Coolhunt Log #2
Tuesday, April 17, 2007
Peter Gloor, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of Coolhunting
Scott Cooper, MIT researcher with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of Coolhunting
Steve O'Keefe, moderator
Leading the Coolhunt today is Scott Cooper.
SCOTT: I'm connecting from my home office in Massachusetts. I've just been working on a project involving using RFID tags on buildings to help guide tourists through European cities. The technology lets citizens decide what attractions people should see--not some agency.
MODERATOR: Scott, we look forward to a discussion of RFID tags at a future coolhunt. I'd like to update folks on the finishing work on yesterday's hunt.
MODERATOR: We posted the log, then we sent emails to six business and technology reporters at The New York Times to let them know we coolhunted the NYT Online and discussed their "most popular" box. We received a personal email back from one of the reporters at the NYT with comments on our hunt, but he doesn't want them made public. We also posted a comment to the TreeHugger blog, letting them know we used their thread as an example of citizen commentary on the news and its ability to help people with similar views connect with each other.
SCOTT: Newspapers are scrambling for readership and survival now. The truth is, they just don't know what to do with this new technology. Some day the home page of the New York Times might become user-specific (your priorities are reflected).
MODERATOR: Both Scott and Peter agree that having the front page of the New York Times Online reformat according to the popularity of stories is a bad idea. Scott mentioned that he doesn't want his daily paper to begin with news on Paris Hilton's latest exploits and Peter agreed. But having a newspaper that is elegantly customized for one's interests is a completely different matter.
PETER: I am involved with a $1 million Euro startup newspaper in Europe. The newspaper will be user-specified, both in print and online. I want to know what the crowds think. Personalized newspapers could lose the ability to see what's important to the masses. Combining the two--a personalized paper that also contained new stories popular with the masses--would be the best of both worlds.
MODERATOR: Why aren't there any feedback threads attached to New York Times Online articles? Why did we have to travel to another blog to see commentary on a Times story?
PETER: There are feedback loops at the New York Times. The journalists have blogs.
SCOTT: There are two means of feedback at the Times Online: Letters to the Editor via an email address and feedback on the journalist's blog.
PETER: Wikipedia and the Times are the most heavily linked-to sites, quoted most often. The Times still dominates news, but not the way it used to.
SCOTT: There was a time when you had to be in The New York Times to be taken seriously. I spend an hour every morning reading newspapers from all over the world -- thanks to the web. Before the Internet, I had to rely on the large papers for news -- The New York Times, Boston Globe, Washington Post--and international news always lagged behind. Now I have up-to-the-minute international coverage in addition to the Times.
PETER: Yes, I read The New York Times Online first every day, then my Swiss daily paper, then Google News, which provides an amalgam of news stories that is inclusive of worldwide papers.
MODERATOR: The New York Times is still the fat pipe for news about our neighbors here and around the world due to their research capabilities. Let's move on to today's coolhunt.
SCOTT: I want to start today at micropersuasion--Steve Rubel's blog.
SCOTT: Steve Rubel is an advertising executive. His blog covers subjects of how technology is revolutionizing marketing and public relations. Each day, he posts a brief but always wonderful set of links to articles. I find these link sets to be a good starting for finding articles on these topics. In fact, today already I have visited 30 articles online, starting from Steve Rubel's link set.
PETER: Steve's main post today [Open Letter: A Lesson Learned Twittering] tells an interesting story about bloggers themselves. They might take over the world, true, but they often type faster than they think, or are careless with their posts. Rubel is apologizing for a Twitter entry that says he never reads PC Magazine--that he trashes it immediately. But the Twitter post didn't go on to include that he reads online version closely.
SCOTT: I know he does, because I've seen many links he's posted to articles in PC Magazine Online.
SCOTT: Twitter is a one-liner equivalent of blogs. Follow the link to Twitter from Rubel's blog.
SCOTT: Twitter asks, "What are you doing right now" and you can answer using IM, or texting from a cellphone, or email, or at the website. It's a one-liner blog. People put up one line, and it links to a list of one liners. Click on the image or Rubel at Twitter and you'll get a list of his Twitter entries. There are about a dozen in just the last few days.
PETER: Maybe we should talk about Twitter on a future show. You wanted to take another story from Steve Rubel's blog, right Scott.
SCOTT: Yes. Let's go back to the Micropersuasion blog. In the post entitled "Links for 4/17/2007," take the second link to Who Is Sick?
SCOTT: Who Is Sick? is similar to something called HealthMap, which is run by the Children's Hospital Informatics Program in association with Harvard University and MIT. We'll come back to HealthMap. Let's look at Who Is Sick? (WIS?)
SCOTT: Who Is Sick? is a map of user-reported illnesses. The founder of WIS? was on vacation when his wife came down with bad stomach pains. Suspecting it might be appendicitis, they went to the local hospital where they waited for 4 hours to see a doctor. The doctor came in and said there was a bad case of the stomach flu going around. The husband thought, "Wouldn't it have been nice if I could have looked online and seen that people in this area were reporting stomach flu?" So he built WIS? to show what's going around. He was inspired by Craigslist and the HousingMaps websites. HousingMaps is a mash up of Google Maps and Craigslist items. It's one of a series of mash-ups of maps and other data.
SCOTT: It seems silly to log in, say where you are, and what ails you: "I'm not feeling very well tonight. I might have a fever." But Peter and I talk about Collaborative Innovative Networks (COINs) in our book, and this is how they start.
PETER: The categories of illness at WIS? seem very simplistic. HealthMap is more rigorous--tracking outbreaks of infectious diseases.
SCOTT: Let's go to the HealthMap site now.
[Both Peter and Steve (the Moderator) had trouble connecting to the site.]
SCOTT: "It doesn't work well with Firefox, so I'm looking at it in Safari."
PETER: "I can't get Safari to work either."
STEVE: "It wouldn't work in Firefox on a Mac, so I tried Internet Explorer on a Mac and that's not working either."
PETER: "Explorer for the Mac is not supported any longer."
[Neither Peter nor Steve could access the page -- except through a Google cache that did not have the interactive map. Scott narrated a trek through the HealthMap site. ]
SCOTT: From the map, you pick a state. I'm picking Montana. On the map I see an outbreak icon. I scroll over to see the term: neurovirus. I click on the disease and get a report from the Billings Gazette, via Google News, about a past outbreak in Montana. The reports can come from any kind of news source -- not just the Center for Disease Control data.
SCOTT: This is an example of using the web in innovative ways. The possibilities are tremendous. WIS? represents how individuals are tinkering in their biotech version of a garage. Interesting experiments in innovation. But there are still a lot of bugs to work out.
SCOTT: Let's go back to Who Is Sick? and click "We're on TV." That links to the blog. This project is really in it's formative stages. Look at the discussion group for runny noses--it's full of spam.
PETER: You can see how data like this can be mined by pharmaceutical companies for drug inventory management. And also for finding out how people are self-treating diseases. One of the biggest uses for the web is gathering health information. For any thinkable disease, you can connect with other sufferers in self-help groups that span the globe. Who Is Sick? is at a simple level with simple ills.
PETER: I'm looking at how much coughing and how many runny noses are in Cambridge, Mass. I entered my zip code in the search box. There are 12 cases reported over the last 8 weeks. That can't possibly be accurate. The data is only as good as the people who report. The site starts with a map of San Francisco, probably because they are getting the highest number of reporters from that area.
MODERATOR: How can you trust the information online if the results are skewed by pharmaceutical companies spamming the discussion thread or making false reports?
PETER: It is unfair to blame the pharmaceutical companies for the spam. It's mostly for Viagra and other sex drugs. I don't think the pharmaceutical companies would engage in that kind of spamming. They are looking for accurate information, too. WIS? needs a moderated discussion forum. Look at WebMD, or the new health venture started by AOL founder Steve Case; they are thoroughly moderated and they check credentials. The quality of information on such sites is much, much better. Using statistical analysis on the results for Cambridge runny noses at WIS?, the result would probably not be statistically significant.
SCOTT: One of the pitfalls of healthcare on the web--or anything on the web--is the risk that what you see is not legitimate. Anyone with a PC can look like a big company.
PETER: Problem with bad advice is found online everywhere. How do we know which site is reliable? The wisdom of crowds will result in a stamp of approval for certain sites. Open Directory Project is a good place to start looking for quality sites. They use people to rate websites. Crowds rating websites result in even better accuracy.
SCOTT: Don't confound the presence of crowds with wisdom. In "Coolhunting," we have a chapter on when crowds go bad. People sometimes do terrible and stupid things. Unleashing the power of collective intelligence offers the opportunity to have a wonderful result. But it doesn't mean the result will be wonderful. Swarms are more likely to have really great results.
PETER: It's not just how many bees, but finding the right bees--the leader bees, role models, with good ethics. People will follow good leaders. Numbers of the swarm don't tell the story. Who is in the swarm? Find the Ben Franklins as we discuss in our book--the coolfarmers who foster these collaborative innovative networks, or COINs.
SCOTT: Here's an example from the book. We tracked 100 Israeli software start-ups for 5 years, beginning in 1999 and including the dot-com bubble burst. The companies that survived had leaders that networked most with their competitors. All the companies were part of the original swarm. If the swarm had been led by non-networkers, the survival outcome would have likely been different. By giving away power, they became leaders of the swarm, and networked well enough to survive tough times.
PETER: Behaving in an ethical way usually leads to better results.
PETER: I'm very interested in the subject of network structure. Properties of networks can be correlated with outcomes. It's not just knowing who survived; it's being able to *predict* who will survive. We're looking for networking patterns that predict positive outcomes. It has to do with something I call "betweenness": How between other people are you? How powerful are the people you are between? We call this work Social Network Analysis.
SCOTT: A great topic for another show.
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 on Wednesday for the next installment of our live, online coolhunt with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper.
Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.