Archive for the ‘Crowdsourcing’ Category

The Power of Aggregation: Using Flickr Data to Avoid Tourists

June 9, 2010 Leave a comment

Lifehacker just posted a write-up of Flickr’s user of Eric Fischer’s “Locals and Tourists” maps.  Essentially Fischer took what data he could find from images posted on Flickr of particular locations (based on tags, dates, geotagging, etc.) and made some educated guesses about what separated tourists from locals.

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Using that data he plotted the photos on maps of major world cities and, voila, heatmaps of places to avoid.  This mashup is just one of the endless uses of aggregated data.  You can start to get a sense of what else is possible:

  • Imagine a GPS system that makes decisions by drawing on car crash data to route you around dangerous stretches of road.
  • Imagine retailers being able to assign products a rating (either for consumers or for themselves) based on how many recalls or returns they have on a particular item.
  • What if we could mine the collective wisdom of Twitter by using some algorithms to determine whether sentiments expressed a political candidate were positive or negative and used for polling data that instead of phone-based polls (which continue to decline in accuracy as people abandon landlines for mobile phones).
  • Consider how our shopping experience at malls might be improved by tracking when people are at malls and where they walk with security cameras to plot out the best times and fastest routes to get through, say, the Black Friday throngs.
  • Speaking of cool examples of data aggregation – Google Streetview now incorporates user-generated photos (via @mashable).

It’s exiting … or scary … when you think about it.

More PR Trouble for BP: Great Case Study in the Filters of the Web

June 1, 2010 Leave a comment

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I wrote a while earlier about the impact of the new era of transparency on BP’s continuing public relations crisis.  Since then, a couple of other new phenomenon caught my attention:

  • Google Sidewiki: This somewhat-forgotten tool created by Google to accompany webpages and help contextualize them with user contributions has a bit of content that isn’t exactly kind to BP.
  • The Black Oil Firefox Plugin:  Designed by design agency Jess3, this add-on to Firefox makes the pages viewed by your browser look like a redacted document from the CIA as it blacks out references to British Petroleum (the blacked out portions eventually animate and drip ala crude).

These two items may seem like frivolous distractions, but they’re not.  They’re exquisite reminders of how little control we exercise over the web, particularly as the content that populates it and the tools that browse it become more and more sophisticated and oriented toward individual control.

You can spend all the time you want tweaking your website until it’s just the way you want, but what you create may not at all be what ends up being delivered to the end user.

Why the Lost Finale Sucked a Rancid Tub of Expired Dharma Ranch Dressing

May 24, 2010 82 comments

[Update: If you haven’t seen this video, you need to check it out (I’m not the only one that feels this way).]

I was really disappointed by the Lost season finale.

From Season 2 of Lost: a Screen Capture of the Hydra Logo on the Tail of a Shark Swimming Past the Camera

From the start, Lost thrived on setting up curious questions and then answering them in a way that only posed more questions. Not only was that the theme for the show – but the entire social media-driven marketing apparatus around the show catered to that aspect:

  • the creators set up fake show-related websites and 800 numbers (grabbed by astute fans who analyzed screen captures from the show that flashed by business cards or papers tacked to walls) with curious pre-recorded messages – all of which were part of two separate alternate reality games (The Lost Experience and Find 815).
  • the network’s website for the show (laden with hidden multimedia content) was filled with seething, writhing fan discussion forums where the excruciating details were analyzed (one thread I followed had days of speculation about what the spectre of Walt was saying – culminating in an audio tech reversing the audio and washing it through professional filters to undo the distortion the show’s creators had added so that it was clear as a bell and said “don’t touch the button, the button is bad.”)

Not only that, but JJ Abrams prides himself on being a fan of puzzles (which is why the show was chock full of them). Wired Magazine even had an issue dedicated to his interest in such things.

Speaking for a lot of Lost fans, I don’t give a rip if Jack gets resolution with his father and everyone ends up in bliss and carefree in the Kingdom of God. Fuck Jack.

I want to know:

  • why a Polar Bear could manifest itself out of Hurley’s comic book
  • how Walt could direct a thrown knife with his thoughts
  • WHAT the light is and why it has to be guarded (and why it’s flimsily-guarded by what appeared to be man-made stonework)
  • why the smoke machine was curiously mechanical in the sounds it made

Most of all, I want to know why the hell was there a shark swimming around in season 2 with a Dharma Initiative Hydra Project logo imprinted on its tail!

It was a fun ride, to be sure – but this was a great case of misreading what has to be the core audience of the show.  Perhaps I’m wrong, and the majority of the viewership is people who love gooey sentimentality and predictable character development – but I tend not to think so.

I do also have to heap praise and credit on the show’s creators for their use of the web, social media, and gaming to build and sustain interest in the massive opus.  There are three areas we can learn valuable lessons from Lost:

  • Marketers and communicators can learn a lot from analyzing the ways they used the new media available to enhance the viewing experience (likely at a very reasonable cost that is attainable by most organizations).
  • Similarly, the traditional media should be furiously scribbling notes about how to update their programming to compete with entertainment outlets like video gaming that are poaching their viewers.
  • Moreover – we ALL can learn from the model Lost presented in how gigantic and complicated tasks can be crowdsourced to the masses and completed with astonishing speed and precision as thousands apply their abilities through the collaborative tools afforded them by the web.

The Longitudinal Ethics of Social Media

October 31, 2009 Leave a comment

Anyone engaged in communication campaigns that the public might interpret as dishonest should be terribly concerned about the future.

The relentless march of technology means constant improvement in the tools that can identify patterns to sort and sift through the sea of data we all swim in.  Facial recognition and audio recognition tools already exist.  Hollywood has been using video recognition tools for some time to identify intellectual property violations.  US intelligence agencies have been using social network analysis software for some time to map out networks of individuals they’re observing.

By itself, this technology isn’t necessarily earth-shattering.  However, there are a couple of other developments that will make these tools terribly important: Read more…

Social Networking and the Free Market Case for Universal Healthcare

August 30, 2009 Leave a comment

With very few exceptions, healthcare is not best provided by the private sector.  Pharmaceuticals require too much investment in research & development and carry too much liability to be profitable (which is why a huge proportion of the research is taxpayer-funded).  Producing increasing profitability demands that private insurers frequently run overhead costs many times those of government-run programs at inflated costs while decreasing the quality of care.

If the US is able to create a universal healthcare system comparable to those elsewhere in the developed world, it will spur tremendous growth in all sorts of sectors by radically changing overhead cost structures with an army of independent contractors.  Here’s how: Read more…

The Dangers of Pay-for-Play in Social Media

August 12, 2009 Leave a comment

I was troubled by a recent story in “Counsel” the publication of the National Council for Marketing and Public Relations (an organization for marketing pros at two-year colleges) that discussed Colorado Mountain College’s practice of paying students to blog on behalf of the school:

“By far, the best marketing money Colorado Mountain College has ever spent is a small budget for student bloggers.  For about $25 per week per blogger (plus a hoodie and coffee mug), the college has purchased content far more powerful than anything it could dream up.  Even a high-powered agency couldn’t come up with this stuff.  The student bloggers write about what they do when they’re bored, have a conflict, or get crazy with a group of friends.  In turn, the college gets rich content – and credibility.”

Read more…

The Future of Textbooks

July 17, 2009 Leave a comment

My employer, Grand Rapids Community College, is one of two schools taking part in a pilot program being offered by the Follett Corporation (the entity the college outsourced its bookstore services to several years ago) to rent textbooks to students as opposed to forcing students to buy them, which could result in a savings of over 40% in some cases.

It’s likely Follett is being forced into this position by online services like which offer textbook rental and are quickly gaining popularity.

Read more…