Growing Pains: Can Web 2.0 Evolve Into An Enterprise Technology?

October 30, 2007

By Andy Dornan

Forget outsourcing. the real threat to IT pros could be Web 2.0. While there’s a lot of hype and hubris surrounding wikis, mashups, and social networking, there’s also a lot of real innovation–much of it coming from increasingly tech-savvy business users, not the IT department.

“We’ve cut IT staff by 20%, and we’re providing a whole lot more in terms of IT services,” says Ken Harris, CIO at nutritional products manufacturer Shaklee. Harris started with a mashup platform from StrikeIron; he found mashups such an effective way to integrate multiple Web services that he turned to Web-based service providers to replace in-house functions. Now, Shaklee gets its ERP from Workday and search from Visual Sciences, and it’s looking at other IT functions that software as a service can replace.

And Web 2.0 means more than just SaaS. Though the term is often abused, all the various technologies, products, and sites grouped together as “Web 2.0” do have one thing in common: interactivity. Web 2.0 is designed for two-way communication. At the technical level, it replaces static HTML with (usually) JavaScript apps that continually send and receive small chunks of XML or text. At the social level, it means Web sites that let people communicate, not just read or shop. Instead of passive consumers, Web surfers can become active creators.

All that interactivity ought to make Web 2.0 ideally suited for business use. Most workplaces are about production, not consumption. However, enterprises lag far behind consumers in adoption of Web 2.0 technologies. What’s more, our online poll shows that interest in technologies such as blogs, wikis, and mashups has gone down during 2007, despite explosive growth outside the firewall.

Part of the reason is that business users already have access to more sophisticated versions of the same technologies. Blogging is publishing, a wiki is a CMS (content management system), and Ajax is a more standardized way of achieving what many internal enterprise apps already do with ActiveX or Java. Now, that doesn’t mean new technologies can be ignored–their lower costs and simpler administration mean they will quickly overtake legacy platforms, and already have done so in some areas. But it does mean they need to fit in with their predecessors.

WIKI WISH LIST
“It’s awful having an artificial distinction between a wiki and a CMS,” says Aaron Hathaway, CIO at investment bank Prager, Sealy & Co. In common with most of the users in our poll, he sees wikis as having greater use within enterprises than other Web 2.0 technologies such as blogs. Wikis’ other big attraction is that, in keeping with their collaborative nature, almost all of them are free.

Hathaway started using wikis four years ago to manage the IT department’s internal documentation, but soon saw that the technology could be more widely applicable. In 2005, he decided to roll out TWiki, a popular enterprise wiki whose other users include Yahoo and British Telecom.

It was a decision Hathaway came to regret in fairly short order.

... In With The New: Are these tools very important or critical to your organization?

The problem was that TWiki couldn’t easily share data with Alfresco, the bank’s open source CMS. Users who needed information had to look in both, while those adding documents risked duplicating effort. The bank didn’t want to give up on either, so Hathaway turned instead to Deki Wiki, which is also open source but backed by a commercial vendor, MindTouch. Deki’s Web services API eases integration with other applications. “It means a Google map can show up on a Deki page, and we’re building an über-search,” he says. “In my ideal setup, Deki would be a front end to Alfresco.” The API also lets the wiki use the bank’s existing security architecture to limit user access to specific pages, important for preserving the wall between analysis and sales. According to Hathaway, the wiki is now providing a real return on investment.

A wiki is easier to use than a full CMS, but on its own it can’t yet provide some CMS functionality, such as working with documents and files. This has led several wikis to add extension capabilities, such as Deki Wiki’s API. TWiki also has a plug-in system that lets programmers extend it without editing source code; more than 200 modules are already available to cover applications such as calendaring and automated editing. The most ambitious is IBM’s QEDWiki, which aims to be a platform for user-created mashups and other simple applications, rather than just content. The mashup aspect empowers users even more than the “edit” button and also helps integrate the wiki with IBM’s other applications.

Still, companies like Prager, Sealy can’t abandon their content management systems just yet, and the most popular collaboration platform remains Microsoft SharePoint. SharePoint also is at the center of Microsoft’s online Office Live strategy, best described as “software plus service.” Rather than a Google-style suite of online apps that would compete with its own products, Microsoft sells SharePoint and Outlook as services, with a subset of the full functionality soon to be available at no cost. Users still need a client-side application to edit documents, theoretically giving them the best of both worlds–and preserving Microsoft’s Office revenue stream.

A SOCIAL ENTERPRISE NETWORK?
Of all Web 2.0 technologies, social networking is the one that gets vendors and venture capitalists most excited. At least 17 startups are pitching social networking technology to business customers (see table, Social Networking Technology Startups), while countless social networking Web sites are chasing individual users. But it’s also the one about which our readers are most skeptical: When asked to rate the value of technologies, 68% say that public social networking sites are of no use at all. Only 5% rate any kind of social networking as very useful.

Still, one type of company finds these public sites very exciting: recruiters.

“We have great expectations for Facebook,” says Jason Blessing, general manager of the small and midsize business division at recruitment service provider Taleo. “The thing we really like is that it has a heritage from the top universities, and it’s a place where the Gen Y’s or millennials like to hang out.” His company rolled out a Web service that its SMB customers use to advertise jobs through Facebook’s API, letting users recommend their friends (or friends of friends of friends) for specific positions.

Rather than joining the big social networking sites, many enterprises are trying to compete with them. Though few respondents to our poll have yet added social networking to their Web sites, many of the startups pitching the technology have scored big-name customers. The media industry is particularly well-represented among clients of companies like KickApps and Leverage Software, with newspapers and TV stations trying to find a way to keep their audiences interested. The panic is driven by surveys showing that people under 24 prefer user-generated content and connections with others over traditional media.

Other enterprises can benefit from setting up social networks as a means to communicate with customers–and let customers communicate with one another. The big question for enterprises: Do we buy dedicated social networking technology or wait until it becomes a standard feature of Web servers and hosting services?

THE SEARCH FOR A BUSINESS CASE
As the table below shows, startups differ widely in how they sell their technology, or in some cases, give it away. The majority have SaaS business models, but some sell software or appliances. Free services can seem attractive, but in most cases vendors retain ownership of users’ data, something that could threaten both trade secrets and customer privacy. This is a particular risk given the likely fate of at least some startups–privacy policies and contractual obligations don’t always survive bankruptcy and liquidation. Though they all try to sell to enterprises, some vendors such as Pringo Networks and Kick Apps are finding that their largest market is niche sites, where social networking is an end in itself. These sites are essentially in the media business, with business models based on selling ads. They’re betting that users will ultimately be more loyal to sites narrowly focused on an industry, sports team, or hobby than a giant network that anyone can join. The relatively few vendors focused on social networking for use within an enterprise intranet, such as Awareness Networks and Tacit, often provide these features as part of a larger Web 2.0 suite that includes blogs and wikis.

When database vendor Endeca wanted to roll out a social networking site aimed at customers and system integrators, it rejected off-the-shelf software in favor of a homegrown system. Though enthusiastic about social networking for customers, Endeca isn’t convinced it has a role to play internally. “We’re still holding off on what the ROI is for our own employees,” says Colby Dyeff, Endeca’s IT manager. “It’s hard to say if that’s a valuable use of their time.”

Many of Endeca’s contributors are system integrators selling their expertise, giving them a direct financial incentive to be highly rated. But the same lessons can apply to social networks elsewhere, where rating content is also a way to help people find others with similar interests or locate related information. The former isn’t of much use within an enterprise, but the latter could be, especially given the poor state of enterprise search compared with the big Internet search engines.

This kind of tagging isn’t strictly social networking, so it’s usually described as social bookmarking, based more on Del.icio.us than MySpace. It’s a big part of Connectbeam’s social networking appliance, as well as new Web 2.0 platforms from IBM and BEA Systems. IBM’s system is called Dogear, part of its larger Lotus Connections suite that also includes blogs, wikis, and shared workspaces. BEA’s entry, AquaLogic Pathways, is sold alongside its Pages and Ensemble mashup tools. Both products are relatively new, as is the concept of enterprise social bookmarking itself.

Relatively few vendors are pushing full-scale social networking for intranets. Of those that are, Visible Path is the most ambitious. Its service tries to span the extranet as well as intranet, linking staff to contacts within other organizations as well as their own. Its pitch is heavily oriented toward sales staffers, who can use social networking as a way to reach prospects, as is its own go-to-market strategy: Rather than sell directly to enterprises, it prefers to go through partners like Oracle and Salesforce.com, whose CRM systems its social networking is integrated with. Most people won’t join a social network just so that salespeople can contact them, of course, so Visible Path emphasizes its security and privacy controls at both the individual and corporate levels. Users can decide what sort of introductions they want to receive, while companies can override employee choices. That might seem to make Visible Path impractical as a sales tool, since blocking unsolicited sales pitches is a no-brainer. According to its users, however, this isn’t necessarily the case.

“People don’t have to be users to be accessed through it,” says Rod Morris, VP of business information solutions at LexisNexis. Morris uses the tool to promote his company’s ExecRelate service, which tracks relationships between C-level executives and board members in publicly traded companies–people who are more likely to rely on the old-boy network than LinkedIn or Twitter.

FREE FOR THE TAKING
Still, vendors will have to show hard ROI before these technologies will be adopted by enterprises, and that could be difficult with so many free alternatives. The long-term evolution of Web 2.0 in business is likely to trace a path similar to that of instant messaging, which has comparable social characteristics to wikis, blogs, and social networks, and initially followed a parallel adoption curve in business. IM was brought in by people who used it in their personal lives, and though many people resisted it at first, IM quickly became an enterprise staple: Three-quarters of all organizations in our survey use it; half say they find it very useful or critical to their business.

IM Technology In Use

So far, so much like any other technology. Home users are driving innovation, so it’s no surprise to see the enterprise lagging. But unlike the PC a generation ago, IM has managed to colonize the workplace without going native. Despite frequent warnings from security vendors that unrestrained use of consumer IM technology can violate privacy policies, give attackers a back door into the network, and even send executives to jail, most companies happily use the same free services as teenagers. Fewer than 30% of respondents in our online poll have enterprise IM servers such as Lotus SameTime. Actual use is likely a lot lower, as staff in many companies ignore the officially sanctioned software and install their own. The move to enterprise voice over IP is bringing other players like Cisco Systems into the IM game, attempting to converge IM’s presence features with telephony, but they could be too late. The public IM services are already integrated into cell phones, another technology frequently used in the workplace but not controlled by IT.

IT’S LOOSENING GRIP
Loss of IT control is a consistent theme as Web 2.0 penetrates business. The greatest upheaval is likely to come from enterprise mashups, which combine the social and technical aspects of Web 2.0 by letting users develop their own applications. Though very few businesses use mashups at present, those that are see great benefits, and larger players such as BEA, IBM, and Oracle are entering the game. Cutting out the middleman–that’s the IT department–can be a great way of aligning business and technology.

“Mashups have let end users do more of what used to be done by IT,” says Warren Breakstone, executive VP in charge of client services at investment tools provider Thomson Financial. Although not in the IT department, Breakstone started using a hosted mashup service from Serena Software and now runs a team of business analysts who develop Web-based applications for sales, marketing, and other personnel. “Now we’re moving into traditional IT services: The IT department is using apps that we built.”

Breakstone says this doesn’t bring his team into conflict with the IT department. “It frees IT up to do those mission-critical tasks behind the scenes,” he says.

IM itself is already giving way to newer technologies that are even further outside IT’s control. The leading candidate so far is Second Life. Though often seen (and increasingly scoffed at) as a marketing vehicle, its true potential is as a glorified chat room. Like IM, it’s free, but it gives users a more immersive experience and is designed for multiparty conversations.

“We found that Second Life allows more user engagement than traditional video or phone conferencing,” says Breakstone, who is testing Second Life as an environment for meetings. “One employee told me, ‘I’ve participated in lots of meetings and I tend to be very quiet, but I felt very comfortable opening up in Second Life.'”

Source:

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Searching for Humans

October 19, 2007

By Erica Naone

Jaideep Singh, cofounder of the new people-search engine Spock, says he wants to build a profile for every person in the world. To do this, he plans to combine the power of search algorithms with online social networks.

Singh says he got the idea for Spock while looking for people with specific areas of expertise among his contacts in Microsoft Outlook. Although he has two or three thousand people listed, he could only find people he was already thinking about.

Spock is designed to solve that problem by allowing users to search for tags–such as “saxophonist” or “venture capitalist”–and then view a list of people associated with those tags. Singh could have manually entered tags for each of his contacts into Microsoft Outlook, but capturing every interest of each particular individual would be time-consuming. Spock uses a combination of human and machine intelligence to automatically come up with the tags: search algorithms identify possible tags, and users can vote on their relevance or add new tags. Registered users can add private tags to another person’s profile to organize their contacts based on information that they don’t want to share. For example, a contentious associate might be privately labeled as such.

The social-network component of the website introduces an element of crowd commentary into the search process. George W. Bush is tagged “miserable failure,” with a vote of 87 to 31 in favor of the tag’s relevance as of this writing. Users aren’t allowed to vote anonymously, and the tag links to the profiles of people who voted.

Singh hopes social networks will also help with one of the main problems in people search: teaching the system to recognize that two separate entries refer to a single person–a problem called entity resolution. For example, a single person might have a MySpace page, a Linked In profile, and a write-up on a company website. Steven Whang, an entity-resolution researcher at Stanford University, says that there are several aspects to the problem: getting the system to compare two entries and decide whether they are related, merging related entries without repetition, and comparing information from a myriad of possible sources online. Finally, Whang says, there is a risk of merging two entries that should not be merged, as in the case of a name like Robin, which is used by both men and women.

Many of the people-search engines try to get around these problems by encouraging people to claim and manage their own profiles, although Whang notes that this is a labor-intensive approach. Although there are many sites where people could claim their profiles, Singh says he thinks one engine will eventually dominate, and people will make the effort to claim profiles there. Bryan Burdick, chief operating officer of the business-search site Zoominfo, says that 10,000 people a week claim their profiles on Zoom, in spite of having to provide their credit-card numbers to do so.

Singh has also introduced the Spock Challenge, a competition to design a better entity-resolution algorithm. He says that 1,400 researchers have already downloaded the data set, and they will compete for a $50,000 prize, which will be awarded in November.

But although Spock and Zoominfo both stress the importance of being able to search by job title or other keywords, Michael Tanne, CEO of people-search engine Wink, says that isn’t the most common need in people search. “That’s not how 90 percent of searches are done,” he says. “When you search for the iPhone, you want to see what’s out there about the iPhone. But when you search for a person, you have a specific result in mind.” While his site does allow users to search by tags, Tanne says that the tags are more commonly used to narrow down a search. Wink is able to search by variables such as location with more focus than the simple word recognition Google uses, Tanne says. For example, he notes, Wink would recognize that Framingham is close to Boston, and it would include both when a user enters “Boston” as a search term. (A spokesperson for Google says the search-engine giant currently has no plans to develop special features to improve people search.)

Singh says that Spock has indexed more than 100 million profiles so far–a reasonable start on the way to indexing every person in the world. But some people have raised privacy concerns. The people-search engines spider business sites and public Linked In profiles, but also social-networking sites such as MySpace. (Facebook information is kept private.) Business and personal information can appear on the same page, although Zoominfo attempts to index only the former. The sites’ spokespeople all agree that the burden falls on the user to watch out for what’s available online. “Whether you’re managing it or not, you have a digital persona,” Burdick says. Wink will remove profiles upon request, although not all people-search engines share that policy.

“The ability to see what you’ve put out there is an eye-opener to most people,” Tanne says.


Tapping the Wisdom of the Crowd

October 19, 2007

The term “crowdsourcing” has the ring of a passing fad. But long before Wired contributing editor Jeff Howe put a name to mass Web collaboration in pursuit of economic reward, entrepreneurs and big businesses alike were starting to explore methods to tap the wisdom of the crowds to produce goods and services. “Is it jargon?” says Howe. “The phenomenon itself predates my article—it’s the application of open-source principles to fields outside software. There doesn’t need to be a profit motive, but it is a mode of economic production.”

And the trend is building. Six months ago, BusinessWeek‘s Inside Innovation brought readers the lowdown on crowdsourcing, highlighting several of the more interesting projects (see “Crowdsourcing”). Since then, several new crowdsourcing experiments have emerged. Here are five recent efforts that you should know about:

A Swarm of Angels

Aswarmofangels.com

This British open source film project takes on Hollywood’s traditional business model, aiming to create cult cinema for the digital age. Subscribers—the “angel” investors that “swarm” to create the site’s name—pay roughly $50 (£25) each to join. The site aims to draw 50,000 angels to create a film with a $1.8 million budget. Project founder Matt Hanson has written two separate movie screenplays that will be edited and refined based on feedback from the subscriber community.

Eventually, the community will vote to decide which film will be made. Community members will be paid to handle the production, and once finished, the film will be released free on the Internet under a Creative Commons license. Viewers will be invited to watch it, share it, and remix it. So far Hanson and his crew have 800 investors. Advisers include sci-fi writer Cory Doctorow and musicians The Kleptones. Stay tuned.

CrowdSpirit

Crowdspirit.org

This French startup plans to use crowds to develop and bring to market tangible, inexpensive, electronic devices such as CD players, joysticks for video games, and Web cams. The community will handle all aspects of the product cycle—its design, features, technical specifications, even post-purchase customer support. As with software start-up Cambrian House, community members will submit and vote on product and design ideas. The winners will be funded by community members and they will go on to prototype and beta-test the products.

A core CrowdSpirit team, along with a subset of community members and distributors, will have a final say on decisions. The hope, however, is that the products will be extraordinarily focused on the customer because the ideas are coming directly from the people who will use the products. In development since last September, the site will formally launch at the end of June, 2007.

Marketocracy

Marketocracy.com

Marketocracy’s Web site boldly announces a mutual fund that delivers higher return with less risk. Launched in 2000, Marketocracy aims to gather the collective knowledge of the best investors to create a highly successful mutual fund. Sign-up is free and anyone can run a virtual fund, starting with $1 million. So far, the site has more than 60,000 users. Based on the virtual investments of its 100 most successful members, the site launched the Masters 100 Index in 2001. The fund now has $44 million in assets and has outperformed the S&P 500 Index with an average annual return of 11.4% since inception. Five years in, that’s a decent performance, though not worthy of Warren Buffett.

CafePress

CafePress.com

Barack Obama all but announced his intention to run as a candidate for the 2008 presidential election on Jan. 16 (the official decision will come on Feb. 10), and already CafePress.com is peppered with t-shirts sporting his name and election slogans. This Foster City (Calif.)-based online retailer lets members create, buy, and sell merchandise. Entrepreneurs Fred Durham and Maheesh Jain founded the site in 1999 to let members—the site reports 2.5 million—transform their artwork and ideas into new products and sell them through an online storefront with no up-front costs or inventory to manage.

Members can also personalize their own gifts by adding touches to one of 80 available products. CafePress.com sets a base price on products and takes care of printing, packaging, processing payments, and customer service; sellers decide how much to charge for their products. The site got a big break in 2003 when Phil Collins, Jet Li, and Olympic Gold Medalist Tara Lipinski launched online stores through CafePress.com. Since then it has grown to 800,000 shopkeepers and 36 million products.

Gannett

news-press.com

Among the largest newspaper publishers in the U.S., Gannett has said it plans to change its newsroom to take advantage of crowdsourcing, putting readers to work as watchdogs, whistle-blowers, and investigators. Already last summer, the Fort Myers (Fla.)-based The News-Press (circulation 100,000) invited readers to help investigate ongoing concerns over price hikes in their utility assessments.

The response was hefty. Readers got involved—organizing their own investigations, poring through documents, and connecting to inside sources. As a result of the investigation, the city cut assessment fees by 30%.

Source: BusinessWeek online


Crowdsourcing: Milk the masses for inspiration

October 19, 2007

A Japanese paper fan unfolds across a television screen, mysteriously hiding the white-painted face of a woman. When it folds up, the face reappears, this time with theatrical green eye shadow. Fade to black beneath the slogan: Find color in confidence. L’Oréal Paris. It’s a flashy, high-concept ad that resonates with the consumer. It was created by a consumer.

If produced in-house, this ad could cost L’Oréal $164,200, the going production price for a glossy 30-second TV spot. Instead, the beauty product company turned to Current TV, the cable television station that relies on user-generated content for much of its programming. Current TV has built a social network where viewers can create and upload five-minute media segments, post comments on other viewer-made clips, and vote on which ones should be aired. This spring, Current TV opened the process to ads, posting assignments for people to work on. After making a sponsorship deal with Current TV, L’Oréal paid the ad’s producer, who uses the handle “spicytuna,” $1,000 for her creative endeavors. Do the math.

Companies have been outsourcing to India and China for years. Now they are taking it to another level by using social networks such as MySpace, Second Life, and a multitude of virtual communities to solve their most gnarly business problems. Business model innovation is happening at a lightning clip. First there was outsourcing, then open-sourcing, and now crowdsourcing.

Who’s into crowdsourcing? Getty Images recently paid $50 million for iStockphoto, a Web site where more than 23,000 amateur photographers upload and distribute their stock photographs. Hipster clothing company Threadless.com prints and sells t-shirts designed by people on its Web site. Linden Lab’s 3-D virtual world, Second Life, allows people to create and retain the intellectual property rights on new businesses, brands, and personalities. John Fluevog Boots & Shoes’ Open Source Footwear site invites fans to submit and vote on new shoe designs. Ducati Motor Holding builds fanatical brand loyalty and brings customer insights into designing new motorcycles through Ducati.com.

But in their rush to capitalize on the wisdom of the masses, many companies are making big mistakes. Kraft was lambasted on the Web for not really “getting” web collaboration when it simply posted a digital suggestion box on its Web site. Though Kraft said critics misunderstood their effort, which was part of a larger strategy of open innovation, the danger remains that companies will rush to set up consumer communities without carefully considering what they’re after and how they plan to use it. It is very easy for crowds to generate the lowest common denominator among solutions.

Smart crowdsourcing is about how we winnow the wisdom from the wash, and what we choose to do with it. Here are some key guidelines to follow:

1. BE FOCUSED Vaguely defined problems get vague answers. Current TV is explicit about the goal of its viewer-created ad messages (v-cam’s): to develop new advertising to run online and on the cable network. And it allows companies such as L’Oreal or Sony (SNE ) to mine the v-cams for fresh advertising ideas.

The more infrastructure you build into the creative process, the more success you will have. Current TV has clear rails to support social networkers. It provides a specific focus such as the one for Sony Ericsson’s Walkman Phone: “With a Sony Ericsson Walkman Phone you’re always connected to your music. The question is: where will it take you?” It also provides a Sony Ericsson logo and a smattering of graphics, as well as instructions that include a time limit — up to three minutes — and a deadline — September 8. Current TV also spells out directly in its rules that the network retains the power to reject anything that paints the brand in a negative light.

2. GET YOUR FILTERS RIGHT Crowdsourcing often produces a wealth of ideas, and companies need effective filters to pick the gems. Consider IBM’s (IBM ) innovation jam, a two-part brainstorming session launched in July designed to tap the collective minds of employees, family members, and customers to target potential areas for innovation. CEO Sam Palmisano will put $100 million into promising ideas.

IBM identified four large themes, providing interactive background information on each one, employing moderators to keep conversations focused, and setting a 72-hour time limit for the first session. By the end of it, IBM had collected 37,000 ideas. IBM will use its own crowd to filter the ideas. The company has made transcripts available to the 140,000 people who logged in to the first session and teams will review the posts. In early September, the company will host a second session, where everyone will again log on to the jam session to vote on the ideas with the most potential. Then senior executives will sift through this short list to make recommendations about which should be funded. Palmisano will have a hand in making the final choices.

3. TAP THE RIGHT CROWDS At YouTube and probably within any new social network, only 1% of the users are active content creators. Another 10% interact with the content and change it. The remaining 89% passively observe. Smart companies want to assemble the crowds with the most sophisticated knowledge about their business problems to maximize the impact of the small percentage of idea generators within them. Consider InnoCentive, a social network created by Eli Lilly (LLY ) where companies like Procter & Gamble (PG ) and Boeing (BA ) can pay a steep fee to post the knotty problems they can’t solve internally — like a process for the extraction of trace metal impurities, for example. The idea is that individual problem solvers — retired scientists, obsessive hobbyists, university students — might be able to lend a hand. If they solve the problem, they receive a hefty cash reward.

This network is dependent on a crowd of extremely talented scientists with highly specific skills. To attract them, InnoCentive recruits at universities, where young, smart minds have not yet entered the workforce. To date, the network has signed agreements with 25 Chinese universities, including the prestigious Chinese Academy of Sciences and the National Natural Science Foundation of China. The network also promotes itself at industry events and advertises in trade publications.

Also key, Innocentive’s rewards for solutions are sizable. Crowdsourcing is not cheap. Just as in corporate America, top talent is expensive, and companies will have the most luck when they are willing to pay up for the inventions that lead to potential innovations.

4. BUILD COMMUNITY INTO SOCIAL NETWORKS Cash is key to getting people to participate, but successful crowdsourcing taps into a well of passion about a product that stretches beyond monetary incentives. Cambrian House, a software company founded by Michael Sikorsky, relies entirely on crowdsourcing. Everyone who contributes an idea receives royalty points, which function as equity in the final product and can eventually be cashed in for stock. But Sikorsky has also created glory points, which reward members who collaborate. He says one key element in keeping people engaged long-term is for them to build friendships with other members. It’s not so different from the eBay (EBAY ) model, where buyers and sellers rate each other and offer commentary. These interactions foster trust and keep people active in the community.

Crowdsourcing is a new and nascent business tool for innovation. Used properly, it can generate new ideas, shorten research and development time, cut development costs, and create a direct, emotional connection with customers. Used improperly, it can produce silly or wasteful results. Crowds can be wise, but they can also be stupid.


Wikipedians Promise New Search Engine

October 19, 2007

By Wade Roush

It’s been no secret that Jimmy Wales, Wikipedia’s founder, has been thinking it’s time for a new style of Internet search engine. He has made it plain in public remarks, in postings to electronic mailing lists, and elsewhere over the past six months that he sees drawbacks to fully software-driven search engines such as Google and Yahoo. He has also made plain that he thinks the collaborative, decentralized publishing process behind Wikipedia might just be the answer.

Wales made his intentions official at a March 8 news conference in Tokyo, where he said that his new for-profit company, Wikia, would lead a project to launch a community-driven, open-source search site by the end of 2007. While the technical workings of Wikia Search are still being debated, it’s clear that the project will combine fully robotic Web exploration, or “spidering,” with Web-based tools that are in the hands of humans–both volunteer editors, who will organize and highlight the best content, and average users, who will vote on the usefulness of each search result, thereby influencing how high these results rank in future searches.

Wikia, based in San Mateo, CA, will host the search site and collect the advertising revenue it generates, but Wales believes that the site can be designed and built mainly by volunteers, through open-source collaboration of the type that gave rise to the Linux operating system. More than 700 volunteer developers are “already hacking away” at the problem using test servers donated to Wikia by supporters, according to Wikia CEO Gil Penchina.

The science of search is still an arcane one. It takes a deep understanding of file systems, index architectures, hard disk performance, networked storage, and fast query-time ranking–not to mention thousands of servers and an extreme amount of bandwidth–to build and run a major search engine. But today, Penchina and Wales argue, there is enough expertise outside the walls of the major search companies to design a competitive open-source search engine–one that they project could attract millions of users daily and capture as much as 5 percent of the $7 billion market for search-related advertising.

All that’s left is to build it. Not only does the Wikia search engine not exist yet; the company is still gathering technical suggestions at the most basic level (as can be seen by browsing the project’s mailing-list archive).

Wikia Search volunteers–the equivalent of Wikipedia’s core community of contributors and editors–might have jobs similar to those of the category editors at the Open Directory Project, a human-edited Web directory hosted by AOL for which each volunteer is in charge of tracking Web resources on a specific subject. Alternatively, all subjects might be open to all editors, who could use a Wikipedia-like system to rank or annotate search results and track other people’s revisions (and reverse them in cases of vandalism).

End users, meanwhile, might be asked to give a “thumbs up” or “thumbs down” vote about each individual search result, the way they can at the collaborative news aggregator Digg. Or they might be asked to “tag” or add descriptive words to results, helping others find them later, in the style of the social search sites TagWorld and Prefound and the photo-sharing community Flickr.

“We have a lot of things developing in parallel, and some of our projects are actually competing with each other, so we’ll have to see what the outcome is,” says Penchina. That will take patience, but Wikia is in no hurry to finalize a solution, he says. “We have this saying internally: ‘No a priori thinking.’ Communities evolve in their own special way, and anyone who thinks they know where the crowd is going to go generally doesn’t understand crowd psychology.”

Only a few matters are settled, according to Penchina. One is the basic premise: that Wikia Search will combine the strengths of software and people. “Computers are useful for large-scale problem solving like building an index, but machine judgment is usually never as good as human judgment, so you need a blend of the two,” he says.

Another settled matter is that Wikia Search’s developers won’t attempt to reinvent the wheel: the purely algorithmic components of Wikia Search will be built on top of the existing open-source search engines Nutch and Lucene, both initiated by independent software developer Doug Cutting.

Reaction to the news of Wikia’s ambitions is mixed. Some in the technical community say that Internet users deserve a search engine whose workings are open for all to examine, in contrast to the closely guarded ranking algorithms used by Google and its peers.

Others have underscored the huge challenges in going up against the likes of Google, which employs many of the world’s best brains in information-retrieval technology, owns a vast global infrastructure of servers, and dishes up results good enough that more than one in four Internet users make a stop at the search engine every day. “Google and Yahoo and MSN and Ask do a pretty damned good job,” remarked search-industry veteran Stavros Macrakis in a late February post to the Wikia Search mailing list. “It’s not as though the competition was a $2,000 Encyclopaedia Britannica which is always years out of date.”

Penchina acknowledges the scale of the challenges but says Wikia is in the search business for the long haul. “I don’t know that we expect massively impressive results from day one,” he says. “Wikipedia has taken six years to get where it is.”

Wikia Search has a somewhat confusing genealogy. Wikipedia, which melded the idea of an online encyclopedia with the collaborative-editing technology of wikis, has been controlled since 2003 by the nonprofit Wikimedia Foundation, which also operates Wiktionary, Wikinews, Wikiquote, and other collaborative projects.

Wikia, on the other hand, is a for-profit company cofounded in 2004 by Wales and British Internet entrepreneur Angela Beeseley under the original name Wikicities. It hosts hundreds of special-interest wikis, including wikis for genealogy buffs. Wikia has no direct connection to Wikipedia; however, several of Wikipedia’s most dedicated contributors are now employees at Wikia, including Beeseley.

Wikia raised at least $4 million in venture capital in 2006 from a group including Bessemer Venture Partners, Omidyar Network, Amazon.com, and angel investors.

Source: MIT Technology Review


Emerging Media Series: Online Video, Social Networks and Wikis

October 19, 2007

Relevancy Drives Online Results for Technology Marketers Today relevancy is vital to attracting and engaging online audiences. But, it is not always enough. To break through the Internet’s clutter of information, technology marketers need to reach out and deliver relevant content by using the newest emerging media formats. They must not only fine-tune the message, but also pump up the volume.

New research by KnowledgeStorm and Universal McCann points out how the effective use of new online, two-way media channels are engaging customers as well as keeping direct communications with them alive and thriving. This report, the third in a series of studies examining the impact that emerging online media have on B2B technology marketing, shows how the following three mainstays of the Web 2.0 culture are evolving into B2B information delivery tools:

  • Online video
  • Social networks
  • Wikis

This survey indicates the B2B marketplace seems to have taken advantage of the benefits online video offers, but has grappled with different aspects and business applications of Wikis – and to a greater extent social networks. According to a March 2006 study released by the Online Publishers Association, online video viewing has become commonplace for many Internet users and a daily addiction for some. Notably, technology buyers are no different, as 63% of respondents are viewing online videos at least once a week. With entertainment videos aside, this group “sees” the value that visualization brings to technology content housed on the Web.

In stark contrast, the role of social networks — one of the fastest growing segments of the Internet — has yet to be fully realized by technology buyers. A striking 77% of respondents admit to having very little to no experience with these online communities. But, that’s not to say awareness isn’t building. The growing success of more business-oriented networks, such as LinkedIn, indicates a push to address the B2B market’s need for a community that promotes more knowledge sharing and collaboration as opposed to one offering yet another portal for job searches.

On the other hand, technology buyers appear to have found a middle ground with Wikis. Even though the B2B marketplace has qualms about maintaining quality control for an ever-growing library of content, Wikis have emerged as a useful tool for augmenting information searches and finding high-quality content. However, this is the extent of most technology buyers’ interaction with this medium, as only 6% of respondents have actively contributed content.

Summary of Key Findings

Online Video

  • Online Video Offers Accessible Content: Sixty-three percent of the survey respondents access online videos at least weekly. An additional 27% view videos downloaded from the Internet on a monthly basis.
  • Technology and Business Material Perfect for Online Video: For the majority of respondents, the content they choose is a combination of both technology and business information. Twenty percent alone are reading technology-related material. Only 7% do not access either type of information through online video.
  • Popular Types of Online Video Content: The ever-reliable Webcast tops the list of most popular online video content with 70% of respondents saying they use this format. News and demonstrations rounded out the top three spots, respectively posting at the No. 2 and 3 positions.
  • Online Video Produces Compelling Content: More than three-fourths of the survey respondents who regularly access information via the Internet felt that online video makes content more compelling and valuable. Respondents also believed good production and faster downloading enhanced the value of this type of content.
  • Buyer Research is Enhanced by Online Video: An overwhelming 84% of respondents said that online video enhances content related to technology product information and research.
  • Online Video Enjoys a Healthy Pass-Along Rate: With video search still in its infancy, 76% of respondents are sharing online video content either weekly or monthly. Only 18% said they “never” recommend this type of content to co-workers or colleagues.IT Purchase Decisions Most Influenced by Online Video: When compared with the impact of podcasts and blogs, online video holds the most influence on IT purchases. Fifty-seven percent of respondents in this survey felt that online videos impacted their purchasing decisions. As previously reported by KnowledgeStorm and Universal McCann in the first two Emerging Media studies, podcasts influenced 27% of respondents when it came to technology purchases while blogs played a decisive role for 53%.

Social Networks

  • B2B Buyers are Still “Unsociable”: B2B technology buyers have been slow to adopt social networking. Seventyseven percent of respondents have little to no familiarity with this online medium. However, of the 24% who are very accustomed to social networks, a large majority of the respondents visit these sites at least once a month.
  • LinkedIn Lands Most Social Networkers: Respondents are attracted to more business-oriented social networks. LinkedIn ranked as the most frequently visited Website by 27% of the respondents. However, MySpace blew away the competition with the highest percentage (52%) of respondents who “visited at least once.” And, 45% admit to already having social network profiles.
  • Social Networkers Find Business Applications: Business networking and/or development is the primary reason why B2B technology buyers use social networking sites, with 70% of respondents citing this as motivation. Another 59% also admit to using these sites for personal reasons.
  • Best Uses of Social Networks in Business Environment: When asked their opinion on how social networks may be best used in a business environment, respondents consistently mentioned a number of best applications, from collaboration and knowledge sharing to troubleshooting and technology introductions.

Wikis

  • B2B Buyers on Familiar Terms with Wikis: Eighty-six percent of respondents are familiar with Wikis, such as Wikipedia, with 47% considering themselves “very” comfortable with this medium. And, more than 50% are weekly Wikis visitors.
  • Wikis Add Value for Technology and Business Topics: Sixty-three percent of survey respondents who visit Wikis do so for both business and technology information. Respondents also give accolades to this type of content with 96% percent rating information from Wikis as “somewhat” to “extremely” valuable.
  • Need More Wiki Contributors: Technology buyers have been slow to adopt the role of contributor when they interact with Wikis. Only 6% of respondents regularly contribute content to Wikis.
  • Wikis Provide Shareable Subject Matter: Considerable sharing of Wiki content is occurring among respondents with 70% preferring to endorse or pass along related information among co-workers and colleagues, as opposed to posting recommendations within the Wiki community itself.
  • IT Purchasers Influenced by Wiki Content: Respondents are closely divided on the impact that Wikis currently have on IT purchasing decisions. Fifty-two percent state that Wikis influence their decision-making while 48% aren’t so sure.

Published on: November 09, 2006
Type of content: ANALYST REPORT
Format: Adobe Acrobat (.pdf) (1471 kb)
Length: 28 pages
Price: FREE
By KnowledgeStorm, Inc

Download here