Monday, November 19, 2012

What Have I Done?

Sure, we all ask ourselves that sometimes. If you'd like to see some of what I've done, you could take a look at my shiny new multimedia resume infographic created at

Social Media In a Nutshell

If you don't  happen to have time or resources to take a graduate-level course in social media strategy, you can get a very good grasp on the basics by reading The Cluetrain Manifesto. If you get through such a course and think you may need a refresher later, without so much reading, bookmark it now.

The Cluetrain Manifesto is rather a remarkable document, and I'm beginning to understand that a lot of what we now know as best business practices around social media are summed up in it. As I read it, I see that a great deal of our required reading for my social media course is an attempt by the authors to convey the information in the Manifesto by watering it down into more traditional business-speak. It was first published in 1999, by a group of developers and other thinkers and writers on the world of high tech who saw what was coming. Since then, a long list of notables in the tech world have signed the Manifesto, and its site has been declared a "read-only landmark." You can read the whole book at that site, as well as the central tenets, some commentary, information about the writers and signers, buzz, discussion, and more. (You can also buy a paper version of the book at Amazon, Barnes & Noble, Powell's, and other booksellers.)

The central core of the Cluetrain Manifesto is a list of "95 Theses," basic ideas about social media, companies and markets that make up the basic message of the Manifesto. They can be summed up in the "Elevator Rap":

The connectedness of the Web is transforming what's inside and outside your business — your market and your employees.
Through the Internet, the people in your markets are discovering and inventing new ways to converse. They're talking about your business. They're telling one another the truth, in very human voices.
There's a new conversation
Intranets are enabling your best people to hyperlink themselves together, outside the org chart. They're incredibly productive and innovative. They're telling one another the truth, in very human voices.
between and among your market and your workers. It's making them smarter and it's enabling them to discover their human voices.You have two choices. You can continue to lock yourself behind facile corporate words and happytalk brochures.
Or you can join the conversation.

Or, in even more succinct form, "If you only have time for one clue this year, this is the one to get....we are not seats or eyeballs or end users or consumers. We are human beings - and our reach exceeds your grasp. Deal with it."

The 95 Theses begin with basic definitions:

1. Markets are conversations.  
2. Markets consist of human beings, not demographic sectors.

They continue on, laying out a picture and a roadmap for businesses who want to survive and thrive on the social media landscape. Fundamental to this survival is the understanding that both companies and markets are made up of people who communicate, and with social media, communication is now more powerful than it has ever been before:
11. People in networked markets have figured out that they get far better information and support from one another than from vendors. So much for corporate rhetoric about adding value to commoditized products. 
12. There are no secrets. The networked market knows more than companies do about their own products. And whether the news is good or bad, they tell everyone. 
13. What's happening to markets is also happening among employees. A metaphysical construct called "The Company" is the only thing standing between the two.
 There's some straight talk:
20. Companies need to realize their markets are often laughing. At them. 
21. Companies need to lighten up and take themselves less seriously. They need to get a sense of humor. 
22. Getting a sense of humor does not mean putting some jokes on the corporate web site. Rather, it requires big values, a little humility, straight talk, and a genuine point of view. 
And some insight about the changing structure of companies in response to social media and the online revolution:
50. Today, the org chart is hyperlinked, not hierarchical. Respect for hands-on knowledge wins over respect for abstract authority. 
51. Command-and-control management styles both derive from and reinforce bureaucracy, power tripping and an overall culture of paranoia.

52. Paranoia kills conversation. That's its point. But lack of open conversation kills companies.

53. There are two conversations going on. One inside the company. One with the market.

54. In most cases, neither conversation is going very well. Almost invariably, the cause of failure can be traced to obsolete notions of command and control.

55. As policy, these notions are poisonous. As tools, they are broken. Command and control are met with hostility by intranetworked knowledge workers and generate distrust in internetworked markets.
 And much, much more. This is powerful stuff, highly concentrated; companies that took this information to heart a decade ago have thrived in the modern marketplace, and there are many organizations who can learn a great deal from it in a short time...if they have the honesty and courage to take it in.

The book (which is now available in a 10th-anniversary edition) contains further explanation and commentary on the ideas expressed in the 95 Theses, and it's also excellent reading - highly readable and full of useful food for thought. For anyone interested in social media, the Cluetrain Manifesto is a classic and a must-read...and you can get it free, so why wait?

Sunday, November 18, 2012

Seattle Cosmic Live-Tweet

As another part of my social media class, I live-tweeted my weekly game night last night. (Check it out if you wish by going to Twitter and searching for the hashtag #boardgamenight - you'll see tweets from me, @fishwatt, and a spectator or two.) This was a new adventure for me, as I've generally been a diffident tweeter and had never live-tweeted an event before.

A little background: Seattle Cosmic is a board game group begun by my husband and me in 2000. We play a variety of tabletop games every Saturday night, and for the first couple of years we recorded the games we played and a certain amount of commentary, added photos, and published a weekly report to our wiki. This was a fun way to keep track of what we'd been doing, and it really helped to grow the group in our early days as people "tuned in" to see our adventures each week, and it helped to keep members who hadn't been able to attend in a certain week involved by seeing what happened. After awhile, though, we got a little tired of spending so much time each game night to record what happened, snap the photos, write up the commentary, and so on. At various times, different members wanted to revive the newsletter, but it's never really taken back off.

Live-tweeting game night felt a bit like doing the newsletter again, although broadcasting it in real time. As it happened, I didn't end up transmitting pictures because I didn't want to take time out from playing to do it, but it would probably have made the reporting more vivid. As it happened, my husband couldn't attend, but he did follow the action via Twitter and did some "color commentary," including tweeting supporting information about the games we were playing, something else that could really improve the quality of the report if, say, two of us decided to co-tweet and cooperate. I had a couple of reports from acquaintances and friends who watched the tweets from a distance, and they did seem to enjoy them. However, I'm not sure I would want to live-tweet regularly. It felt a little intrusive, both to my game-playing and to the experience of other players in my games, who humored me but seemed a little annoyed at the distraction.

So, the bottom line is that I'm undecided about the utility of live-tweeting game night. In some ways, it was fun, but I'm not sure the distraction of my fellow players, not to mention my own divided attention, was worth the benefit. I may experiment with it again sometime, especially after I talk it over more with local players and those who would like to see further tweeted reports another time. I can see too, perhaps, how this might be a useful tool for discussion at an event where I'm not so directly involved and taking a more passive audience role. In any case, I'm glad to have had the experience and add live-tweeting to my social media toolbox.

Friday, November 16, 2012

#Waywire: Video Online Reimagined

#Waywire (the hashtag is part of the name) is a new specialized social media platform for sharing and monitoring video. It's designed to enable users to create a stream like Twitter or Facebook, in which they can upload video, share video found elsewhere, subscribe to curated streams, and so forth. Founder Cory Booker, also the mayor of Newark, NJ, describes it as a way to democratize news, or as he puts it, "The power of the people is more important than the people in power." 

In #waywire, you have a Pinterest-like board to which you can save footage from professional content partners like Reuters as well as clips captured by people on the scene via smartphones, say. You can select from directories that have been curated by editorial review, view by tags, see selections of trending video from other sites, and use #waywire's proprietary search algorithms to find relevant clips. In this way, you can create reports on breaking news or longer-term topics and share them with your friends or other subscribers. You can also link your #waywire boards with other social media platforms like Twitter or LinkedIn. Features planned for the future include the ability to edit clips on the fly, allowing users to create original video stories and mashups, and more direct linkage with other online video services that will allow users to post response video directly, for example.

On first look, #waywire's interface is a little opaque. I wasn't exactly sure what to do first, but I used a long-trusted rule of thumb: when in doubt, use the search box. A little experimental clicking, and I was setting up feeds, following suggested wires, and generally enjoying myself. I think it will take a little time to really understand how #waywire can interact and mesh with other social media platforms, but I think that will be its real strength, and certainly what the team envisions for the site.

Overall, I'm quite impressed. I think this could have great potential for a lot of uses that are much more organized than other major players in the video social media field. I think a lot of people will find it interesting to curate collections of video in the manner of Pinterest that they can share. More seriously, if a broad base of users embraces #waywire's potential as a grassroots news tool and activism platform, it could be an important game-changer in the world of news, breaking control of established and monolithic news sources and enabling lots of people to make an end-run around them to tell important stories to a wide audience. I think recent events, especially the role of media in the recent presidential election, have shown that we're long overdue for reform in news and information dissemination, and #waywire has real potential to be a change agent. I'll be watching its progress with considerable interest.

Why Blog?

I've been following with interest the various blogs of my classmates at the iSchool - such interesting people I get to learn with! A post by Kristin at Becoming Socially Acceptable has stuck in my mind, though. She says:
In the age of Web 2.0 everyone and anyone is trying to get noticed for their 15 minutes in the spotlight. Is blogging in a saturated environment worth it? Are we really affecting change and being a guiding voice? If not, you should probably stop blogging.
Hmm. It touches on why I've never successfully managed to blog for very long so far, and is making me consider once again why I should take the time or make the effort to blog now (aside from that it's a class assignment). After all, the world is full of blogs. Who needs another blog?

One reason, and the main reason my husband blogs sometimes, is to find connections. Somewhat counterintutively, it sometimes helps to broadcast your interests and ideas if your ideas are a little strange and need to find a narrow audience - harnessing Karim Lakhani's "broadcast search" idea, which I referred to in my crowdsourcing project. If you can send out a call not only in a public space, but that is persistent over time, you have a much wider reach and a better chance of your message getting to exactly the person who's interested in what you're saying, whom you'd be interested to talk with too. I certainly think that's a valid reason. I'm not sure that what I have to say is very unusual, but I like the idea of having a better chance of making contact with someone who'll like it or find it useful.

Another reason is to gain a sense of my time longitudinally, an idea that's motivated pretty much all journaling forever. It's so easy to lose track of what I thought a week ago, a month ago, last year, or even yesterday sometimes. Life moves ahead quickly, and faster all the time, and it becomes more and more expedient to surf the now and navigate the stream of information and experience as it goes past, ever in the present. There are definite benefits to this, if you can really manage it, but I think I lose things as well, a certain level of perspective and self-knowledge. Perhaps keeping better track of my path will restore some of that longer view.

Both of these ideas largely benefit me (although I'd hope the first one could benefit someone else if what I'm saying is useful to them), but I think there's a larger reason, and that is to take active part in the dialogue of the world. We have unprecedented tools to see the scope of humanity in the modern world, but they're of no use unless a diverse population steps up and takes hold of them. Every person who adds a bit to our story makes it richer, shows reality more accurately, doesn't leave the record in the hands of the powerful and their created vision. Is my life and my viewpoint Terribly Important in a traditional sense? Perhaps not, but that doesn't mean my voice, even in the aggregate, is useless. My life exists. Speaking about it is respecting my deeply held democratic viewpoint that everyone is worth hearing, every view is unique and impossible to duplicate, every story adds a dimension to history and to the fabric of human experience. Perhaps someone will find individual value in examining my particular thread, but either way, my thread holds the warp together in this little spot, and that's something.

Tuesday, November 13, 2012

Crowdsourcing - Part 3 (Art, Finance, Etc.)

(This is Part 3 of the notes for my presentation on crowdsourcing for my INFX598 course in social media.)

Crowdsourced Art/Design/Development

Creative projects can also be crowdsourced. One of the most famous crowdsourced creative communities is Threadless.  At Threadless, the public votes on user-submitted designs; each week, a certain number of winners are chosen for production and sale.  Designers whose work is selected receive a cash payment and credit at the Threadless site and shop. Another example is Tongal, a site that brings together writers, directors, talent, and production professionals to produce video advertising projects for companies who contract a project. The community at Tongal also participates in promoting and critiquing work.
Crowdsourced broadcasting, or crowdcasting, is another form of crowdsourced creative work. Listener Driven Radio is a technology that takes listener input via online or mobile applications, analyzes song votes, comments, and other input, and automatically adjusts radio programming in real time to suit the audience’s taste. LDR software is currently being used by broadcasters in the USA, Canada and Europe, including Clear Communications, CBS, and Harvard Broadcasting.

Instructables is an encyclopedia-type project that gathers DIY projects from makers and crafters. They submit detailed and illustrated procedures for ways to repair, repurpose, and create an astonishing array of projects ranging from home modification to clothing to electronics to food, and many other ingenious and original ideas that would be hard to categorize. The Instructables community also encourages and critiques projects, as well as offering variations and expanding on them in commentary.

Some creative projects are directly produced via crowdsourced information. We Feel Fine is described as “An exploration of human emotion, in six movements.” Artists Jonathan Harris and Sep Kamvar use automatically gathered information from blogs across the Internet to create a dynamic, interactive visual expression of emotional content in real time. Users can create different displays by choosing different filters that can specify populations by area, age, and other demographic factors.

One of the most ambitious crowdsourced creative projects is the film Life in a Day. Born out of a partnership between director Ridley Scott’s Scott Free UK and YouTube, the film is a user-generated, feature-length documentary shot on a single day—July 24, 2010. Asked to capture a moment of that day on camera, the global community responded by submitting more than 80,000 videos to YouTube. The videos contained over 4,500 hours of deeply personal, powerful moments shot by contributors from Australia to Zambia. This footage was edited and distilled into an amazing 90-minute documentary film that captures a vivid and fascinating portrait of everyday lives on Planet Earth.

Financial and Quasi-Financial Projects

One form of quasi-financial crowdsourcing is the prediction market, also known as idea futures or event derivatives. This type of project is based on ideas described in James Surowiecki's 2004 book The Wisdom of Crowds, although prediction markets pre-date the book. Essentially, the theory is that aggregating many individual decisions under the right circumstances can make estimates and decisions more accurately than any individual in the group could make. Prediction markets seek to create the four elements that are said to be required: diversity of opinion, independence (so participants don’t know the decisions of other participants), decentralization (so that individuals can use local resources in the decision) and aggregation. Participants decide on issues and buy futures or make bets about what they believe will happen, resulting in a market where ideas can be seen to rise and fall like stocks. There are certain known types of failure to this system, but in many cases it works very well. One of the oldest and best-known of these is the Iowa Electronic Markets, which were introduced at the University of Iowa during the 1988 presidential election and has often been used to predict the results of political elections with a greater accuracy than traditional polls. Another example is the Hollywood Stock Exchange, a virtual market game established in 1996 in which players buy and sell prediction shares of movies, actors, directors, and film-related options. In 2006, it correctly predicted 32 of the 39 big-category Oscar nominees and 7 out of 8 top category winners.

Another financial application of crowdsourcing is to find workers willing to do small tasks for pay; this is also known as “microwork.” Probably the most famous source is Amazon’s Mechanical Turk site. On this site, users can select from hundreds of thousands of Human Intelligence Tasks, or HITs. As the name indicates, many of these require image recognition, language processing, or other tasks that are difficult to automate. Some require certain qualifications and pay slightly better, but most can be done by anyone. Most tasks have a timeframe, but can be done at the worker’s convenience, and pay a few cents each. Theoretically, these small tasks will add up, but one criticism of this system is that it’s often impossible to make a minimum wage doing the work, and so poses ethical problems for hirers that can be complicated by the fact that workers in the system are located all over the world. This model also carries concerns about eroding expectations about job security and worker’s rights as it expands.

TaskRabbit is a crowdsourced work source that matches people who have small jobs with local members who have had a background check and are willing to do the job for the offered price. These jobs include shopping, delivery, home repairs, research, pet care, and many other types of work, which pay a market rate. Users can search jobs by type, see normal rates and user ratings, and connect one-to-one. Some of the same criticisms apply here, but many users seem very content with their results. EduFireis a similar site that focuses specifically on crowdsourced education, where users can find independent tutors on a variety of subjects and contract with them for real-time learning sessions.

Some types of crowdsourcing produce money for a project instead of work. This may be in the form of direct investment, loan structure, or another form of financing, but in small amounts provided by many people. A site which provides intrinsic crowdfunding for charities is GoodSearch; participants choose from over 100,000 schools and non-profits, then use the GoodSearch interface to perform normal web searches. Each time a search is performed, a small amount is donated to the chosen cause. Powered by Yahoo!, the money comes from their advertisers.

One of the best-known microfinance sites is Kiva, which provides a structure in which investors can lend small amounts of money to entrepreneurs around the world. Each investor gives a small part of the total amount needed, and intermediate managers and banks partner to administer the loans, which the recipients agree to repay on schedule. Lenders keep contact with the growing business by communication from the entrepreneur, and can re-invest their money when it’s returned to them.  

Crowdfunding is a way for many individuals to network and pool their resources to support efforts initiated by other people or organizations, usually by outright giving as opposed to lending. Crowdfunding is used to support a wide variety of activities, including disaster relief, art projects, small business startups, invention development and, scientific research. Projects are usually reviewed and approved by an organization for feasibility, then listed on a crowdfunding site for a certain amount of time; donors can agree to give money to a project under agreed-upon conditions, sometimes with special incentives provided by the artist or business. Some of the most popular sites for this are Kickstarter, RocketHub, and Indiegogo. A more specific crowdfunding site is Spot.Us, a nonprofit platform for “community powered reporting.” Through Spot.Us, the public can support journalists and newsrooms to Report on important and underreported topics that may be overlooked by other news outlets.

In Closing

Crowdsourcing is a huge topic, and while there have been a lot of projects mentioned in this presentation, it’s only a small survey of what’s happening in the field. The crowdsourcing idea is growing and expanding into new areas and finding new applications and forms all the time, and it’s an exciting and fascinating part of the information world. Again, I’ve included links to all the projects mentioned in the Tumblr, and further articles about crowdsourcing in my Scoop.It page. Crowdsourcing is the living proof that many of us working together can be stronger, faster, smarter, and more creative than any one of us can ever be. It’s the face of the human race at work.

We will live longer than I will, we will be better than I was;
We can cross rivers with our will, we can do better than I can. 
                                                                        -- Lykki Li

(If you have access to VoiceThread at the UW, you can see the presentation at

Crowdsourcing - Part 2 (Research & Information)

(This is Part 2 of the notes for my presentation on crowdsourcing for my INFX598 course in social media.)

Information Projects – “Encyclopedia” Type

The most familiar type of crowdsourced project is the “encyclopedia” type, where a project provides a structure and often editorial and other management toward creating a large “anthology” work composed of public contributions. I will touch on some examples, although I’ll discuss them quickly because so many of them are already familiar.

Wikipedia is, of course, the archetypal example of this.  Another example of this type of project is the recipe repository, of which there are many online – RecipeSource is one of the oldest, while AllRecipes is one of the most popular. There are also many sites that collect song lyrics contributed by users, such as A crowdsourced project of special interest to librarians is LibraryThing, which was originally designed as a tool for cataloging a personal book collection, but has grown into a more general-purpose database containing book information, demographics, historical data on book collections of famous people, and more. Another important literary project is Project Gutenberg, the oldest repository of e-texts in existence. Since 1975, Project Gutenberg has coordinated public efforts to digitize and archive public domain works and provide them free to the public. Project Gutenberg also uses a sophisticated system of crowdsourced effort to proofread its books, and an affiliated project, LibriVox, is working on creating and archiving free audiobooks of public works produced by crowdsourced effort.

Some projects begin as a different type of crowdsourcing project, but turn into an encyclopedia-type project over time. Ask Metafilter began as a project to create a large community that would answer any question asked; it was an outgrowth of a larger community blog, MetaFilter, where members would post anything they thought might interest other people. Over time, both sites have become a huge searchable repository for answers to a staggering variety of questions ranging from technical problems to personal quandaries to where to find other obscure information. If you need a more focused way to crowdsource personal issues, WotWent Wrong offers a website and app that lets users anonymously upload the details of romantic relationship breakups, so that other users can advise, counsel, critique, and offer closure.

Research Projects – “Mosaic” Type

Much crowdsourced research is based on the idea that lots of people will donate small bits of time or effort to a cause, especially if it’s one they believe in and the task is fun, and those small bits of work add up. Crowdsourcing really excels at doing work that’s easy for humans, but hard for computers to do, such as image recognition and metatagging,  and natural language recognition.

A sample FoldIt puzzle

One very effective crowdsourced research project is FoldIt. Understanding the structure of proteins and how they can fold is a key scientific problem in understanding many diseases and finding cures for them, including HIV, Alzheimer’s Disease, and cancer. Solving this problem has been one of biology’s toughest challenges, difficult and expensive to research using computers. FoldIt enlists the help of users by offering them a puzzle based on a protein folding problem. Humans can see solutions to such a puzzle much more easily and faster than computers can, and have fun doing it. FoldIt players have made great progress in adding to scientific knowledge in this field, including solving the structure of a retrovirus enzyme critical to developing anti-AIDS drugs in a matter of days, where it had previously eluded scientists completely.
 Another game project, Galaxy Zoo, enlists the public in morphological classification of galaxies by asking them to look at telescope photographs and identify galaxy types visually. Volunteers have identified more than 70 million galaxies so far, most of which had never been seen by human eyes before, since the photographs were taken and processed by robotic cameras.

A CAPTCHA is a website security device that makes sure users are human and not virtual, to reduce spamming and other malicious site interference. Almost everyone has seen the box where you’re asked to re-type some letters before you can enter a site. reCAPTCHA is a service that uses this effort, millions of times per day, to help identify digitized text that can’t be read by optical character reader software. Words that cannot be read correctly by OCR are given to users in conjunction with another word for which the answer is already known. The user is then asked to read both words. If they give the right answer for a known word, the system assumes their answer is correct for the new one. The same word is given to many users to verify the answer. Currently, the project is helping create digital editions of older issues of the New York Times and books in the Google Books project.

Another project that uses language recognition is What’s On the Menu, the New York Public Library’s effort to make its historical menu collection into a searchable database. Users who log in can help identify dishes, prices, meal organization, geographic information, and more from scanned selections from the collection’s 45,000 menus. Eventually, this information will be available for historians, cultural researchers, chefs, educators, and anyone else to make new connections and discoveries, and learn more about our culinary past.

Project Implicit provides visual tests that the public can take to measure implicit bias and attitudes. By asking users to choose quickly between images and words onscreen, the Implicit Association Test makes it possible to measure attitudes and beliefs that people are either unwilling or unable to report, such as prejudices that may be unconscious or embarrassing. The information provides interesting individual feedback as well as valuable research information about public attitudes.

PatientsLikeMe was created in 2002 as a way to help accelerate learning on amyotropic lateral sclerosis, aka Lou Gehrig’s disease. Now its 80,000 members share personal details of their medical history with fellow members in a network that not only provides support, but data that is aggregated to track patterns and responses to various treatments. For rare diseases like ALS, many doctors may only encounter one or two patients in their lifetime, but PatientsLikeMe allows them to compare and review treatments with thousands of other patients, helping them quickly understand options and determine an effective course of action.

Often, crowdsourcing can respond quickly in times of crisis or when other infrastructures have broken down. Ushahidi  is a company that provides open-source software to enable collection, visualization, and dynamic mapping of crowdsourced reporting of time-sensitive crisis information. It was initially developed to map reports of violence in Kenya after the post-election fallout at the beginning of 2008. The original website was used to map incidents of violence and peace efforts throughout the country based on reports submitted by 45,000 users via the web and mobile phone. Since then, Ushahidi continues to develop and freely distribute its platform, apps, and services to help coordinate social media and individual in-the-moment reporting of problems and assistance routing for people dealing with situations like bombing in Mumbai and the recent earthquakes in Japan and Haiti. Ushahidi is also being used by human rights organizations to map incidents of violence, corruption, and other issues of note that are often overlooked or suppressed in traditional media reporting. Crowdsourcing can also help in the aftermath of a crisis – MapMill is currently enlisting the public to analyze aerial photos of places affected by Hurricane Sandy, to help quickly identify and assess storm damage.

(Next: art projects, financial applications, and more.  See all the links at this Tumblr, and read more articles about crowdsourcing at this Scoop.It page.)