Monday, November 27, 2006

The creativity of swarms (= crowdsourcing)

I discovered this Wired article about Crowdsourcing in Kai Fischbach’s new blog Open Business Models. It describes how professional photographers selling their pictures on the Web for $150 per shot are put out of business by Web sites like iStockphoto . Millions of amateur photographers are putting up their photos there for $1 per picture.
The same has become true for videos, where companies can get video clips from Web sites like iFilm at a fraction of the price it costs to produce such a video. The other two examples in the article, the innocentive marketplace who is outsourcing chemical and pharmaceutical research to individual researchers, and P&G’s connect&develop program sending out technology entrepreneurs on a global hunt for new product ideas are well-known examples of highly successful collaborative innovation also.

Recently I stumbled into another great example, when I was speaking at the 125 year anniversary of Telekom Austria in Vienna. Besides eating delicious Sacher Torte in the Hotel Sacher, I also learned about individual TV in the Austrian village of Engerwitzdorf. This Telekom Austria project gives real power to the masses – every inhabitant of the village can put up her or his own TV program or movie. There is even a self-selected “council of elders” who makes sure that sex videos don’t make it into the program. The Engerwitzdorf project has now been ongoing for a few years, and has been recognized by different national and international prizes and awards.
There is no stopping the creativity of swarms!!!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What makes a cool city?

Today’s New York Times has an article on the growing attractiveness of Atlanta, Portland, Oregon, Charlotte, Denver, and Austin for the young and restless generation. With an overall aging population, the group of the 25 to 35 year olds becomes a shrinking minority, courted by cities because studies show that once people are over 35, they are much less likely to move and relocate again.

According to one of the marketers for Atlanta …”had the chamber tried to advertise Atlanta, they might have screwed it up —because they [the youngs] are much more trusting of their own network than they are of any marketing campaign."
In studies, the most attractive factors for such cities were the low cost of living, an airport hub for easy travel, and a diverse and open culture.
But what really makes an open and diverse culture remains a mystery. In surveys the young and restless like downtown living, good public transportation, and lots of entertainment options. The point is, however, that cities that already have a significant share of the young and restless tend to attract more of them. So the question remains: What gets a city over the tipping point, and makes it more attractive than others.
Atlanta might give us one answer, in that it is home to more than 45 universities and colleges in the metro area, as well as to scores of companies in the high-tech and entertainment sector. As we have found in our own research, students at universities fulfill an essential function as what in social network theory is called “gatekeepers” and “bridging structural holes”. What we saw when comparing two networking events organized by the same people in Boston and San Francisco is the crucial roles of graduate students and other academics in being the gatekeepers. The picture below shows the social network constructed at two networking events run in sequence first in Boston, then in San Francisco.

The dark dots are the industry participants, blue dots are academics, the red dots are the people for whom the event was organized, the pink dots are the organizers in San Francisco, and the grey dots are the organizers in Boston. What is striking is the cohesiveness and density of the Boston network. While there are more participants in Boston than there are in San Francisco, the Boston participants form a much denser cluster, connected by the academics (the blue dots). As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the “Tipping Point”, connectors are the key people to convert cool ideas into trends. As we can clearly see in this picture, academics are the connectors!

So, having a large pool of diverse universities and colleges within local reach seems to be a key ingredient and catalyst for a successful mix. Which of course begs the questions how to get those universities in the first place? Is it geographical location, industrial development, or just luck that contributes to a successful mix? Many more questions to answer!

Monday, November 20, 2006

If US presidential elections were today, Barack Obama would be President . . .

… at least on the Web, and Al Gore would be Vice President. I ran a coolhunting query yesterday Nov 19, 2006 on the Web, checking out the standings of the presidential contenders. The rankings are as follows (see the picture):
1. Barack Obama
2. Al Gore
3. Newt Gingrich
4. John Edwards
5. Rudy Giuliani
6. Mitt Romney
7. John Kerry
8. Hillary Clinton

Coolhunting on the Web can give a skewed picture of the real world, as it basically measures how much somebody is mentioned on the most important Web sites. In this case the most central Web sites (see the picture) were dailykos and ovaloffice2008. Other Web sites linking back to the most important Web sites “vote” for their importance in boosting the standing of Barack Obama and his competitors. In particular, coolhunting does not really care if you get positive or negative mentions, just being talked about on high-profile Web sites helps. This is not so different from real-world marketing, however, where it is said that there is no good or bad advertisement, as long as one is spoken about. What this means, for example, is that Hillary Clinton is not doing a very good job of raising her profile on the Web – we will see what it will do for her two years from now.

How coolhunting works is explained at

Friday, November 17, 2006

MIT i-Teams, a blueprint for COINs

Yesterday I was listening to the project presentations of the MIT I-Teams course, an entrepreneurship class taught by Ken Zolot and sponsored by the Deshpande center. In this class students are exploring the commercial viability and developing go-to-market strategies of innovations made by MIT researchers. In other words they are working together as COINs (Collaborative Innovation Networks). While all of the innovations were undoubtedly of high scientific merit and had commercial potential, I was struck by the differing quality of the presentations. While for some products it was hard to understand what the uniqueness, barrier to entry for competitors, and the market was, others had really well-thought out go-to-market strategies. One of my favorites was the team presenting a new and safer bike helmet. While all the other teams had chosen a speaker to present their go-to-market strategy, this team had chosen to get on stage as a team. It was obvious that some of the presenters had worked on this project for years, so they had very deep knowledge of the product. Also, the team operated as a cohesive unit, with different people presenting different parts of their strategy. I think this proves the well-known insight that each company is only as good as its leadership team – even for a student team. The greatest product idea does not make a great company – or go-to-market strategy in this case. Unfortunately collaboration is not yet taught at our universities as a separate subject. This class is definitively a great step in this direction, teaching students to become better members of COINs.