Coolhunt Log #17
Tuesday, May 8, 2007
Scott Cooper, MIT research affiliate with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of Coolhunting
Peter Gloor, MIT research affiliate with the Sloan School of Management, co-author of Coolhunting
Gary Smith, moderator
MODERATOR: I’d like to welcome everyone to today’s coolhunt for Tuesday, May 8. We are hosting daily conference calls with the authors of Coolhunting: Chasing Down the Next Big Thing published by Amacom Books. You can view logs of previous Coolhunts at The Swarm Creativity blog at swarmcreativity.blogspot.com. On stage today is Scott Cooper and Peter Gloor, MIT research affiliates with the Sloan School of Management, and co-authors of Coolhunting—Chasing Down the Next Big Thing. I’m Gary Smith and I’ll be moderating today’s Coolhunt. Authors, can you identify yourselves so we’ll know your voice and tell us where you’re calling from today?
PETER: I'm Peter Gloor and I'm calling in today from my home office in Switzerland.
SCOTT: I'm Scott Cooper and I'm calling in today from my home office in Newton Highlands, MA.
MODERATOR: I'd like to remind everyone of the rules of the Coolhunt. We do at least one site, one blog post, one comment on another blog, and try to make one personal connection via email or phone. This is the final week of our 4-week program. I’m going to mute the audience now to keep down any potential background noise, but listeners can make comments by pressing 6 to unmute themselves. Peter is going to start the coolhunt today, so where are you going to take us first?
PETER: Today we're going to look at social networks, particularly how altruistic they can be. A good starting point is the Forrester Research blog. Charlene Li has come up with a way of grouping everyone on the web by activity: 52% are inactive, another 33% are spectators (such as going to YouTube to watch videos), and there are 19% who will go to FaceBook or other social networking sites.
SCOTT: I recently read an article on Slashdot that stated the reason that 52% is inactive is because they're not bored.
PETER: They have better things to do!
SCOTT: The article stated that a lot of the collaboration that happens on the web can all be traced back to the boredom levels of the people who are involved. I don't really believe that, but I thought it was funny. I can see the headline: "Boredom Drives Open Source Developers."
PETER: If you scroll down a little bit on the Forrester article, you see the motivation for people to become creative thinkers. At the highest level, 13% of all web users publish their own web page or blog, or post videos on YouTube, for example.
SCOTT: That 13% is comprised of online adult consumers in the United States, so these figures are not worldwide. And, according to Li, to become a creator simply means you have to do one of these things one time within a 1-month period. It's still a very high number, but it's just a snapshot in time that someone did something once.
PETER: On the other hand, it's my experience that people who have done these activities once are usually repeat users. They might not go back to the same blog, and they might not like uploading videos, but they are active on the web because they have discovered how fun it is to be active. Let's go to the Forbes Special Report on "Networks: Community" and look at what types of people comprise that 13%.
PETER: For example, we have self-help groups, and the largest group network of all, the church, as well as other charitable networks. As Scott and I have said many times, networking is not new. It's as old as man. Thanks to the Internet, it has become more global and much easier to network with each other.
PETER: Here’s an example of old-fashioned face-to-face networking. When a new member of a church needed a dentist, she solicited recommendations from her fellow parishioners. She got 30 or 40 recommendations, and they were all highly personalized. This is a very practical, hands-on way of coolhunting.
SCOTT: That's just like something I mentioned a couple of weeks ago, where I was looking at online reviews of a local Chinese restaurant, versus the official newspaper review.
PETER: The point is, if you know your friend’s tastes, then his recommendation becomes much more valuable than a stranger's. If I read the blog of a total stranger, I have no idea what he likes. If I talk with my friend whose taste I know and trust, his recommendations carry a much higher weight.
PETER: Another interesting thing on the Forbes page is that you can vote on your favorite networking site. We have looked at a few of them so far throughout this month of coolhunting. Even more interesting, you can view the results. I found the Xanga site to be very interesting.
PETER: If you're interested in what a large population of people thinks about a topic, you can post about it here and wait for a comment. For example, let's look at this recent post about shoplifters at Wal-Mart.
PETER: In one day, this post has received more than 140 comments. There is a range of comments in support of the concept and also against it. Now, I would like to talk a little bit more about people collaborating in social networks, and the altruistic uses for networking. Let's look at an article on kidney donors.
PETER: This is a great example of the power of large networks. As you might know, there are potentially many more people needing kidneys than are available for transplant. What this professor has figured out is a way of matching people who are willing to donate a kidney with potential recipients. He has figured out an algorithm for this. This is incredible because it means survival for thousands more people. It's an example of a very altruistic use of social networking -- using it for the greater good.
PETER: As our last stop on today's coolhunt, I'd like to take a look at research by Samuel Bowles, Research Professor and Director of the Behavioral Sciences Program at the Santa Fe Institute.
PETER: Let's look at his paper that was published in Science Magazine last December.
PETER: This is a description of his experiments where he has shown that altruism is good for mankind, which is not necessarily an obvious conclusion. What Bowles has done is proven mathematically that altruism is good. In his research, the individuals who survived were the ones who were willing to sacrifice themselves in order to ensure survival of the other members of the tribe. He's proving, genetically, that groups that have an altruistic gene have a better chance of surviving than the ones that are trying to cheat each other.
PETER: He defines different levels of altruism, and for each he defines mathematical properties of what is needed to succeed. He models different types of behavior in groups of people, the groups where members of the team behave altruistically to each other; they do better in their activities.
SCOTT: We're still working these ideas out, but we discuss them in a recent article in the Sloan School of Management magazine -- the ideas of doing what's good, getting power by giving it away, concentrating on the swarm rather than focusing on making money. All of these are altruistic ways of doing business. The term "altruistic" has a certain connotation to people and when used in a business sense, it is incorrectly perceived.
PETER: Perhaps we need another word. "Swarm business" might be a good way of describing it. For example, Novartis, a pharmaceutical company, who instead of giving severance packages to employees it laid off gave them capital to fund startup biotech companies.
MODERATOR: This is a novel approach. But how would altruism play out in more competitive fields, such as scientific publishing where researchers careers -- and lives -- are contingent on getting that big NIH grant because of some cutting-edge research they just published in a peer-reviewed scientific research journal? If someone else gets hold of their research and publishes it in a journal that has a faster receipt to publication turnaround time than the one to which they submitted, they could end up having to go back into private practice to survive.
PETER: That’s an excellent point.
SCOTT: I don't have data to back up what I'm about to say, but it's an educated hunch. Two things are changing it. The idea behind Creative Commons, a willingness to share very widely in exchange simply for the recognition that it's your work. It doesn't get stolen. You don't worry about remuneration and proprietary concerns. Also, the new generation of scientific researchers is comprised of kids who've grown up in this world of social networking. There's a generational clash between the 60-year-old professor, wanting to keep his research secret, and the lab post-doctorals who have a completely different view of the world. They get online. For example, see ArXiv, at Cornell.
SCOTT: This is a place where scientific publishers can upload papers. Popularity is judged based on downloads of the papers.
MODERATOR: In this case, the researchers will get much more visibility and recognition than they would ever receive from publication of their paper in the print –- or even the online versions –- of a peer-reviewed journal.
We are out of time. Our Coolhunts take place daily, Monday through Friday, from 2 pm to 3 pm Eastern time in the United States. I’d like to thank Scott Cooper and Peter Gloor, co-authors of Coolhunting: Chasing Down the Next Big Thing. 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. The transcript of today's coolhunt will be posted with previous ones at The Swarm Creativity Blog: http://swarmcreativity.blogspot.com/. 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.