taken in the previous stages of the FLIRT model.

The tools of crowdsourcing consist of the platform (a common space for the community to gather in); tools for creating original content and interacting with it, as well as tools for the company to harvest community input and measure it with. In the following, these will be discussed in detail.

Platform (tools for facilitating the community)

Own / 3rd party / hybrid

Key considerations for the crowdsourcing platform start from deciding whether to build an own community from scratch, which is time-consuming and expensive but offers the possibility for greatest degree of tailoring; using an existing community and tools available on the web for free (Ning, YouTube, etc.) or for charge (Doritos @ promotions.yahoo.com, other white label community tools), or utilizing some kind of hybrid of these (svenskafans & youtube + metacafe). All have their advantages and drawbacks, and these should be checked against the goals of the effort before deciding on any one. Naturally, piggybacking on existing communities gets a company started far quicker than building a comprehensive service, but might lack in delivering brand message and tailoring possibilities. However, as the Yahoo + Doritos example shows, commercially available web services nowadays are highly customizable to any need and might on many occasion deliver the best experience / cost ratio.

Real-time / relay interaction

According to Duparcq, one key issue is deciding the time-orientation for interaction within the community. Relay service, such as a discussion board or a wiki, offers access to the largest number of people and is able to carry extensive and complex information. Real-time chat offers spontaneous and instant interaction which in turn may spark creativity in ways a discussion forum can’t. However, the amount of information possible to convey over chat environment is bite-size and the people to interact with must all be online at the same time. Nowadays, of course, services that allow multiple dimensions of interaction (e.g. MySpace: video, photo, IM, message board, etc.) are common. Furthermore, there are services at present that do not clearly fall in either of the two categories: is the presence app Jaiku relay or real-time? It’s both actually, depending on the status of the user.

Tools of creation

Depending on the type of contribution desired, the tools of creation must be established accordingly. Submitting pure ideas does not demand the most sophisticated tools and usually a text interface is quite enough for this kind of activity (with an option to upload the occasional picture or other appendix). When other types of contribution, such as product design, content, etc. is desired, it must be decided what kind of tools will be used and who will provide them. Using a web service as a tool for creation grants the brand owner control over how to frame its offering despite user-generated approach (e.g. Nike), but can still produce undesired results (as it did for Chevy Tahoe). A downloadable software running on the user’s computer offers greater freedom as the program can be heavier and more feature rich than an over-the-web service. It must still be decide, whether to provide the software freely (Lego’s digital designer) or count on the user’s to acquire it by other means (the numerous illegal copies of design software used to create designs posted to threadless.com). When talking about videos, photos, music, etc., also physical devices are needed for creation. These can usually be assumed to be a given that the user already has (like The Shins did when they asked the audience to film their gig and send the clips for making a music video) but can also be provided for them (as Beastie Boys did when they gave out video cameras to the audience for filming their video ‘Awesome, I fucking shot that’). Also physical materials can be provided to boost creativity (Red Bull cans for making sculptures for the Red Bull Art of the Can gallery).

Tools for enabling conversation outside the service

Social media is all about sharing and linking, and this should be emphasized in crowdsourcing as well. Providing the right tools to the crowd for promoting the effort, such as widgets, badges , linking (del.icio.us buttons) and rating tools linking, rating

Tools for the company

Naturally, the company also needs tools for itself to first harvest the collective’s input and extracting meaning out of it and after this, having the processes in place to convert this input into meaningful action within its organization. Within social media measurability is better than in any oother media, but because it is still a fairly new phenomenon, tools for measuring are not commonly agreed on, partly because people don’t even know what they should measure. On egood starting point is this great post by Brian Oberkirch.

That’s it! The FLIRT elements explained. In the next post I will still delve briefly into the different groups and their role in a crowdsourcing effort.

flirt

The FLIRT Model of Crowdsourcing – Rules

rules

Well functioning crowdsourcing communities always rely on clear, explicit, and shared rules to deliver an experience that is productive, fun, easy to comprehend for all parties involved, as well safe for everybody to engage in. Rules direct action in the collaborative effort and work as ‘the book of laws’ in disputes. It is necessary to establish these rules well ahead, for if an issue with e.g. appropriateness of submitted content arises, a point to refer to is necessary to lessen feelings for the customer of being treated unfairly (and sharing this feeling with the world on his/her blog). The Rules of any crowdsourcing effort include:

Rules of initiation in the community

Rules of initiation dictate who gets to participate and how do those that do enter the process. As already stated, although crowdsourcing efforts are usually as open as possible, on some occasions it might be useful to limit the number or characteristics of the participants somehow. The basis for this screening should be visible to visitors before they attempt to get initiated, so that wasteful efforts to participate, causing frustration and negative feelings towards a brand, are eliminated. Clearly, limited access can also be used as a marketing tool, creating buzz around the service. In this setting, vain attempts to participate: “lurking at the gates”, serve the purpose of creating desirability around the service well.

Even if the community is open to all, registration will at some point be necessary, for customer information and behavior is best collected this way. Here we must answer questions such as:

  • At what stage is registration required?
    • It is usually better to allow some basic usage (such as viewing) of the service without registration to lure in users and require registrating only when more advanced features (such as rating) are needed
  • How much information is mandatory for registration?
    • It is usually better to ask for only very basic information when registrating in order to make easy and fast for the customer. Once registered, the customer should be driven to expand his/her profile through small incentives
  • What information will be visible to outsiders?
    • Also the question of what information will be shown to other members of the community must be answered. Of course, it’s best to let the users choose what they want to show and what not, but keep it easy and manageable. When children are involved, it might be necessary / mandatory to limit the information shown on page (addresses, phone numbers etc.) because of predators

Rules of creation

Rules must also be established for desired input.

  • The format, extent, dimensions, etc. can be dictated by physical manufacturing constraints (such as mandatory use of a ready template, size of design, max. number of colors in design on Threadless)
  • Also arbitrary rules can be used to spur creativity (Design Within Reach’s Champagne Chair competition)
  • Deadlines, acceptance and evaluation criteria, should also be well communicated

Rules of exchange & interaction

Crowdsourcing activities are in many occasions open-to-all type collaboration, for which reason it is impossible to prohibit people having views hostile towards the company entering the community. Proactive measures dealing with unwanted behavior is needed for effectively managing these types of people. Clear rules on what is allowed and what isn’t helps when needing to decide on banning content, comments, articles, etc. made by misbehaving members. It is however important to note that banning all critical commenting is sure to spark criticism regarding censorship which is a definite no-no in social media. At worst, it will simply turn the participants away and you will never even know why they left. It is well founded to curb non-constructive, offensive and by general standards inappropriate material, but other commenting positive or negative should be allowed.

One important issue is also, how are people allowed to build on each other’s ideas and how the rewards will in this case be divided between contributors. Research shows that building on others’ ideas increases the volume and quality of end results, but the clear incentive schemes are hard to devise for such collaboration.

— Examples

Digg faced a serious situation recently, after one of its members posted a news item containing directions to break the encryption on HD-DVDs. Faced with a threat of a lawsuit from AACS (the owner of the encryption technology), Digg took down the post and after a few re-postings, banned the poster. This led to other members starting to back the original poster and start posting the very same item time and time again digging it ferociously, so that at one point all news items on the Digg front page were pointing towards the same article. Digg tried explaining to its community that it couldn’t survive a lawsuit against the patent holder and pointed the users to its terms of use, but at this point the riot had already gotten out of hand, people were enreaged and servers were crashing. In the end Digg founder Alex Rose posted a response telling the people that they had been listened to and Digg no longer tries to take down the post. In this case the feelings of the community towards the subject of the post were so strong that even referring to clearly stated rules of the game didn’t help but it helped to make Digg’s stance very clear having the rules in the first place.

Furthermore, especially the recent death threats directed towards superstar blogger Kathy Sierra and ongoing child porn investigation going on in Second Life have raised to awareness the issue of anonymity and the commitment of certain community services to protect the identity of their members no matter the issue. Although these are extreme examples, the issue is a real one and shouldn’t go without consideration.

Biking time

Summer is slowly creeping to northern hemisphere, although the weather during Vappu was still quite freezing. As a result, bikers are again beginning to fill the streets of Helsinki, a great biking city by the way, although not quite at Amsterdam’s level.

Because of this, I wanted to bring forth some of this year’s cool bike models for the urban warrior. Biking is an environmentally friendly, healthy, fast as well as social way of transport, which I at least prefer to any other mode of moving about the town. Here’s my personal top five machines for the spring 2007:

Trek just launched its Lime model, which is probably the most interesting of the pack, thanks to Shimano’s shifting mechanism that adjusts gear ratio to pedaling speed – automatically. The trunk is also useful to stash your stuff while cruising the marina topless in swimming shorts.

Lime

Monocle, my favorite mag at the moment has also launched its own bike model, developed together with Skeppshult of Sweden. As the magazine itself, the bike oozes cosmopolitan attitude, prestige and intellect. Like a work of art, but still very street-credible.

monocle bike

Altabike is designed by the creative minds at Frost Produkt, Bleed, and Norway Says of, you guessed it, Norway. Definitely the sleekest of the five and a perfect match to the Nintendo Wii and MacBook already inhabiting your studio apartment.

alta

For the most demanding cyclo-spirits, there’s of course Cannondale‘s Bad Boy Ultra, which I had the joy of owning a couple of years back (had to sell it to raise money for my exchange period in Costa Rica). Been toying with the idea of buying it anew, but the €1700 price tag at present raises some issues between me and BB.

bad boy

Finally, there’s my ultimate favorite, which I at present use to commute within Helsinki: The Finnish Jopo (Short for Jokaisen Polkupyörä, Finnish for Everybody’s Bicycle). No gears, no hi-tech bells and whistles, no frills whatsoever. Just pure enjoyment of biking (while looking boheme and cool while doing it). Perfect for city and beachwalks, but I wouldn’t do rough terrain or longer routes. Mine is naturally colored matte black all the way down to the hubs, spokes and wheels. Wonder if I’m still longing for that Bad Boy anyway…

jopo

On Social Media and Participation

Hitwise’s findings in its study on participation (as reported by Reuters here) has stirred discussion on whether or not the new media is that participative after all. For those that haven’t heard about this, Hitwise found that only 0.16% of visits to web 2.0 site Flickr were to upload photos. “Participation on Web 2.0 sites remains weak”, Reuters rather bleakly titled their article. Of course, those vetted in community business know about the 1-90-90 rule, according to which the active creators usually don’t count for more than that one percent in a community, as Joseph Jaffe already noted. I would like to point out another clear sign of bad journalism with the Reuters article. By reading it, without knowing more about communities, you get the idea that original content creation is the only way to participate in social media. This, of course, could not be further from the truth, as there are number of ways to participate by other, lower-level means: remixing, mashing up data, commenting on others’ original content, blogging about it, rating, voting, recommending, organizing content (tagging), etc. PEW American Life, for example has found that 28% of web users have tagged content online. This is quite far from the 0.16%, and I think tagging definitely counts as participation.

Furthermore, as regards the units of measure in the Hitwise study I would like to point out that it has tracked ‘visits’ instead of ‘users’. This does a disservice to understanding what percentage of the users actually produce original content. For example, consider that there’s only a hundred people in the world. Every one of them visits YouTube a hundred times, all uploading a video during one of their visits, and checking out others’ videos during their other 99 visits. That would mean that 1% of the visits were ‘creative’ visits, and so a study tracking visits would conclude that 1% of the population is particpating by creating new content. However, all 100% of the people on earth would actually be original content creators, having uploaded that one video! Does this matter with the size and scope of the study at hand? I don’t know, but if you do, please, share your thoughts.

In NYC 3rd – 7th March

I will be attending the Future Marketing Summit in New York City (5th – 6th March) and so will be in New York for a few days. If you are at that summit, let me know. It will be interesting as it is, for sure, but I’m always looking to meet inspiring people face to face for a chat.

Also, if you have tips on what to do in NY during that period, I will be very grateful. I have spent time there before, so the mandatory sights have been covered. For this trip I’m interested in exhibitions, clubs & other ‘hot-right-now’ activities.

Tired of networking socially?

I am. With the torrent of social media networks available, the incentive to sign up for yet another service that would bring you tons of new friends and make your life a constant bliss (should you ever log in again after registering) is slowly wearing out.

That doesn’t mean thinking that I already have too many contacts and would be totally happy with my existing buddies. Not even close. Just today I engaged in a very useful and enjoyable e-mail exchange with Mr. Langenberg, who is the author of an article that comes very close to my thesis subject. After inquiring for the working paper, I got a lightning fast response from him, and after explaining my thesis subject in a bit more detail, he was kind enough to share with me a collection of additional readings he thought might be useful for my studies. Most of the articles seem very promising and I doubt I would ever have found them just by soloing through our school’s journal search tools.

Yesterday I didn’t even know the guy. Today he had personally helped me a great deal with his advice and we had developed a mutual interest for each other’s research fields. That’s social networking at its best.

But to the point. The thing I was talking about at the start of this post is the endless cycle of identical processes that I have to go through every time I register for a service: pour out all the information about myself from my first kiss through my favorite bands to whether or not I believe in the existence of extraterrestrial beings. Then I need to pinpoint all the locations I have visited in the world and upload all my pictures from along the way. This all takes enormous amounts of time, wastes bandwidth and feels frustrating, and I’m not even a member in that many networks. The same is true with instant messaging: ICQ, yahoo, Skype, MSN, etc. In order to stay in touch with all of my buddies from different countries & continents, I would have to keep all of these on at all times. Again, a waste of resources and attention.

It isn’t any better with applying for jobs either. Actually, it’s worse. For every employer, I have to use their own unique web form for entering all my previous employers, titles, descriptions of responsibilities, education, language skills, etc. And not I only have to do it once for every employer, but once for every post I’m applying to. If I’m applying for three jobs at the same company, at worst I have to fill out the exact same forms three times within one session in front of my computer! This is not always the case, of course, but surprisingly many big and supposedly up-to-date companies have this kind of against-all-logic system currently in use.

The thing we need is services that can mash up data and user information from various different sources and be controlled by a universal user account. Service providers need to recognize this need and open their interfaces for data transfer between services. When I for example sign up for a new social network, I want to import my photos from flickr, my destinations from ballofdirt.com as well as my work experience from LinkedIn and my link feed from del.icio.us. Otherwise it will eventually be impossible for me to add up on new services and the limit of how many networks I can participate is reached pretty quickly.

Jon Udell noted the same phenomenon in his article on social network fatigue when quoting Gary McGraw: “People keep asking me to join the LinkedIn network, but I’m already part of a network, it’s called the Internet”.

Could it be that some day the only network we need to register to is the web, and all our information will be there to use in all the different contexts we may come up with, with only one upload. Perhaps, but, as it seems now, not too soon.

Given enough eyes…

IBM releases many eyes, a swivel-esque, although more versatile web service for visualizing data.

Both applications aim to capture the collective wisdom for exploring meaningful patterns in seemingly irrelevant data. But where Swivel focuses on comparing data sets through graphs only, many eyes offers a range of tools, including maps, graphs, scatterplots, network diagrams, pie charts and tree diagrams.

While it may not make you Edmund Phelps, it may inspire some satisfaction in that number crunching geek in all(?) of us.