Wisdom of Crowds

18 Feb
2009

Today I realized that I hadn’t posted a blogpost in a while. There are several reasons for this. Firstly, Twitter has spoiled me. With Twitter, as soon as I have a thought, I can just put it out there and get immediate feedback / start a conversation.  There are so many random thoughts each day, and they are so disparate, that it would make little sense to either: 1) pack them into one giant post that would ramble, or 2) have several drafts going at the same time. So what ends up happening is inaction: I wait to collect enough thoughts under the same umbrella, then write a post that’s too long, and then don’t write for a while. I psych myself out with writing a long, carefully crafted blogpost, then put it off, and nothing happens. It becomes an ordeal, to the point where I have to schedule some time to blog – and who has time for that? Blogging on command inevitably also leads to writer’s blog, which also contributes to inactivity. So I am trying out something different: writing short posts with higher frequency – something between a tweet and a full blogpost, literally 1-2 paragraphs. Perhaps Tumblr is a more suitable platform for that, even though I couldn’t figure out how to turn on comments.

I am not trying to be a professional blogger or make any money with this blog. My reasons for blogging are simply to force myself to explore a topic more deeply, to chrystalize ideas, develop my voice, start a conversation and eventually have all of the above contribute to the building of my personal brand. And, to be honest, I simply enjoy writing. I consider myself a creative person, but since I have been devoid of any artistic ability, I have always found solace in verbal expression. The only way to achieve the above goals is to, simply, ummm, write! So I want to try this higher frequency approach.  Besides, readers prefer shorter posts; they are more fun to read, and we are all so crazy busy and ADD anyway. In Russia, where I am from, we have a saying “Brevity is a sister of talent.” I think that today is more relevant than ever.

So my thought for today is around crowdsourcing. Having used social media on a personal level, I have discovered many cool tools. However, the next step is to streamline, separate the wheat from the schaff. Application of social tools to business (anything from a small nimble startup to a large global organization) is tbe next natural step. Having worked for both, I am going to attempt to navigate the landscape and figure out what works for what type of organization.  Crowdsourcing is fascinating (crowdsourcing, if you don’t know, is the process through which a business / individual can take a pulse of a market / segment / country / world / twitterverse / whatever unit interests you, around a particular issue / product / brand / whatever you are measuring). Now that we have all been putting out a ton of user-generated content out there via a variety of social tools (blogging, soc nets, microblogging, social bookmarking, etc.), we need to make sense of all of the produced content. We can leverage 2 types of content: 1) already produced content (via tools like Twitter Search and others like it), as well as 2) stimulate new discussion.

Today, a friend’s tweet about tinychat.com prompted me to think about the latter. It’s a cool tool by which you can create a temporary chatroom, tweet it out and start a discussion around a topic. It’s like any multi-user chatroom, but optimized for Twitter. Several participants in this exploratory chat noted that this is a perfect extension of Twitter, because crowdsourcing / discussion on Twitter has 2 major limiatations: 1) 140 characters, and 2) inability to direct a thought to more than a couple of people at once. Very very cool. This is a winner. So easy to use and with a laser focus on doing one thing, and doing it well. Moreover, your ability to leverage others’ participation is directly related to your reach on Twitter; tinychat isn’t very useful if you don’t have a lot of followers.

What are some other tools that are effective at quick’n’easy crowdsourcing? I tried ask500people, which was another tool suggested by someone in that same tinychat session. I created a simple question, just to test it out, created a bit.ly link and threw it up on Twitter to see what happens. Immediately a friend contacted me saying that he needed to login in order to answer my poll. Well, that’s a definite downer. Making people sign up to use your service is a serious user experience issue, and a point where you stand to lose the most users, as we all know. So using a service like that for crowdsourcing is not very effective, as your universe of potential respondents shrinks to the point where it’s challenging to get any meaningful results.

So above is a quick and dirty review of just a couple of tools that work and don’t work. Please share your wisdom and experience in the comments below: what has worked for you?

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