Coolhunt Log #20
Friday, May 11, 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
Steve O'Keefe, moderator
MODERATOR: This is the last day of our month-long coolhunt. Could you tell us where you're calling from?
SCOTT: I'm calling from my home office in Newton Highlands, MA.
PETER: I'm calling from Switzerland.
MODERATOR: Today, on our last coolhunt I was hoping we could go over where we've been and talk about where we're going in the future with social networking. Can you tell me what you think about the list of all the sites we've visited that Gary Michael Smith posted last night?
PETER: I can't believe we've visited so many sites.
SCOTT: I was pretty impressed when I saw the list.
MODERATOR: Some of the things that jumped out at me is that we had a very protracted and good discussion about who are the news originators, places that have reporters doing research and bringing out facts. Then we looked at how searchers for information would find sites -- the whole yin and yang about new forms and old forms of finding information.
SCOTT: I was struck after looking at the list and reading some of my emails. In an email from the New York Times about a column from David Pogue, Asking the Crowd to Spread the News. He says that we haven't even scratched the surface about the audience supplying materials. Why isn't there a website that says, "Yes, this is going around and you'll be vomiting for two days"? There should be a map of such information. I just reminded me that we really were coolhunting over this past month.
PETER: I would like to know what all the other crowds are thinking and reading. I think it's a double-edge sword, creating news stories and making them available. You know what to expect from certain branded, boilerplated sources. If old-time media does it right -- whatever that means -- there will always be a place for those types of news providers. Getting access is
another story. Will people stumble across it or will there be more organized dissemination that will tell me all the stories that I'm normally interested in.
MODERATOR: The New York Times really never has had an opportunity to know what readers thought about its stories until recently. Now this has changed with journalists' blogs. Let's go to the Apple Store. If you look at this cutting-edge site you'll see "moving stills" as well as video in the advertising and display of presentations. Going into the store and looking for a particular product such as a power cord you'll find eight matches. Under the description of the product is a customer rating. You don't even have to drill down into the product because the customer rating is so important. Based on the rating, the shopper will drill down into the sites of particular products. I'm used to seeing customer reviews on books such as those with Amazon.
SCOTT: We make that obvious in our book Coolhunting by writing that power is gained by Amazon by giving power away in the form of user reviews.
MODERATOR: Reviews probably are only going to grow and wisdom of the hive will grow as well because reviews probably will not ever be removed.
PETER: I noticed the rankings on our Coolhunting book based on ratings. One reviewer says that Amazon nearly always processes orders quickly, but if you have any problems you can almost never get a person on the phone the settle it.
MODERATOR: We looked quite a bit at citizen reviews and ratings. We looked at tagging, digging, rating, and reviewing as well as censorship. Look where it asks if reviews are useful to you, allowing readers to rate the value of the comment. Where does the helix stop?
SCOTT: I think it's linked to the other discussion we had about the news business. If you let the swarm through all these mechanisms, it's empowering the swarm to take early steps toward self organization. I rarely buy books from Amazon -- preferring to go into bookstores -- but I'll look at reviews and listen to snippets of music online. And the reviews will often give totally opposing viewpoints even though they're listening to the same thing. So the collective intelligence allows the swarm to feed off such information.
PETER: This mix can tell us where the next big trends are. The New York Times has added a new feature allowing readers to dig or post information. This will allow them to know more about what people think about the Times' articles.
SCOTT: I notice that U.S. newspapers in general are so far ahead on this. Peter reads the New York Times and a Swiss newspaper and I read the Frankfurter Allgemeine Zeitung, a German daily newspaper, and the foreign papers are less user-friendly regarding blogs, comments, etc., not allowing web 2.0 services as with U.S. news services. A couple years ago there was an article about the bloglessness of German politics. Politicians still think that handing out pens at a supermarket is more effective, or setting up a table and giving out something for free, including a printed copy of their campaign platform.
MODERATOR: We've seen that in many cases, elitists are afraid of the wisdom of the crowd as with the censorship of Google in China and suppression of news in Afghanistan. Can you talk more about this battle between the receiving elite and the growing power of the crowd.
SCOTT: Here's one specific example of the enabling of the swarm. I listen to a lot German lieder and British art songs. Gramophone, a venerable record review magazine in England that's been around for about 100 years, had long been the arbiter of taste and quality for such vocal music. Reviews from "experts" makes one wonder if they ever actually listen to the music. But now, blogs and forums by younger people make for a much broader discussion of what makes for good music. These experts no longer have hegemony because of new technology.
PETER: "Elite" is the wrong word. Not all bloggers are equal. It's a meritocracy.
SCOTT: Let's talk about what "elite" means. First, it comes from the French for "select." More often than not the elite select themselves. Mike Arrington has not set himself off as one of the elite. He's just a guy who wants to provoke and share in a conversation, whereas others end a blog reminding readers how much of an expert they are on a topic.
MODERATOR: It was fascinating during our visit to Debian that the group had quite an elaborate structure, unlike something like YouTube. The web right now is struggling to come up with guidelines for bloggers' epics. You seem to be saying that the rules already are in force by people blocking you from email.
PETER: In the standards world, there is the International Standards Organization (ISO) group in Geneva. In the networking world, it competed against the much more self-organizing and less hierarchical Internet Engineering Task Force (IETF), and lost. If given free reign, the crowd is much more capable of setting up its own ethics and rules of operation than a formal group. It's a stable, robust, and self-correcting system. The crowd is very efficient in policing themselves.
SCOTT: Regarding the code of conduct among elitists in the blogosphere, such as Tim O'Reilly who issued a call for a bloggers code of conduct because of the case of Kathy Sierra (Creating Passionate Users) where she was threatened by readers as reported by the BBC and the San Francisco Chronicle.
SCOTT: See his "Lessons Learned So Far."
MODERATOR: Also, see the Word of mouth Marketing Association.
MODERATOR: One person meritocracy is another person's cesspool. People who contribute often are driven offline by the rude behavior of others who post vitriol material. You're saying that the hive can narrow the range into some kind of consensus. How do we deal with the issue of poor manners, spammers, etc.
PETER: The few bad apples such as spammers spoil all our fun but sometimes the entire swarm is spoiled. I think people have learned from the mistakes of the past. Most is self-correcting and self-policing. Many just withdraw from a community when they don't like it, making it self-correcting. I'm quite an optimist.
SCOTT: So am I. I have to say that the swarm on MySpace is self-protecting, keeping off bad programming. I don't know the answer, but I feel that MySpace is populated by so many teenagers, making it a problem. I think it'll work out it's own problems, though.
MODERATOR: Allowing more content to be posted on your sites by the hive is labor-intensive.
SCOTT: You could create a site like Wikipedia and let users create and update it.
PETER: In our case we had to change our community model and start asking for registration in our second version of a website to limit users to a higher quality.
MODERATOR: I wonder if the verification letters required on some sites was a hive-generated concept.
PETER: I think it was a professor who developed the "captcha" algorithm. It's again a great example of the power of the swarm.
MODERATOR: Regarding prediction markets where large groups of people steer decision making on a large scale such as in the stock market, how about using prediction markets in medicine? An op-ed in today's WSJ basically argues that Congress needs to back prediction markets for the gambling industry.
SCOTT: A lot of the ways in which prediction markets could be used turns our stomachs. The military had to take down one model because Congress said it was immoral. But whether you like it or not, it still proves the point about the value of collective intelligence.
MODERATOR: The article talks about a lot cases. A consensus plan suggests that a safe harbor will encourage experimentation. The goal is to allow the federal government to have prediction markets. I'd like to move to my last point on altruism, people releasing copyrights and companies letting go of trademarks. Everything we've covered in the coolhunt seems to say that if you drop your protection and let things go, you'll be better off.
SCOTT: There's a growing recognition for the need to consider stakeholder rather than shareholder value. This is a first step toward altruism. It's a step in the right direction.
PETER: It's a great starting point. The point is that all those communities are driven to a certain extent by altruism. The programmers are motivated by recognition of their peers, and ultimately the well-paying jobs. Prediction markets only work if you have real skin in the game, if you have a stake at risk. In the SpineConnect case they hope to start a company with their
altruistic endeavors. You need to have a healthy respect for your own well-being as well as be concerned with the well-being of the entire society.
SCOTT: Aristotle said "For that which is common to the greatest number has the least care bestowed upon it."
MODERATOR: We've been speaking for the past month with Peter Gloor and Scott Cooper, the very generous authors of Coolhunting: Chasing Down the Next Big Thing. Gary Michael Smith, professor at the University of New Orleans, has transcribed our journey to over a hundred websites, and has posted them at http://swarmcreativity.blogspot.com/. Any final words
PETER: This has been an extremely enriching experience.
SCOTT: I'd like also to add Rachelle to the list to thank.
MODERATOR: We're going to post some of the documents from this campaign to give those who are interested the opportunity to view them. I'd like to thank everyone for listening and invite them to comment.
Copyright Notice: Please feel free to duplicate or distribute this log as long as the contents are not altered and this notice is intact.