Monday, April 30, 2007

Coolhunt #10 - Friday, April 27, 2007

Coolhunt Log #10
Friday, April 27, 2007

On Stage:
Scott Cooper, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Steve O'Keefe, Professor of Internet Public Relations at Tulane University
Rachelle Matherne, moderator

MODERATOR: I'd like to remind everyone of the rules of the Coolhunt. We do at least one site review, one blog post, one comment on another blog, and try to make one personal connection via email or phone.

Speakers, please introduce yourselves and tell us where you are dialing in from.

SCOTT: Today, I'm calling from the Engineering Systems Division at MIT.

STEVE: I'm here in my role as Tulane University professor, calling in from my home office in New Orleans, Louisiana.

SCOTT: Part of the preparation for doing this daily call has resulted in finding some interesting things on the web. The weirdest thing I've seen lately was a blog by Alyssa Milano on the L.A. Dodgers. Apparently, she blogs every day for Go Blue, and she seems to know what she's talking about. I'm a very big baseball fan.

MODERATOR: Leading the coolhunt today is Scott Cooper. Where are we going to start today, Scott?

SCOTT: Recently I was sent a link for WeFeelFine.


SCOTT: The reason I chose this for today is because I thought it'd be interesting to see the many unique ways people do things in niche areas. Go to the Mission link on this site. The artists who founded this sift through web blog postings world-wide for the phrases "I feel" or "I am feeling" to accumulate demographic information to enable them to show in any given moment what the world's happiest, saddest, sexiest cities are. It's called "harvesting human feelings."

You can see exactly how many feelings have been collected by how many people based on age, gender, nationality, and actual feelings. Apparently, Las Vegas is the city where people are feeling sexy. Go back up to the top and click on "Movement." This is the artistic part. See the first picture of "madness." It looks like some of the social networking maps in our book, "Coolhunting." Each particle represents something unique to a person based on color, etc. Clicking on a particle reveals information about a person. This gives you a structured environment where you can view a variety of human feelings.

MODERATOR: Clicking on an individual "feeling" takes you to the original blog post where they harvested this phrase.

SCOTT: Right. Let's click on the Montage. This was created to present feelings from a particular population.

STEVE: I clicked on the image of a flower and I get "I feel guilty because I don't know what any of these images are."

SCOTT: Another says, "I feel horrible. . ." from a 99-year-old who refers to her MySpace page. Now, let's go to Mobs.

MODERATOR: Note the white X to get back to the previous page since pop-ups don't give a back button.

SCOTT: Let's go to the fifth one, which is Metrics. Metrics shows the most salient, which expresses the ways in which a given population differs from the global average.

STEVE: Very sophisticated color coding for emotional states on this site.

SCOTT: This is a good example of showing how social networking works. This is data mining, with individuals logging in to allow them to say how they're feeling. This could be used to better humanity.

STEVE: It's based on social networking, but it doesn't rely on voluntary participation -- they automatically scan how people say they are feeling. It's one of the most dynamic sites I've ever encountered.

SCOTT: That was just a snippet of interesting stuff related to what we've been discussing over the past few days.

STEVE: I'd like to take us on a trip to Trip Advisor.


STEVE: My daughter tipped me off to this one. I'm interested in looking at the reviewing process. Click on the Read & Write Reviews tab. Now I'm going to look for reviews for a hotel I know, the Monteleone Hotel in New Orleans. There are 229 reviews for this hotel. They're doing a similar thing to We Feel Fine in that they are scanning the web for reviews of the Monteleone. You can see how the reviews congregate, viewing various reviews. I'm clicking back on the green banner for the home page.

STEVE: Now let's check hotel rates across the board for an entire city. Let's search for hotels in Austin, Texas. It shows me the first 10 hotels that have a vacancy the dates of my stay.

SCOTT: It also gives you a sense for expense, which according to the professional raters is better.

STEVE: Because of the popularity of the site among travelers, hotel proprietors will actually come on the site and write what they're doing to overcome problems posted by guests.

SCOTT: A smart hotel could make a small investment by hiring a bunch of kids to go to the site to post a bunch of good stuff about the hotel.

STEVE: Good point, and I wonder what TripAdvisor policy is about postings. I'm going to modify my search now to show only hotels with rooms available under $100 in Austin. A useful tool is to compare TripAdvisor rankings with prices.

SCOTT: Super 8 is ranked no. 7 out of 166.

STEVE: This is a high rating for a 1-star airport hotel. I'm clicking on the Read All button. I'm always suspicious of 5-star ratings, just as Amazon readers are of high book review ratings. Scott's right that someone could come in and spam TripAdvisor. But maybe just a few people who were very happy were responsible for the high rating.

STEVE: Articles also have been added to TripAdvisor, such as the best second-hand shops in Seattle. Go Lists also is given to recommend what to do in Austin. Any article on the web will be linked here. TripAdvisor allows you to search airline ticket portals and hotel reservation systems, all in one place, with articles linked to geographical destinations. The objectivity, combined with the number of reviewers, is what gives it its power. It's an extremely popular site, giving at least an aura of independence.

SCOTT: It illustrates the wisdom of crowds, and what a swarm of people can do. There are lots of examples on the web of people sharing information like this. Just a couple weeks ago my teenage daughter wanted me to order Chinese food to come to the house. But she insisted that I order from this new restaurant. I looked online and noticed enough people who seemed genuine had reviewed the site for this particular restaurant. I saw enough people talking about it with enough specificity that we ordered, and it was great.

STEVE: People seem more willing to review hotels and restaurants online -- maybe due to the anonymity -- than will use a comment card. Reputation Management has almost become a science in itself. If you see a high TripAdvisor rating, that's a really good indicator based on a large number of reviews and users. Many hotel managers may not know of problems without such an anonymous interface.

STEVE: The reduction of risk is what this is all about. I'd be curious to hear you and Peter talk about the role coolhunting plays in the reduction of risk.

SCOTT: Here, they allow people to vote with comments such that the swarm's collective intelligence and wisdom has a value greater than the decision made in a boardroom -- one that might cost the company $50 million.

STEVE: This greater accuracy is the flip side of lower risk. In virtually every aspect of human endeavor, this coolhunting process can significantly reduce the level of risk, and increase overall prosperity and development.

SCOTT: You made another interesting point about anonymity. Coursing through the blogosphere is the anonymity. Cathy Sierra had to shut down her site because of threats due to something she once wrote, having to cancel public appearances. Tim O'Rielly has developed a bloggers code of conduct that indicates that you shouldn't be anonymous.

STEVE: The "average" Wal-Mart posters who were writing blogs were actually paid employees. This scandal was a turning point in blogger ethics. There needs to be an automated weeding out of various forms of bias that cause a distorted picture. There must be software to help with this.

SCOTT: I'm sure there is. My colleague, Bengt-Arne Vedin, sent me some sites because of what he's been reading on our swarm blog. Citizendium is the first one.


SCOTT: This is a site that actually was started by one of the founders of Wikipedia to solve one of the problems on Wikipedia. Citizendium requires contributors to use their real names and has a gentle expert oversight -- expert editors involved to ensure accurate information. Now let's go to UNcyclopedia.


SCOTT: It looks exactly like Wikipedia but is a spoof of them. This is like The Onion of Wikipedia. Today's feature article is Rock, Paper, Airstrike. I had never seen this site and it looks like hours of fun.

STEVE: This whole hunt today has been a lot of fun.

MODERATOR: We are out of time. Thank you, Scott. We've been talking today with one of the co-authors of Coolhunting: Chasing Down the Next Big Thing.

Listeners, please post your comments to the blog -- whether they're about any connection problems you're experiencing or commentary on the subject of today's coolhunt. The transcript of today's coolhunt will be posted tomorrow morning. You can view that transcript and previous ones at The Swarm Creativity Blog:

Join us on Monday for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.

Thank you.

Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Coolhunt #9 - Thursday, April 26, 2007

Coolhunt Log #9
Thursday, April 26, 2007

On Stage:
Scott Cooper, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Peter Gloor, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Steve O'Keefe, moderator

Listening in from Sweden is one of the co-authors of the book
Design-Inspired Innovation.

Leading the Coolhunt today is Peter Gloor.

PETER: Today, we're going to talk about prediction markets. A really great example is InTrade.


PETER: Prediction markets are a great way to tap into the wisdom of crowds. Instead of having an expert predicting the outcome of certain events, you have people placing bets on what's going to happen.

SCOTT: This ties in with things we've discussed in previous days. The concept of collective intelligence to predict outcomes is similar to what we talked about with "Mutual Fun" at Rite Solutions. Essentially, anything that hits the news that has an outcome related to it can be bet on here. For example, right now bets are being placed on whether Paul Wolfowitz will be asked to resign at the World Bank. Whether the news items are actually bet on depends on what the swarm wants to do.

PETER: Let's look at what the swarm wants to do by going to the U.S. Politics section of InTrade.


PETER: For each potential candidate, you can place a bet. Right now, if you invest 30 cents, you will get $1 if Giuliani is selected as the Republican candidate for President.

MODERATOR: Is there "skin in the game," as you say in the book? Does this use real money?

PETER: Yes, it uses real money. These are real bets. In one of our research projects, a group of students monitored web chatter to accurately predict Oscar winners. The closer an event gets, the more accurate the predictions get. The closer we get to the elections, these predictions get more accurate.

MODERATOR: Is there any analysis that compares the accuracy of prediction markets with other means of polling?

PETER: Usually, the prediction markets outperform traditional polling, by far. You have to look at how the prediction market is set up. It has to be a large crowd. It has to have a good mix of participants -- different types of people. Private companies are also using prediction markets, such as HP, Google, and Microsoft. There is undeniable evidence that even small prediction markets are more accurate in predicting software delivery dates than managers or experts.

SCOTT: I've read interesting stories over the past year about businesses using prediction markets, partially precipitated by an article that appeared last spring in the New York Times Business section. The article said that while some high-tech companies were making breakthroughs trading on idea futures, most companies had not done it. Prediction markets threaten the hierarchal control of managers and would make it obvious that most managers are stupid, to paraphrase many bloggers.

MODERATOR: If the costs of setting up the mechanism are not prohibitive, it seems prediction markets would be preferred.

PETER: There are prediction markets for success of movies at the box office.

SCOTT: We talk about the Hollywood Stock Exchange in Coolhunting and how it's useful to help determine the likelihood of a given release becoming a box office smash. There are 1.4 million people who trade on the Hollywood Stock Exchange as of a year ago when we wrote that section of Coolhunting.


PETER: One interesting note is that people are not betting real money on this site. There are some rewards such as T-shirts and tickets for very successful predicters.

SCOTT: It's expanded over the years, not just to predict success of movies. There are also star bonds -- essentially, betting on the future success of a given entertainer.

MODERATOR: There is a leader board with top traders for the site. You'd think someone would recruit these people as movie reviewers?

SCOTT: It would be interesting to find out if anyone has parlayed their success on Hollywood Stock Exchange into becoming a paid movie critic.

PETER: Companies want successful predictors to participate in their prediction markets. It creates accuracy. Having people with a good track record of making predictions helps the hive. We've found that it is not just the number of people participating in the markets that counts, but also the quality of their prediction capabilities -- and of course their "betweenness" factor -- how well networked they are. We'd love to have a swarm full of Warren Buffets -- the investor with a track record for accurately predicting markets. Now, let's visit the grandfather of prediction markets sites, the Iowa Electronic Markets.


PETER: This is a longstanding market for predicting presidential elections, run from the University of Iowa College of Business.

MODERATOR: You can make predictions on diseases as well. Can people really predict the outbreak of a disease better than medical professionals?

PETER: There has been research done in this field. If you have a mix of experts, ordinary people, and well-educated people, you get the best predictions. The mix is more accurate than the experts alone. Experts have really strong opinions.

SCOTT: There is a specific reason we refer back to collective wisdom and collective intelligence. They can mean two very different things, with respect to the combination of experts and "ordinary" people. It's with the ordinary that you often get the wisdom part of the equation. They don't have the bias associated with being an expert. That, mixed with real expertise, can be a powerful predictor. People making "bets" are informed non-experts. One has to assume that if you're betting real money on InTrade on whether Barack Obama will get the nomination, you're doing it based on some of your own intelligence applied in a wise way.

In our book, we make mention of the fact that a few years ago, the Pentagon proposed a market for anonymous bettors to predict when a terrorist attack would take place. They thought it'd be a worthwhile endeavor rather than an academic experiment. It didn't happen because after the news of it went public, people were horrified by the concept of using a disaster as a "game."

I worked at a firm a few years ago on an early version of a prediction market regarding the energy crisis. Consultants would get together once a week and make bets about certain aspects of the electricity market in the U.S. This was 15 years ago, and we were using collective wisdom plus a general information dump from the corporate librarian.

MODERATOR: Much like turning an office football pool into a powerful new business tool.

PETER: Let's now look at how something that was really cool in the past is becoming less cool. The brand of Apple is mired in maintaining coolness. Right now, there is the controversy of the backdated stock options. Bloggers are suggesting that Steve Jobs knew about this all along. We can view the various comments on Slashdot to see some examples.


MODERATOR: By the way, Slashdot is a hugely popular blog for nerds and geeks. It's a great place for cool farming.

PETER: Yes, it's a great place for cool farming and even more so for coolhunting. Scroll through the comments on this particular blog post about the stock option crisis at Apple and see what respondents think about Jobs.


We could go to InTrade and see if people are already placing bets on Jobs stepping down.

MODERATOR: These comments give us the sense of what's happening with the hive.

PETER: Exactly. The wisdom of crowds is amazing for predicting these sorts of things.

MODERATOR: We are out of time. Thank you very much, Peter and Scott. Listeners, please post your comments to the blog -- whether they're about commentary on the subject of today's coolhunt or any connection problems you experienced.

Join us tomorrow for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.

Thank you.

Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.

Thursday, April 26, 2007

Coolhunt #8, Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Coolhunt Log #8
Wednesday, April 25, 2007

On Stage:
Scott Cooper, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Peter Gloor, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Steve O'Keefe, moderator

Leading the Coolhunt today is Scott Cooper.

SCOTT: I'm really excited about where we're starting today. In Coolhunting, we talk a lot about bees and beehives. In fact, one of the original ideas for a title was "Innovation Beehive." This morning, when I went to O'Reilly Radar, there was a post entitled "Thoughts on the Hive Mind."


SCOTT: This is a post by Brady Forrest, commenting on Jordan Schwartz's concept of extended thoughts. Let's take a look at Schwartz's blog article entitled "Hive-Mind Backyard Beekeeping."


SCOTT: Schwartz tells us that 10 or 12 years ago, after reading an article by Kevin Kelly, co-founder of Wired Magazine, he took up beekeeping.
Hive-Mind is both a blog about beekeeping as well as a site about bee behavior and its correlation to social behavior among humans. It's also a huge reference for beekeepers with resources such as books, a diary, links to buy supplies, etc.

This is really very cool to both Peter and to me. The behavior of bees is a very important part of what we talk about in Coolhunting. It illustrates key principles both in Coolhunting and in our most recent co-authored work, which is the article we have in the current issue of the magazine for MIT's Sloan School of Management. Peter actually introduced to me the whole idea of beekeeping as part of the discussions we were having.

PETER: I grew up talking about bees because my father has been a beekeeper for nearly 60 years. He still has a little house full of bees in his garden. I'm a big fan of those amazing creatures. He was always telling us what great role models the bees are. When we started working on this book, bees were the main inspiration for how we should organize the guiding principles of coolhunting.

It's really amazing how they are self-organizing, working for the greater good, and they communicate in swarms. They have a really democratic way of doing everything, even deciding who becomes their next leader in the sense that the queen who rules the hive is chosen by the bees. Perhaps "rule" is the wrong word, since she has no authority. The only thing she really does is pass on her genes.

SCOTT: A beehive is a really great example of a Collaborative Innovation Network (COIN). The queen doesn't rule or intervene in telling them what to do. The worker bees take care of her, though, primarily because she'll pass on her genes to sustain the colony. They have a lot of interest in taking care of her because the number the eggs she lays is directly related to how much food she is given.

A lot of this is what we see in COINs -- in humans who come together to organize and coordinate their daily tasks. We talk about this a lot in Coolhunting. There are many parallels with Hive-Mind and Coolhunting, such as the wisdom of crowds.

MODERATOR: This Hive-Mind post also includes a description of the waggle dance, which features prominently in Coolhunting, as the means by which bees share their knowledge with the hive.

SCOTT: For me, the most fascinating facet of bee behavior is a particular principle of coolhunting: you gain power by giving power away. This is directly related to what Peter said a moment ago -- the concept of altruism. The bees will even give their lives for the good of the hive. Perhaps that's the ultimate act of altruism.

PETER: There is a story in Switzerland that dates back to the 14th century and is told to every child. An Austrian emperor came in with a large army of knights on horses. The peasant farmers were fighting to get him out, but couldn't penetrate the blockade of mounted knights. One of the farmers threw himself on the knight's lances so the others could then run over his body and attack the knights from behind. The farmers won the battle. The story is probably made more colorful to make the principle easier to remember. The concept of altruism within COINs is quite important. You don't have to go as far as giving your own life, but stepping up for the good of the community is important -- once again, gaining power by giving power away.

MODERATOR: Do you have some examples of recent business models that have been based on the concept of giving power away?

PETER: One example is a retailer in Switzerland called Migros. It succeeded by giving away power to its customers. The founder of the company decided to not just give shares to employees but also to the customers. Migros has about 2 million owners because every customer can become a co-owner. It has worked so well that it's the biggest and most profitable retailer in Switzerland.

SCOTT: We describe this in our Sloan article. We have also talked about MySpace and Friendster -- really good examples of gaining power by giving it away. Our favorite human example is Benjamin Franklin, who gave everything away and gained tremendous power. He operated a COIN called a "junto."

MODERATOR: Johnny Appleseed is another example from that era of someone who gained power by giving away -- apple seeds, in his case. Michael Pollan writes about Appleseed in his impressive book, "The Botany of Desire." This generosity seems to not only result in successful ventures, but for some people, lasting fame, such as Linus Torvalds -- the inventor of the Linux operating system -- who we'll remember 100 years from now.

PETER: In 1991, Torvalds laid out the rules for using Linux and becoming one of his team members. The rules are transparent, undisputed, and still in use today. He's the queen bee because he follows his own rules. Like the owner of Migros, if he didn't follow his own rules, he'd be demoted; occasionally, queen bees get kicked out of their hive. Bill Gates knows when and when not to give things away. He won the battle against Netscape by giving away his web browser for free.

SCOTT: He definitely gained power in part by giving something away. Then there's the anti-competitive business practices that were part of it.

PETER: He mixes the two models very freely to Microsoft's advantage. I would like us to look next at


PETER: Debian is a Linux developers group, and a very active, very self-organizing swarm. They maintain one particular flavor of Linux. The group is democratic, bottom-up, self-organizing. On the left side of the home page, the first link in the "About" section is to the Debian Social Contract.


PETER: They lay out their core principles and guidelines for using their software:

1. Debian will remain 100 percent free
2. We will give back to the free software community
3. We will not hide problems

These are similar to the principles that drive COINs and hives. To show how to apply those principles to the activity of the group, Debian created a "constitution" spelling out exactly how the hive would be governed.


SCOTT: It's like the constitution Ben Franklin helped to draft. These are their rules of operation. Rules are crucial for any COIN. They all have to start from a code of ethics or behavior.

MODERATOR: So there are no rulers here, but lots of rules?

PETER: Not so many rules as decision-making bodies that resolve disputes. See the second item in the Debian Constitution -- "Decision-making bodies and individuals." It lays it all out.

SCOTT: Ben Franklin's junto had an organizing document as well.

MODERATOR: These remind me of the utopian communities that sprang up around the Boston area at the end of the 19th century. They had noble ideas, but they never spread very far.

PETER: They did not thrive because many of them did not adhere to principles of internal honestly and transparency. I've studied some research by Rosabeth Moss Kanter -- the Harvard professor who became a member of some utopian communities. Usually, there are queen bees who make rules but don't live by rules themselves.

SCOTT: Her book is called, "Commitment and Community: Communes and Utopias in Sociological Perspective." It came out in early 70s.

MODERATOR: You've used the term "COIN" often in this coolhunt. Can you explain what it means?

SCOTT: A COIN is a Collaborative Innovation Network -- people who come together for the purpose of generating and improving ideas. Look at the Wikipedia entry for "Collaborative Innovation Networks." You'll see a reference to Peter's previous book on Swarm Creativity. There's also a link to an example of a COIN where innovation was at the center of its work and the COIN is simply a way to share knowledge, which tends to be called a community of practice. The site is called SpineConnect.


SCOTT: At SpineConnect, surgeons who work on spines essentially have one central depository for information. They share their experiences. Over time, this evolved to become a place where spine surgeons would get together to collaborate and innovate in the field. New research and patents and things like that came about as a result of the collaboration engendered by this network. Some developments in spine surgery might not have happened without this site.
This collaboration has been enabled in large part by the technology that broke down distance and time barriers. Spine surgeons in different parts of the world are discovering connections they might not have otherwise known about.

MODERATOR: Bees in Minnesota dancing and being seen in New Delhi.

SCOTT: A global waggle dance.

MODERATOR: We are out of time. Thank you very much, Peter and Scott. Listeners, please post your comments to the blog -- whether they're about commentary on the subject of today's coolhunt or any connection problems you experienced.

Join us tomorrow for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.

Thank you.

Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007

Coolhunt #7 - Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Coolhunt Log #7
Tuesday, April 24, 2007

On Stage:
Scott Cooper, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Peter Gloor, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Steve O'Keefe, moderator

Leading the Coolhunt today is Peter Gloor.

PETER: There was a New York Times article yesterday documenting Wikipedia's coverage of the Virginia Tech shooting. I find the article really inspiring.


The story begins:

IMAGINE a newspaper with more than 2,000 writers,
researchers and copy editors, yet no supervisors or
managers to speak of. No deadlines; no meetings to plan
coverage; no decisions handed down through a chain of
command; no getting up on a desk to lead a toast after
a job well done.

PETER: Further down in the article, there is a quote: "The problem with Wikipedia is that it only works in practice. In theory, it can never work." Let's now move to Wikipedia, starting with the entry for the Virginia Tech incident.


PETER: The Wikipedia article was originally entitled "Virginia Tech Shooting," then there was a discussion to rename it "Virginia Tech Massacre." If you click on the Discussion tab at the top of the page, you can see people discussing the name change. You can see the user Vranak defending his position of including the word "massacre" in the title. Wikipedia has total transparency in their operations.

MODERATOR: Isn't this what drives people crazy about Wikipedia? The idea that so many people have so much time to debate such a minor point as changing the name of the entry from "Virginia Tech Shooting" to "Virginia Tech Massacre"?

PETER: Well, I don't think it's a minor point. I think it's all about coolhunting, actually. The people involved in grooming this entry thought it was important. Right now it's cool to participate in Wikipedia. This might change. Yesterday, we had an interesting discussion about Wikipedia at MIT's Sloan School of Management. When the speaker, Kevin Crowston, was talking I was thinking, "How long will it be cool to be a Wikipedian?" Crowston discussed the growth rate of new users signing up for Wikipedia. In 2001, there were around 2,000 people. Today, it's growing at such an exponential rate that, theoretically, it will take less than 10 years for everyone in the world to be a Wikipedian.

MODERATOR: How long do you think it will take before everyone has an entry on Wikipedia?

PETER: We discussed that, too. Right now, there is a requirement for an entry to be something newsworthy. Combine Facebook, MySpace, and Wikipedia, and you get a worldwide universe of virtually everyone online.

SCOTT: As an aside, there is no entry at Wikipedia for "Peter Gloor." The entry for "Scott Cooper" is not me -- it's a Boston Red Sox baseball player. If you search for "Peter Gloor" at Wikipedia, you will see an entry for Collaborative Innovation Networks, which references Peter's book on Swarm Creativity. There's also a page called coolhunting, though it's not about our book.

PETER: As far as everyone in the world becoming active Wikipedians, I think that will not happen. At some point in time, nearly everything stops being "cool" because everyone is doing it. Usually, when I give talks about the concept of "cool" and coolhunting, I ask people what's cooler: the iPod from Apple or the other mp3 player from Microsoft. Most people say the iPod is cooler. When I asked this last time in Helsinki, one of the most trendsetting cities, someone said it's so much cooler to have an mp3 player from Singapore because everyone has the iPod: "The iPod is mainstream and boring."

MODERATOR: You're using "cool" now in the sense we tend to think the word means, which is not necessarily what Coolhunting is about.

PETER: I think they go together. In our book, we make some distinctions between "cool" just being something that sells really well and something that touches an emotional nerve. In particular, we think that "cool" things also have some aspects of the greater good.

SCOTT: That is actually the definition that applies to Wikipedia and speaks directly to Peter's point. It is unlikely that Wikipedia will still be "cool" at some point in the future. What I think we would predict is that something even better will become the next cool thing -- perhaps something with the best elements of Wikipedia that will become even more pronounced in a new online community, or maybe something we can't even yet imagine.

PETER: We can speculate what it might be, for example YouTube combined with Wikipedia, a combination of articles with videos.

SCOTT: There are already hybrid forms of the underlying ideas behind Wikipedia. For instance, here in Boston, a new newspaper called BostonNOW was launched just within the last few days.


SCOTT: It's a free newspaper, distributed at public transit stops. It's competing with a free newspaper called Metro which is part of a worldwide chain. BostonNOW's objective is to become a "blog newspaper." It wants to eventually solely print blog-style articles so that the entire city of readers is also the writers of the newspaper. It has already begun to try to draw people into the creation of a newspaper by having a daily online editorial meeting. It's a videoconference and anyone can join and speak and help plan the next day's edition of the paper. Within a short time span, the readers will write the newspaper everyday.

PETER: I think the bigger question is, "How are those articles being produced?" There is very little original content. Instead, the articles are derived from other accessible news sources.

MODERATOR: What often makes "original news" is the perspective, or the commentary. You can say an article is original by the comments that string along behind it. Many of those comments are, in fact, "original news" reports.

PETER: I think that's a delicate discussion. I don't think it's a good idea to have fully individualized newspapers.

SCOTT: To some degree, what we can expect for the future is a combination of all of these things we've talked about: an opportunity for people to pick and choose the news they read, but also to participate in writing those news stories.

PETER: I think in this context, I beg to differ. A newspaper like Metro is the antithesis of personalized news, whereas something like BostonNOW is tremendously personalized.

SCOTT: The objective is to actually open the decision-making process regarding what's going to be in the newspaper to the readers themselves. It's not going to be perfect.

MODERATOR: There is a section in Coolhunting that covers the "madness of crowds." For example, there is potential for user participation to actually destabilize an entry in Wikipedia or in some ways paralyze a news delivery organization that is just simply incapable of keeping up with a surge. For example, on the day of Anna Nicole's death, her Wikipedia entry was frozen due to so many user updates. [A LiveJournal community for celebrity gossip was also rendered useless for a short time due to a surge in activity.]

PETER: There have been experiments on Wikipedia where people tried to see how stable it is. It has proven to be amazingly stable. A professor (whose name I can't recall) entered inaccurate information on approximately 20 Wikipedia entries. He wanted to see how long it would take Wikipedia to fix the errors. Within 30 minutes, all 20 of the entries were corrected -- even ones in the most obscure entries. Once they discovered his first error, they searched using his username to find the others and correct them all.

PETER: History is full of examples of crowds going off the track, and we discuss this in our book. For example, the tulip frenzy, or the Nazi movement in Germany after World War I. Entire countries have totally gone off the track. There was recently a really interesting experiment. Newspaper ads invited people to come to an exhibition hall. There were then some experiments as far as crowd behavior goes. Out of the 300, the researchers secretly told only 10 to reverse the direction they were walking. The others followed. We are cattle. If a large enough arc of the population deviates from the right direction, then the others will follow.

MODERATOR: Wikipedia has taken measures to protect the open editing of entries, such as entries dealing with religion and politics, that are enormously controversial, watched very closely, and debated very hotly. Does that kind of sabotage and marketing that also goes on in Wikipedia damage its use as an indicator of the wisdom of crowds.

PETER: I think what that shows is, unfortunately, the same thing as the open environment of the early days of the Internet. There are always bad guys out there. And there are opinions that people believe in strongly.

SCOTT: These are examples not of problems with the technology of collective intelligence or collaborative innovation, but problems with human beings and the discourse we have in our society. It is somewhat related to the technology because the online world atomizes people in a certain way, being dissociated with genuine human contact. All that being said, Wikipedia is remarkably self-correcting.

MODERATOR: What about Gresham's Law: "Bad money drives good money out of circulation." In the early days of UseNet and other mailing lists on the Internet, there were frequently one or two obnoxious posters who would drive everybody else off the list. How can Wikipedia or any other user-generated forum prevent Gresham's Law from taking effect?

PETER: That's a very tough question. Unfortunately, you need enforcement of the rules.

SCOTT: The good news is that we are observing that the more people involved, the less likely these sorts of things are to happen. Wikipedia is an example. The kinds of things you're talking about are the exception rather than the rule.

PETER: Let's return to our discussion of citizen journalism, by looking at Assignment Zero.


PETER: This website is the vision of Jay Rosen. It's similar to Wikipedia; however, it attempts to keep the level of professionalism much higher by producing high quality, original articles. Assignment Zero requires original research, such as interviews. If you think you are a journalist of professional quality, you can sign up here and collaborate on a story. To get started, you can click on the link from the top menu, "How This Works" and scroll down to the section called "How Can You Get Started?"

I'd also like to point out the "About" page. This is an example of how an organization creates trust. Users want to see the faces of the people behind the projects. If you scroll down on the About page, the last entry is "You." When you click on that word, "You," you get to the list of user journalists. That's the crowd they have recruited so far. You can click on a user's profile, then select the "recent activities" tab, and see their contributions to the site. There's also a tab for a contributor's "reporting topics."

Another example of an attempt at high-level online journalism is a Boston-based journal JoVE: Journal of Visual Experiments.


PETER: It's really high-end research, still mostly about the sciences, but it's in a totally new format. It's a new way of publishing research papers using video to supplement a text presentation.

SCOTT: Videos can be uploaded here instead of, or in addition to, writing a journal article.

MODERATOR: This site gives users the ability to leave comments and to upload supplementary files. It makes information with other researchers around the world faster and easier. It allows people with these similar, narrow interests to collaborate.

We are out of time. Thank you very much, Peter and Scott. Listeners, please post your comments to the
Swarm Creativity Blog -- whether they're about commentary on the subject of today's coolhuntany or connection problems you experienced.

Join us tomorrow for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.

Thank you.

Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Coolhunt #6: Monday, April 23, 2007

Coolhunt Log #6
Monday, April 23, 2007

On Stage:
Scott Cooper, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Peter Gloor, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Steve O'Keefe, moderator

Leading the Coolhunt today is Scott Cooper.

SCOTT: Let's start with a website that I go to everyday: O'Reilly Radar at


SCOTT: I thought it would be interesting to discuss the software program Freebase. The concept behind it is quite amazing, and what it means for bridging ideas for the future of the web. Because it's an alpha product, however, we can't actually look at it at this point.

PETER: On our 3/11/07 Swarm Creativity blog post, we discussed Freebase and Danny Hillis. Hillis created Thinking Machines, which involved a massively parallel computer called the Connection Machine.

SCOTT: He's the brain behind Freebase, a software program that is a product of MetaWeb.

PETER: Hillis wants to centralize information into one database. I don't think it will work. Things can have different meanings depending on how you look at them.

MODERATOR: The idea of centralization vs. decentralization is a topic covered in Coolhunting.

PETER: Decentralization is important to swarm creativity. The creative process happens because we bring in so many different viewpoints.

SCOTT: I agree with Peter. I thought it would be interesting to discuss how Freebase's process for pulling in information may actually have value for what Peter and I advocate. Amalgamizing and getting something of use from collective intelligence has great benefits. The question is, "How do you do it?" The technology itself behind Hillis' method is quite compelling, but it seems at the end what you get is a rather centralized view of what any given thing means.

PETER: I think it's great to look back at Hillis' first successful company, Thinking Machine. He had a massively parallel computer located in Massachusetts that was supposed to solve the problems of the world. It used centralized computing. All the attempts at solving really hard problems, such as searching for extra-terrestrial life, are done using peer-to-peer computing. It's done much better that way than with the centralized computer.

SCOTT: I'll see if we can get access to show Freebase on the Coolhunt. Until then, let's start today's hunt at Mashable.


SCOTT: This is one of my favorite blogs. It's different than a lot of other social networking blogs. Everything about the really big sites is tracked and discussed here. One of the nice things this site does is it tracks social networking sites -- such as MySpace -- and what people are doing as they create them, broadly defined. Mashable often publicizes new sites and talks about them. The other thing I really like about Mashable is the Headlines in the box at the top of the page. There's hardly ever a 2-day period that can go by without something compelling happening. For instance, the article entitled "MySpace is Better Than Porn":


SCOTT: This is a posting from last Friday. It's one of the most significant pieces of web-related news to come out in several years. It's based on an article from The Economist finding that social networking sites are about to overtake sex sites in volume of browser traffic in the U.S. any day now.

PETER: I think, Scott, you are overly optimistic. [laughs]

SCOTT: In our book, Coolhunting, we have a foreword by a very well known blogger by the name of Danah Boyd. She traces some of the initial history of MySpace and Facebook, and she makes the point that when they were first launched, they became a place for people to make "hookups." And I think that's obviously still very much the case. If people are going to MySpace or Facebook to find someone to have a sexual liaison with instead of going to something like "," doesn't it represent the swarm taking over a huge part of the web from people in the San Fernando Valley companies, where the porn merchants congregate?

PETER: I just think this shows that the overall population of web users is still growing. In the past, the people desperate for sex were using to satisfy that desire and now it's a much broader part of the population that is using the web. In the past, people would go to the trendy bars in the neighborhood and now they go to social networking sites to hook up.

I think it's a more natural use of our strongest desires: being social animals, being with other people. We have homophilic tendencies, which means we look for people who share similar interests and we form communities based on that. The web is being put to use by helping us become more connected, and it's becoming more mainstream.

MODERATOR: Do you know anything about Pete Cashmore, who wrote this article and put this site together?

SCOTT: He is one of the main people behind Mashable. I think he's one of the most famous bloggers on social networking issues. His writing is usually extremely thoughtful and knowledgeable. Let's go back to the home page of Mashable and take a look at the article on the failure of many web startups, which is also a Pete Cashmore post:


SCOTT: I thought we should talk a little bit about why this happens. I think it relates to a part in Coolhunting wherein we talk about some web startups and their tremendous demise. This will give us an opportunity to talk about some of the principles of coolhunting and also of swarm creativity that have an effect on whether you're going to succeed or not.

PETER: I think we should look at it from the perspective of the crowd. None of these imitation social networking start-ups is really about a leader; they're all followers. They're not setting up a new direction -- it's all about copying others.

MODERATOR: Imitation versus innovation.

PETER: Exactly. It does not bode very well for those startups. My advice for anyone who is doing coolhunting for really cool stuff, this might be a very good test. If it falls into these 10 categories that Cashmore writes about, chances are it won't succeed.

MODERATOR: The inventor of an item is often not the one to popularize it. Some of these "wannabes" are often the refined version that works. For instance, Friendster versus MySpace, which is covered in your book Coolhunting.

SCOTT: Yes, Danah Boyd covers that in her foreword. She discusses how one site, MySpace, gives users the power to do what they want and to solve problems and create the site in the image they want. And the other, Friendster, tries to control them more. It's a very important point. Often, any one of these sites could perhaps be tremendously successful -- even if all 10 of Cashmore's statements apply, if there are users who stumble upon it and see some value and take hold of it and move it somewhere other than where the original person had even conceived.

SCOTT: Now, let's continue the Coolhunt at Yub.


SCOTT: My 18-year-old daughter uses this site. She told me it was cool because it's like a virtual mall. She didn't mean in the sense of virtual shopping, but a social network like the one suburban teens create in malls. This is reflected right at the very top where it says, "Meet. Hang. Shop." The objective is to get you to buy stuff, but the way it's done is to try to replicate some of the power of connectivity among people with similar demographics. In this respect, the developers have sought to find a way around the isolation of individuals that happens when they make online purchases. Next, I'd like us to look at the concept of swarm finance. There is a website where you can borrow money from people you don't know. It's called Prosper.


SCOTT: This is an amazing idea that seems to be working.

PETER: We don't know yet if it works because it's very new. It's community-based lending. You have to be totally transparent about your financial circumstances. In return, people will lend you money at a better rate than if you would just use a credit card.

SCOTT: It's not about the rates, though; it's about the collateral. There is no collateral offered in exchange for loans on Prosper. People who are getting money from Prosper are people who might not be able to get it from traditional outlets because of lack of collateral.

PETER: People can invest in business ideas, even if they only have $10 or $100. If the idea succeeds, you will get back the original $10 plus the interest.

SCOTT: Let's look at a sample listing, the one with the headline, "Daugter needs to take summer college classes Max State Int."


They misspelled "daughter." Here, the loan seeker states the purpose of the loan, an explanation of why she needs the financial help, and a monthly budget to show how she will repay it.

MODERATOR: This is an amazing page we are looking at here. It contains a vast amount of information about this person, her finances, and her project.

SCOTT: On the home page, there are links to news stories about Prosper. There have been some investigative studies of it, too. The basic story is that there's no collateral for these loans, and there's a very, very low default rate.

PETER: But it's just been around for a year, so there really hasn't been time to default on it.

SCOTT: Well, thus far, the concept appears to be working. I just want to use this as an example. I'm not necessarily giving it an endorsement.

MODERATOR: This is quite a bit more elaborate than some simple social networking pages that just have contact info. This is a very detailed financial profile.

SCOTT: But it is still social networking. Click on the "Groups" tab from the home page.


SCOTT: This shows borrower and lender groups. You can create your own group or join an existing group. People with similar interests come together. For example, there is a group called "Apple User Group" with 378 members for people who want to finance the purchase of a new Mac computer. Each member can get a 5 percent discount. The group has negotiated a discount from Apple. This is social networking at a higher level than just making an over-the-web connection and having 30,000 friends on MySpace.

This is also an example of microlending, which we will cover more in depth during a future Coolhunt.

MODERATOR: We are out of time. Thank you very much, Peter and Scott. Listeners, please post your comments to the blog -- whether they're about commentary on the subject of today's coolhunt or any connection problems you experienced.

MODERATOR: Join us tomorrow for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.

Thank you.

Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Coolhunt Log #5, Friday, April 20, 2007

Coolhunt Log #5
Friday, April 20, 2007

On Stage:
Scott Cooper, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Renaud Richardet, software developer with the Condor software program
Steve O'Keefe, moderator

MODERATOR: I'm Steve O'Keefe, and welcome to the Coolhunt for Friday, April 20, 2007. Joining us today we have a special guest, Renaud Richardet, developer of the Condor software project. He's also a colleague of Scott and Peter.

MODERATOR: The coolhunt consists of one site review, one blog post, one comment on another's post, and one personal connection via email or phone. Please introduce yourself and tell us where you're calling from.

RENAUD: I'm calling from the French-speaking part of Switzerland. I met Scott working on this project.

SCOTT: I'm calling from my home office in MA. I'm going to let Renaud speak for himself but I'll introduce something that's essential to the Coolhunting book. We use a software called TeCFlow for graphs to show social networking at It's downloaded for free and shows the temporal communications connections among people. We'll begin our Coolhunt today at Galaxy Advisors, which is an association of a bunch of coolhunters -- a swarm of creative people.


MODERATOR: The software shows a great many maps that look similar to the zodiac or constellations. Those with us today can follow along online.

RENAUD: At galaxyadvisors, the first part of the process is entering data into the software in different formats such as HTML.

MODERATOR: So you're importing large quantities of info?

RENAUD: When you think of 3 million emails, it's scary. So when we analyzed the emails from Enron, we only looked for the messages where people are talking about fraud. This helps you to "find the needle in the haystack."

SCOTT: In our book we actually report on the outcome of the research that Renaud just described. People are familiar with the Enron accusation and their claims against it. Analysis of these emails show a direct connection between the perpetrators of the fraud in California with Ken Lay by searching on words such as "affair," "investigation," and "disclosure."

MODERATOR: Were your results ever involved in the trial?

SCOTT: No, or at least they were not mentioned in open court or entered into transcripts. But economists hired to get people out of trouble do use such software as Condor.

RENAUD: Research of such documents does reveal the usefulness of Condor. Also, Condor can be used to enter web pages instead of just email for search purposes. You can graph the information as nodes (web pages) and lines (hyperlinks). We focus primarily on links between web pages and email instead of focusing on text as with Google. Text is more used for web page searches. For example, with blogs we look for who started the buzz, the subject -- regardless of what subject it is.

SCOTT: This not only spots the trends but the trendsetters.

RENAUD: We have a server version to help users explore coolhunting. On the first page of the Condor viewer we have probable searches. Click on Show Me to see three graphs. The first graph you see is what we call the galaxy. We have pre-searched all the important information. The graph is balanced with a layout algorithm. You can see the largest nodes are the search engines, Wikipedia, along with other pages such as, .org, etc. It's counting a subset of the net. Instead of Google's search for text, we focus more on the social network, for instance, who links to Hillary Clinton?

SCOTT: Why would some of these sites come up? Why would come up? Why Internet Movie Database (

RENAUD: Because of the connection with and Maybe prints t-shirts for

MODERATOR: Let's take a look at IMDB. Open a new window to go to


SCOTT: Now type in Hillary Clinton.

RENAUD: If you search Hillary Clinton on IMDB you find actors by this name and references to movies. We're trying to bring users the most interesting information.

MODERATOR: It seems that very high traffic sites often show up, correct?

RENAUD: Yes, because many people link to IMDB. Google shows that the more links to a page, the more important the page. The more a page is linked between other pages, the higher the "betweeness." If Alex and Clara need to talk to Bob to get each other's phone numbers, Bob is very important because he is between them. When pages are needed to connect other pages, they are "in between" those other pages. And the more betweeness, the more pertinent the pages.

MODERATOR: Does the relative size of the nodes on the graph relate to betweeness? Or the distance?

RENAUD: The size of dots shows betweeness, how central the page is in the web, in the network. We are working on software that will remove certain sites from the list we track -- such as search engines -- that are distorting the linkage analysis.

SCOTT: Renaud, could you speak of how coolhunters could use this in a more sophisticated hunt such as when others communicated, how they communicated, and about what they communicated?

RENAUD: In Finland, we just finished a project where we did just that. We were able to create another view of an organization's clustering, representing someone's position in the circle, so top management could see who is networking, who is talking to one another.

SCOTT: And this has all sorts of implications for companies such as if people function as stars or galaxies.

SCOTT: In the book "Coolhunting," we discuss an experiment with a cell phone company that wanted to determine what features or technology of a phone were the most important to users, which bells or whistles were embraced by the community. It was a relatively small group of about 17 phones being giving out to people with some broad social class network. These college kids were given free phones with the understanding that the telecom company could track their use. It wasn't the content of their conversations that was tracked but rather which services they used and how long they used the services such as call waiting, soccer scores, etc. to discover the social networks involved. Therefore, the company could better market their phones to the right customer community.

MODERATOR: Is the software free?

SCOTT: Yes, you can download a trial version at the TeCFlow website.


RENAUD: We plan to improve the relevance of the data returned. You'll be able to search for which blogs talk about your topics of interest, and blogs that are in between other blogs.

SCOTT: Since we have a few more minutes, I'd like Renaud to talk about the website Digg.


RENAUD: Let's go digging. This is the prototype of a new kind of site where people can spread the word about cool sites they find. You can see a list of popular sites on the left side. When a page has enough diggs it's promoted to the front page. We don't have CNN or Google telling us what's cool; it's actually the web and it's people telling you what's cool.

SCOTT: If you comment on a blog, you only reach the people who read that blog. But if you "digg" the blog -- that is, alert people on Digg to the blog by tagging it or "digging it," others might find it.

RENAUD: Digg being part of this Web 2.0 move is getting important with non-techie people.

MODERATOR: I thought the Galaxy site was cool, but how do you digg it?

RENAUD: Go to the top right to Submit a New Story link. The site is so popular that you have to register to create an account.

MODERATOR: It's a fairly simply process. I'm going to fill in the fields to see if I can digg. I've registered so now I could probably add a story -- which is how you "digg" a site -- by "adding a story."

RENAUD: I'm actually adding a story right now.

MODERATOR: I'm back at the home page where the number of diggs on the top story has doubled in the last 5 minutes, while email postings tripled.

RENAUD: I would like to show you how this page is going to be digged. Search for "online coolhunting." They have done an incredible job on bringing meaningful links to the front page and keeping the site clean and pertinent to relevant pages.

MODERATOR: These diggs represent selfless behavior to provide information. I'm going to sum up the coolhunt. Today we visited galaxyadvisors, IMDB, and Digg.

MODERATOR: We are out of time. Thank you very much, Renaud and Scott. Listeners, please post your comments to the blog -- whether they're about commentary on the subject of today's coolhunt or any connection problems you experienced.

MODERATOR: Join us Monday for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.

Thank you.

Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.

Friday, April 20, 2007

Coolhunt #4: Thursday, April 19, 2007

Coolhunt Log #4
Thursday, April 19, 2007

On Stage:
Scott Cooper, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Steve O'Keefe, moderator

Leading the Coolhunt today is Scott Cooper.

SCOTT: I thought we would start today at the Creative Commons website. It's not a blog, but it is a starting point for what we talked about yesterday. We wound up at a website called and we talked about a group of people in Denmark who had developed a recipe for beer. It's not just a copycat of Budweiser. For instance with Mozilla's Firefox, where anyone has access to the source code and can essentially innovate on top of that.


MODERATOR: And develop a better recipe.

SCOTT: Or a different recipe. The idea is that everything is shared and credit is given where credit is due. But the motivation is to build the best mousetrap, not necessarily to make money. So the beer is really analogous to that and we looked at all sorts of beer. On the Free Beer website, there's a link to Creative Commons. Creative Commons is a very interesting concept. This is essentially the legal website for the notion of just what it says on the top: "Share, reuse, and remix -- legally." It's a way to let authors, artists, and creators of intellectual content actually produces legally viable documentation that allows an artist the sort of open source equivalent in writing, codified in contractual-type language that typical copyright and patent holders hold. This is speculative on my part, but I believe one of the objectives is to legitimize this kind of sharing within the framework of the proprietary world. In other words, to make it easier to relax the rights on certain works and to encourage the kind of works you're talking about. And to destroy that regime from within. This is what the Worker's Movement used to talk about in the 1860s.

The reality is that if you're going to do something in an open source way, you don't really need this kind of legal documentation. You just have to trust that the people who are going to use it are going to use it in the ways you stipulate.

MODERATOR: I do have some questions about Creative Commons. Is this a place where I bring content and choose from a menu of rights alternatives and more or less stamp my content with that?
SCOTT: What you can do is go to this website and apply for a Creative Commons license to a work. So people register their (mostly) online and some offline work here. Then you can come and ask to license the online work or whatever work it is. And essentially, you get a Creative Commons license, which is based on copyright, but the difference is the Creative Commons copyright allows you to do all types of things that typical copyrights don't allow you to do. It allows you to treat the work as if it were not copyrighted.

MODERATOR: Are there any big corporations who have decided to rescind their rights on information and to allow it to be copyright-free through Creative Commons?

SCOTT: It's mostly smaller enterprises, but there are examples of companies doing similar things. For instance, not too long ago IBM released a whole slew of its software, relinquished 500 patents in 2005, and proposed a patent commons for royalty-free, open source software development. What IBM did was give it away, seeding the initiative. They identified 500 U.S. patents (or its counterparts in some other countries) in the beginning of 2005, and basically said, "Do what you want with this. We want to establish this platform for people to do what they want with these patents we've developed." In the world of business journalism, and reasonable people who can speculate reasonably, IBM released stuff that would not hurt its profit making venture. While that's probably true, I don't think it minimizes the significance.

MODERATOR: It was fair to say it was a cautious first step, but definitely more than some companies have been known to do: When forced to reveal source code, some companies basically put junk out there that makes it very difficult to use the code.

SCOTT: Right, that's a good point. I think what IBM is doing is certainly in the spirit that's becoming part of the innovation world. Part of unleashing the power of collaboration by putting out there the problems that they're trying to solve and sharing with the swarm everything that they have thus far in their attempts to solve the problem and have whomever happens upon it try to help, where companies actually post problems and offer tens of thousands of dollars to those who can help fix the problem. For example, Innocentive.


MODERATOR: "Innocentive," sort of like innovation and incentive mashed up. I'm there. It has a lovely little atomic logo.

SCOTT: This was started by a pharmaceutical company, Eli Lilley. It's now in lots and lots of industries. You can see right there on the front page how it works. A company posts a challenge. Such as this one, searching for a synthetic root in organic chemistry. If you can do it, $40K is waiting for you.

MODERATOR: People are offering financial incentives to solve problems.

SCOTT: Exactly. What this is illustrating is sort of the breakup. These are all part of a piece even though Creative Commons is not exactly the same. They're all showing breaking up the monolithic black box problem solving or innovation. There are a lot of famous examples of people from the most unexpected places winning the prize. I remember something like a schoolteacher in rural Australia won $50K for solving a problem that the scientists hadn't been able to crack. A guy teaching at a third-rate university in Kazakhstan solved a chemistry problem.

MODERATOR: The Wall Street Journal had an article about a million-dollar prize and a Russian youth solving an "unsolvable" math problem. He declined the prize! What I think came out of your book for me is that companies benefit and society benefits when people stop holding their knowledge so closely and instead toss it to the wind and see what happens. Is that a fair summary?

SCOTT: Yes, that really is what Peter and I think and we've taken this idea further. We've got an article in the current issue of Sloan Management Review called "The New Principles of the Swarm Business" where we've taken some of our ideas in Coolhunting and gone even further and tried to apply the principles of coolhunting and cool farming to how a business in the future might best succeed. The three principles are: 1) Gain power by giving it away, 2) Share with the swarm, and 3) Concentrate on the swarm, not on making money. The idea is that you should innovate and share, and you probably will end up making a lot of money. It's almost Zen-like.

MODERATOR: That's interesting. What you're providing is evidence.

SCOTT: The development of the World Wide Web is a good example. It happened in all the ways of coolhunting, one of which was the people who propelled it forward did so with the motivating factor of wanting to see the idea to its fruition. They're all worth a lot of money now.

MODERATOR: Is it possible to drill through this site to see how this meeting of problems and solutions happen?

SCOTT: Sure.

MODERATOR: There's a section for seekers who have problems and solvers who have solutions. Which side would you like to drop in on?

SCOTT: It tells you what Innocentive can do for you. If you want to see what the actual challenges are, you go to Innocentive Challenges on the menu.

MODERATOR: This is also a networking site as well.

SCOTT: I think it might be interesting to continue with this thread and go to a site called Rite Solutions.


SCOTT: This company has a kind of innocentive internally. We're seeing this more and more as well. It's an internal idea and prediction market that they call "Mutual Fun." They call it a marketplace to harvest collective genius. Basically, people who work there are given $10K in pretend money to invest in ideas that employees float on this market. One is for emerging technologies; it's called the SpazDaq. Technologies outside the company might acquire. "BOW JONES" is for products they might consider doing themselves. Savings Bonds are ideas for saving money or making the company more efficient internally. Anyone who works at Rite Solutions can come up with stock. The basis is their collective intelligence about whether or not they think the ideas are good. What Rite Solutions has done is throw out the ideas to everyone and see what people think about it, but they're not necessarily shopping for the solution but shopping for the collective intelligence of their employees to see if it makes sense to invest real money. What do people think about the ideas? They create an "expectus" instead of a prospectus. People review that. There's a ticker that scrolls across all the computer screens in the company in real time. They gauge the direction of the senior managers from gathering this collective intelligence.

MODERATOR: Why do you think that the addition of an exchange or more or less a gambling-style interface would encourage this sharing of knowledge in a way that not having that structure doesn't?
SCOTT: I think part of it is that it's fun to do it this way. If Peter were on the call, he'd use his standard phrase, "It always makes a difference if you have skin in the game." I think what Rite Solutions has done is create a way of having skin in the game that doesn't cost anyone anything but has real potential economic benefits. What we don't know about specifically is the degree to which if the prediction works correctly and they end up making a business decision that turns out to be tremendously profitable how the originator of the idea benefits, but I have no doubt that they do -- financially.

MODERATOR: Is there a certain threshold number of people who have to play in order to get the results that are statistically relevant as opposed to just a couple of employees?

SCOTT: I think Rite Solutions has a lot more employees. I think there's a high level of participation. I don't have a specific number, but definitely the more the merrier -- especially when the swarm comprises knowledgeable, smart people who are innovators and have specific knowledge.

MODERATOR: It looks like they have created a variety of games that they market to companies who want to pull out the marketing consciousness of their employees.

SCOTT: These are not just for their own employees. They create collaborative games that their customers use.

MODERATOR: This is very interesting. There's been quite a bit of research in gaming and how game theory plays in terms of business development. It's sounding like what Coolhunting is telling us is that when you play the game by giving away and spreading it around, those are the people who win the game.

SCOTT: That's a very good point. If people want to read more about mutual fun, they can go to There's a search function. Put in the name of the CEO of Rite Solutions, Jim Lavoie. One of the articles is called "Stories of Innovation" and it's about Lavoie creatively inspiring employees as a source of innovation.

MODERATOR: I have a side segue here, about something in the news today. There was a piece in the Wall Street Journal commenting on an article in the MIT Sloan Management Review. Isn't that the same issue your article is published in?


MODERATOR: Four marketing experts at MIT's Sloan School of Management found that companies often didn't understand how consumers were using their products. When they actually looked at how, they found out different information than what they originally thought -- basically, finding the right job for your product.

SCOTT: They're actually not MIT researchers, but it was published in the MIT magazine. They are Clayton Christensen, author of The Innovator's Dilemma and instructor at Harvard Business School, Scott Anthony, President of Innosite (Clayton's consulting company), Gerald Berstel, a researcher in Chicago, and Denise Howell, another researcher in Chicago.

MODERATOR: This strikes me as dovetailing very nicely with what you've been talking about in that they quote Peter Drucker: "The customer rarely buys what the business thinks it sells them."

SCOTT: I think more businesses are figuring this out. Peter and I have written about some interesting ideas. I recently did some research for some MIT researchers. Design-inspired innovation in which he discusses a very interesting example of this, Lego. Lego was really hurting a few years ago, but reinvented themselves, and in some ways financially saved the company. Customers can go to the Lego website and design their own product. We give you the customer, the platform is the ubiquitous Lego block. "User-driven innovation" is what the scholars are calling it.

MODERATOR: In your book, you mention the 3M company and a study that was done there. Customer suggestions were 80% more profitable than those of the designers working at the company.

SCOTT: Yes, something along those lines. I'm trying to remember the exact number.

MODERATOR: It seems to suggest, "fire the designers and hire your customers and you will have a more profitable operation." I know it's not that simple but it's an interesting study, certainly. It questions what it means to be an expert. Whether expertise or being able to tap a hive is more valuable.

SCOTT: It's really a hot topic right now. It goes under a lot of other names. Eric von Hippel at MIT, author of Democratizing Innovation, pointed out that if you put "user-driven innovation" into Google, you get quite a number of hits.

MODERATOR: That terms sounds like an individual thing. But what you're talking about in the book is letting hundreds or thousands of users interact with each other.

SCOTT: Our focus is much more on how swarms of people interact to create innovation. We use all sorts of examples all the way back to our consummate "cool farmer," Benjamin Franklin. If there were a tagline for our book, it would be "More Ben Franklins!"

MODERATOR: In many senses of that word. He's on the $100 bill, isn't he? "It's all about the Benjamins." In your case, it's all about the Benjamins in the role of cool farmer.

SCOTT: A cool farmer is someone who takes our idea of coolhunting and plays a more proactive role. If a coolhunter is someone who zeroes in on ideas and finds someone responsible for the idea and watches them and figures out how to find what's going to become the next big thing, the cool farmer is someone who immerses himself in the swarm and plays the role of promoting swarm creativity. He personally engages in creating the idea of what's cool through collaborative innovation, but really tries to make something happen without playing a starring role. The key point is that, in order to function best in these networks and come out at the other end, you have to function like a galaxy.

MODERATOR: You're asking people to give up any financial and power motivation, and if they do this they will have more power and more stature.

SCOTT: For cool farming, we've identified four principles that we think explain what it means to be a cool farmer. One is power by giving it away -- most important -- you gain your power from sharing the power and we're talking about ethically used power, not raw power.

MODERATOR: A more successful designer is able to tap the hive of the customers, not necessarily the one who has the training of a designer.

SCOTT: A good example is the inventor of the Linux operating system. He gives credit to all fellow Linux programmers and doesn't take credit for himself. Or Benjamin Franklin in Philadelphia, where his ideas became the ideas of the entire group. He is an icon today for all manners of things by virtue of the way he did things. He gave his inventions away. He didn't patent them.

MODERATOR: We've talked about the young mathematician giving up his award, Ben Franklin giving away his patents, and IBM releasing 500 patents into public domain. These things resulted in significant improvements for not only companies and individuals but for society as well.

SCOTT: The Creative Commons site is a good example of this concept of sharing. It shows projects under development. It would take anyone listening in a while to read through this, but I do recommend taking a look at Meta data lab. It's a fascinating concept of how to create the conditions and how to get attributions for the work you do -- in a scientific context -- but share what you know. We talked about an initiative putting together a bunch of labs to share the data on the outbreak of SARS in a way that enabled much faster ideas of solutions than what could possibly have happened under the proprietary system. The global outbreak alert and response network, part of the World Health Organization, got a dozen labs from a dozen countries and linked them together during the period when they were trying to control an outbreak, and virtual networks allowed them to share whatever information they had. These labs, by working together, very quickly enabled a whole bunch of pharmaceutical companies to develop drugs that helped in the outbreak in virtually no time at all.

MODERATOR: In web development, when you adhere tags to content, it makes the content more searchable and easier to find. Is this meta lab about developing tags?

SCOTT: This is really about sharing meta data in all sorts of situations. If you take the meta data as data that's used to describe other data, this is a way to share the mash-ups, the amalgams of data that give people the ability to know where to look for the information that they need in a much faster way. One of the things that slows down scientific research is that people are working on similar things, but they don't always share quite the right stuff even when they do share.

MODERATOR: We are out of time. Thank you very much, Scott. Listeners, please post your comments to the blog -- whether they're about any connection problems you're experiencing or commentary on the subject of today's coolhunt.

MODERATOR: Join us on Friday for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.

Thank you.

Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.

Thursday, April 19, 2007

Coolhunt #3: April 18, 2007

Coolhunt Log #3
Wednesday, April 18, 2007

On Stage:
Peter Gloor, MIT research affiliate with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Scott Cooper, MIT research affiliate with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of
Steve O'Keefe, moderator

Leading the Coolhunt today is Peter Gloor.

MODERATOR: Concluding yesterday's coolhunt, I posted a comment on Steve Rubel's blog,
micropersuasion, and I sent email to and to Jack Dorsy and Biz Stone, the founders of Twitter, to let them know we coolhunted them. A reminder to listeners that a coolhunt consists of: one site review, one blog posting, one blog comment, and one personal connection via email or Skype or phone.

MODERATOR: Peter, where are you taking us today?

PETER: I want to talk about social networks on the web and how these sources can be analyzed today. I would like to start with a nice example of how a social network can be used: They Rule.


PETER: Using TheyRule, you can see how companies are connected by their directors. In a study of the six degrees of separation, Stanley Milgram, a researcher from the Midwest, had people send letters to friends who then forwarded the letters to their friends to prove that it never took more than six steps to connect any one person in the United States with any other person in the United States.

PETER: TheyRule shows the connection between any two companies as far as directors go. Proctor and Gamble is the connector between Amazon and Viacom by four connections by their directors.

SCOTT: The creators of the website chose to use a verbal rule to make the connections. They seem to be showing who are the unelected rulers of the U.S.

PETER: If you would take the names shown you could probably get actual rulers of the U.S.

SCOTT: The Ruling Class. This site shows basically the same thing as Six Degrees of Separation in the way of company directors.

PETER: It's a fully automated way to determine a business' social network. It's an extremely powerful tool to find those who have influence. It also shows the concept of "betweeness." If a person has only two friends he's not very well connected unless the two friends are well connected, giving a high level of betweeness. As another example, let's go to Centrality. This site shows all sorts of relationships, i.e., someone who is highly central to a network.


SCOTT: Many of the ideas on the opening page of this website are central to concepts in our book.

MODERATOR: It says "Visible Path" at the top of the page. Is that the name of the company?

PETER: Visible Path is software used by social network researcher bloggers. Visibile Path is the platform, but they are also partners in this site.

PETER: The leading names in social network analysis contribute to this site all the time. The third post is from Stan Wasserman, who wrote the classic textbook, "Advances in Social Network Analysis." He is one of the chief scientists of Centrality. In his post here, he's talking about Duncan Watts who was one of the handful of people who discovered the "small world network" reapplying the 6 degrees of separation to the Internet.

SCOTT: Watts has an online experiment designed to prove 6 degrees of separation. It's located at You can sign up at this website to begin your own chain to experiment on the 6 degrees concept.

PETER: Even at 4 billion people worldwide, there still are only 6 degrees of separation because of the Internet. We are living in a small world because of people who are vastly more connected than the rest of us. Whereas most of us have connections with several hundred people, some people are atypical with 5,000 to 6,000 connections with others.

SCOTT: If someone signs up on this website, you're given a tutorial to begin your own experiment. It walks you through to try to make a connection with one other person. It gives you the profiling information you need to make the connection, explaining how this "small-world" concept works. This is really central to our ideas of connection.

PETER: In his book, "The Tipping Point," Malcolm Gladwell talks about three types of people: Mavens, Sales People, and Connectors. "Connectors" have atypically large numbers of friends.

PETER: Steve's questions: What brings us together? You can use a physician in Bombay to connect you with a physician in Boston.

MODERATOR: What makes a connector? What do you know about that atypical person? What percentage of the population are these atypical people?

PETER: Those people usually are gregarious, outgoing, open to new things. "The Tipping Point" doesn't really address the characteristics of connectors in a rigorous, scientific way. Gladwell just describes them in terms of how they handle a large number of friends. The atypical person could bridge a "structural hole" between different groups of people. These are the "gatekeepers" who connect everyone. They represent a small percentage of the population--probably less than 1% are these atypical connectors.

MODERATOR: You show a connection between connectivity and business prosperity. Should employers be screening job applicants for this trait?

PETER: To a certain extent it's already happening with sites like LinkedIn, MySpace, etc., which replay social networking concepts to see how well others are connected. Network position correlates very strongly with business success. But not all connections work in all businesses. But the "betweeness" matters quite a lot. In Boston we looked at research and communications, finding that the more researchers spoke with competitors, the more successful they were.

SCOTT: In our book we discuss how Eclipse open source software developers interacted. One could predict which teams would be the higher performers because of sharing, high number of connections, etc.

PETER: The measure of success was not for dollars but for how many new features they implemented (innovation) and how quickly they fixed errors (efficiency). Another project at MIT shows that branches of banks that are better connected (according to an analysis of email patterns between employees) are more profitable.

MODERATOR: So you're saying that it's better for companies to release their secrets rather than hide them. Do you think if Coca-Cola released their famous secret recipe for Coke, we'd all be enjoying an improved beverage as a result?

SCOTT: Absolutely. Better products would result based on information sharing.

PETER: I don't know about Coca-Cola, but we can look at someone who has done something exactly like what you are describing--the Free Beer site from Denmark.


PETER: This site was started by a microbrewery. They made their recipe freely available on the web, and allowed other people to use their name, FREE BEER, and print bottle labels from the site, and innovate on the recipe. The original recipe, which most brewers closely guard, is now in the public domain.

SCOTT: At this site you'll see a long list of various free beers that have been built based on the initial recipe. Peter and I both became interested because of the open source idea, and because we like beer.

PETER: There are now FREE BEER breweries all over the world. You could even make a very nice living with such a project.

MODERATOR: This site is very visual, colorful--a real eye-opener.

SCOTT: And you can see the original recipe posted on the right side of the home page, along with brewing instructions. Just get the ingredients and follow the instructions. As long as you can become familiar with brewing technology and find a place, you can brew. This is equivalent to Mozilla putting Firefox code online. The concept is for users to share information.

MODERATOR: What about the well connected person--say, a hospital volunteer--who is not online. Do some connected people fall off the radar because their connectivity is hard to quantify?

PETER: The privacy issue is that some people may not want everyone to know exactly how connected they are. Also, if we restrict ourselves to analyzing only one means of communication such as email, we restrict our analysis of connectivity. One social networking study at the MIT Media Lab was based on free cell phones, and provided an amazing study into connectivity. Students agreed to carry the cell phones at all times, and we could track their movements 24 hours a day and see who they were connecting with. Of course, you can tell who is spending the night with whom--and that kind of information is very sensitive.

PETER: If you have great information, you can make all sorts of great predictions. Your network position is a great predictor of how successful you are. The online network of a person consists of different communication systems. There is already software out there where you have to opt in, promoting the discovery of degrees of separation. But this is content on people who have self-reported.

MODERATOR: Today, we visited,,, and I'd like to suggest that in a future show we explore other social networking sites such as MySpace. I'd also like to talk about sites like ZoomInfo, which appears to be a massive effort to cull the Internet looking for connections based on two variables: a person's name, and the company they work for.

PETER: Yes, yes. ZoomInfo is a great project to discuss.

PETER: This is an excellent example of a great network.

MODERATOR: We are out of time. Thank you very much, Peter and Scott. Listeners, please post your comments to the blog--whether they're about any connection problems you're experiencing or commentary on the subject of today's coolhunt.

MODERATOR: Join us tomorrow for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.

Thank you.

Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.