Category Archives: Essay

CrowdSolving – Beyond CrowdSourcing?

I’m not very convinced of the “wisdom of crowds.” There are numerous examples of how “the wisdom of crowds” is in fact the “idiocy of the mob.” Look at some political movements or some of the more extreme religions, for instance: a good few of these make no sense, but they have a lot of people who believe them. In Vanatu, an island in the Pacific, there is a cargo cult called the John Frum Cult that thinks building replicas of USA air force bases from World War II will bring the USA and all their goods back to the island. A lot of people believe this.

There is a lot of research from social psychology showing that groups polarize decisions in contrast to individuals. A group will make a more extreme decision (cautious or risky) than an individual. There is also the fact that estimations of physical sizes and weights will tend to show a normal distribution, with the most common estimate, the mode, being the correct one. Here there is wisdom in crowds, or more likely the wisdom of the normal distribution, the central limit theorem and statistics in general. Distributions are wonderful things.

>> Read the full article

  Andrew Jeavons · Innovation Consultant

With over 25 years in the market research industry, Andrew is a frequent writer and speaker for various publications and events around the country. He has a back ground in psychology and statistics, and currently focusses on innovation with in survey research.

Clay Shirkey’s Cognitive Surplus… visualized

New media guru Clay Shirkey is making the rounds promoting his new book, Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age. In describing how the internet is offering our generation a more constructive, participatory way of spending its time, Shirkey mentions a staggering statistic regarding how much of our same generation continues to sit on their asses and watch a helluva lot of television. If you haven’t seen or heard Shirkey talk, have a look at this excerpt from last year’s Web 2.0 Expo. Below the video, you can see a brilliant new visualization created by David McCandless (for Information is Beautiful) that brings Shirkey’s example into sharp focus.

(If you’re short on time, click to 3:40)

More info:

  • Look at more visualizations from Information is Beautiful
  • Learn more about Clay Shirkey
  • Buy Cognitive Surplus: Creativity and Generosity in a Connected Age
  • An open letter to Ben & Jerry’s

    Dear Ben & Jerry’s:

    Since your fantastic company was founded in 1978, it has become globally recognized for its social responsibility and innovative business practices. The company’s progressive mentality is what earned your two founders the title of small-business men of the year from the White House in ’88, an honor bestowed to them by none other than Ronald Reagan. The great success of Ben & Jerry’s that lead to a 300 million dollar buy-out by food giant Unilever in 2000 was considered by most not to be a sell-out, but a win for global customers, your Vermont factory workers, and the many causes Ben & Jerry’s supports.

    Last week, the British division of your international company announced in an email newsletter would be discontinuing its email marketing effort to concentrate wholely on social media like Facebook and Twitter–an aggressive decision that says a lot about where corporate customer relations is heading. The engaged and active Facebook community you’ve fostered (over 1.3 million strong) is hugely impressive and your effort on Twitter, where you have thousands of followers on numerous accounts, is equally outstanding. There’s one area of the social sphere where we feel you could use some help, however, and that’s in the area of customer feedback.

    Your feedback form, accessed from your Contact page, is very traditional and antiquated in comparison to your diligient use of other social engagement tools. The one-way Comments form at allows the user to leave a comment, but does not categorize the comment or allow it to be shared with others. This is a significant missed opportunity in terms of developing stronger community. It’s assumed that the information collected from your Comments page is somehow being used in your decision making, but as to how it’s used isn’t evident to customers. Further, it has to be a challenge for your team to manage this influx of ideas. There’s a better way: leverage the immense value of crowdsourcing with IdeaScale!

    A couple of us at IdeaScale have ties to Vermont (Burlington, Mad River Valley) and we’re all huge fans of Ben & Jerry’s. In fact, many of our use cases in our IdeaScale screencast videos involve a fictional company called Bob & Terry’s–a fun homage to our business heros. These personal notes aside, IdeaScale recognizes and shares Ben & Jerry’s interest in listening to the voices of customers. Our effective feedback tool has empowered large and small businesses and organizations and continues to work wonders for product development, customer experience, and employee satisfaction for hundreds of clients. We would love to talk to you at your convenience and commend your UK arm on tolling the death knell of inneffective email marketing.


    John Basile
    Rob Hoehn
    Jeremy Przasnyski
    Vivek Bhaskaran

    Hanny’s Voorwerp and Citizen Science

    What do the guitarist of Queen, a 27yo primary school teacher in Holland and about 100,000 other people have in common? Membership at Galazy Zoo, a citizen science project produced, maintained, and developed by the Citizen Science Alliance. Here’s a short excerpt from the Alliance’s mission statement:

    “The CSA is a collaboration of scientists, software developers and educators who collectively develop, manage and utilise internet-based citizen science projects in order to further science itself, and the public understanding of both science and of the scientific process. These projects use the time, abilities and energies of a distributed community of citizen scientists who are our collaborators ”

    Since it started in July of 2007, the citizens of Galazy Zoo are said to have collected over 80 million clasifications of galaxies. Their work has been compiled in professional journals and garnered them access to the famous telescopes like the Hubble. The crowdsourced model of collecting data has also lead to some significant discoveries, but none is more interesting than an observation brought to light by Hanny van Arkel, a Dutch school teacher who, around the time of the project’s start in 2007, noticed a strange cloud of gas in one of the thousands of images she classified. The forum to which Hanny’s findings were originally posted named this… thing… Hanny’s Voorwerp–“voorwerp” being Dutch for “object.” You can read more about the Galaxy Zoo and Hanny’s story from the links below.

    Read more:

  • Galaxy Zoo
  • Citizen Science on wikipedia
  • The Story of Hanny So Far from The Awl
  • The Mystery of the Voorwerp Deepens! from the Zooniverse blog
  •   John Basile · Idea Scale blog contributor

    Based in Oakland, California, John Basile is a regular contributor to the IdeaScale blog. He is also the founder and CEO of Scraster Professional Screencasting.

    The National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace

    On Friday, Obama-appointed White House Cybersecurity Coordinator Howard Schmidt posted a press release to the blog about the draft National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace. The NSTIC is an important component and at the top of the list of action items in the President’s Cyberspace Policy Review. From Schmidt’s blogpost:

    Today, I am pleased to announce the latest step in moving our Nation forward in securing our cyberspace with the release of the draft National Strategy for Trusted Identities in Cyberspace (NSTIC). This first draft of NSTIC was developed in collaboration with key government agencies, business leaders and privacy advocates. What has emerged is a blueprint to reduce cybersecurity vulnerabilities and improve online privacy protections through the use of trusted digital identities.

    Later in the post, Schmidt mentions IdeaScale’s role in the public collection of ideas. We’re happy to say that MSNBC also picked up the IdeaScale tip and has a sizable screenshot of the NSTIC’s public website with their story today.

    Read More:
    The NSTIC IdeaScale
    Howard Shcmidt’s NSTIC blog post
    IdeaScale on
    About Howard Shcmidt
    Cyberspace Policy Review [PDF]

    Crowdsourcing International: The Opposite of Crowdsourcing

    IdeaScale has been updating the blog more regularly these days. When we’re not blogging about new features and cool user experiences, we’re mining the interwebs for interesting blog fodder based on our established search criteria. It should be no surprise that one of our watched terms is “crowdsourcing”. We dabble in crowdsourcing a bit here at IdeaScale, so recently, when weird news stories began appearing about an outfit called Crowd Sourcing International, our curiosity was piqued. The Dallas-based company seems to have its own idea of what crowdsourcing means. And what they think crowdsourcing means looks a lot like a classic pyramid scheme to a lot of folks.

    Crowd Sourcing International–which was named Narc That Car or Narc Technologies until a couple months ago—has what’s at first a respectable (or respectable enough) mission. They’re supposedly attempting to “crowdsource” the collection of vehicle tag numbers to be used for a number of purposes including tracking stolen vehicles and assisting government agencies with curbing nefarious acts like child kidnapping. They pay their members for their data collection efforts and in turn sell their data to… well… we’ll get to that in a minute.

    The business model goes something like this: members have the opportunity to earn easy, easy money by simply writing down the license plate numbers of ten cars a month. A cool $20 every month. There’s no such thing as a free lunch, however, so for the privilege of this easy money, one must buy into the Crowd Sourcing International program–an upfront administrative cost of $100 (for which you’re most likely given a few 3-ring binders with a lot of paper. While paper does grow on trees, 3-ring binders do not). So along with this initial cost, there’s a $24.95/mo charge for maintaining the website each member is provided. Since members are paid just $20 for the 10 monthly license plate numbers they collect, where is the real money making opportunity? The opportunity lies in getting other people to join to collect license plate numbers.

    The whole collection of license plate numbers part, upon which this program is based, seems a little fish oily. As it turns out, law enforcement says that the information is not useful to them, and claims from Crowd Sourcing international that their data is cross-checked with the DMV appear to be legally implausible. Interestingly, the company is hard pressed to name any single buyer of their treasure trove of data–and they’re defensive about it to boot. Since the license plate numbers seem to be of no value to anyone, members may as well be signing up their gullible/desperate friends to… count the number of fingers on their hands and submit it for their monthly Hamilton.

    Based on this business scheme, if you can convince the next guy to buy in and you’re not the last guy in the door, you might do okay for yourself. But what the hell does this have to do with crowdsourcing? Crowd Sourcing International’s bastardization of the concept of crowdsourcing is being watched closely. They’ve earned a big fat F from the Better Business Bureau, but the fact that they’re still recognized by the beaurau at all implies that they’re hanging on for now. Have you had any experiences with Crowd Sourcing International? Have we misrepresented an honest money-making opportunity here? Let us know by leaving a comment.

    Read more:

  • Crowd Sourcing International
  • CSI review at Better Business Bureau website
  • Pyramid scheme
  • Tim O’Reilly & Aneesh Chopra discussion at Gov 2.0 Expo 2010

    We’d like to share another video highlight from the recent Gov 2.0 Expo 2010: a candid discussion between Tim O’Reilly and Federal Chief Technology Officer of the U.S. Aneesh Chopra. Here, O’Reilly talks to Chopra mostly about healthcare (one of Chopra’s passions). Later, Chopra’s discussion of a nimble energy distribution through data sharing leads O’Reilly to ask an interesting question–resulting in an interesting answer–about privacy and the informed consent debate.

    When Aneesh Chopra was appointed to be our country’s first Federal Chief Technology Officer, he was tasked with creating recommendations for building a more open government. The first phase of Chopra’s successful three-part experiment involved using IdeaScale for the collection of over 1000 ideas over two weeks. The video below is a brief excerpt from a talk in which Chopra explains that process.

    More info:

  • About Aneesh Chopra
  • About Tim O’Reilly
  • White House Open Government Initiative
  • What is Gov 2.0 [VIDEO] Tim O’Reilly’s one-hour webcast that tooks an in-depth look at Gov 2.0
  •   John Basile · Idea Scale blog contributor

    Based in Oakland, California, John Basile is a regular contributor to the IdeaScale blog. He is also the founder and CEO of Scraster Professional Screencasting.

    FCC and the National Broadband Plan

    The American Recovery and Reinvestment Act of 2009 (better known as The Recovery Act) was signed into law by President Obama on February 17th, 2009. A significant part of the Act dealt with the creation of the National Broadband Plan. The FCC was tapped (with a February 2010 deadline) with creating a national plan that would “seek to ensure all people of the United States have access to broadband capability and… establish benchmarks for meeting that goal”. To help with meeting those benchmarks, the FCC turned to IdeaScale as a means of collecting the public’s thoughts on the issues surrounding the creation of a national broadband network.

    Traditionally, it has been the standard for the FCC and other government agencies to collect ideas via a comment form on their sites. Using this old-fashioned model, ideas would be reviewed and some would be released back onto the site (or not). In the age of social interaction and community-building online, it was understood that this “one-way street” model was no longer acceptable. By leveraging the power of IdeaScale at, the FCC was able to create a powerful community dialogue around the hugely important issue of national broadband.

    Read More:

    Crowdsourcing Oil Spill Coverage

    We’re now entering into the eighth week since the catastrophic explosion and fire aboard Transocean’s Deepwater Horizon, which is estimated to have dumped 40 and 100 million gallons of oil into the Gulf so far. The latest containment cap installed is supposedly capturing about 650,000 gallons of oil a day now, but the situation continues to be disastrous.

    Part of what’s so upsetting about the situation in the Gulf is that the media are having a hard time getting to the bottom of the story that’s taking place 10,000 feet under the sea. In the meantime, thousands of citizen journalists and photographers are documenting and sharing what they’re seeing along the shores. Here are a few interesting crowdsourced projects that are keeping the country up to date with the worst environmental disasters of our generation:

    • The Oil Spill Crisis Map from environmental justice group Louisiana Bucket Brigade is using Ushahidi, an open-source software that collects and displays crowdsourced news submitted via mobile phone or internet.
    • Grassroots Mapping is helping citizens to use balloons, kites, and other simple tools to produce their own aerial imagery of the spill. Quoting from their website: “We’re not trying to duplicate the satellite imagery or the flyover data (though we’re helping to coordinate some of the flyovers and trying to make sure the data is publicly accessible). We believe in complete open access to spill imagery and are releasing all imagery into the public domain.” A 150% successful crowdfunding campaign at Kickstarter should help the Grassroots Mapping project in its mission.
    • Powered by CitySourced, the Gulf Oil Spill Reporter iPhone application provides volunteers a free and simple way to use their smartphones to report oil spill related damage. Users can browse reports submitted by other folks within the application or online at

    Read More:

      John Basile · Idea Scale blog contributor

    Based in Oakland, California, John Basile is a regular contributor to the IdeaScale blog. He is also the founder and CEO of Scraster Professional Screencasting.

    OpenStreetMap: Mapping the globe through crowdsourcing

    Most of us love Google. But at the same time, most of us are somewhat wary of the immense, overreaching control the company has over our internet browsing and publishing. One of the countless corners of the web that Google has carved out for itself is in Google Maps. Tens of thousands of websites rely on the map service’s API for their needs, but a developing crowdsourced community at is starting to offer a viable alternative. is a free, editable map of the whole world created in a crowdsourced, wiki community–much like Wikipedia. Part of the site’s purpose can be summarized in this bit of their FAQ:

    “Most hackers around the world are familiar with the difference between “free” as in “free beer” and as in “free speech”. Google Maps are free as in beer, not as in speech. We need a free dataset which will enable programmers, social activists, cartographers and the like to fulfil their plans without being limited either by Google’s API or by their Terms of Service”.

    Along with the crowdsourced data contributed by its community of users, OpenStreenMaps’ mapping of the U.S. brings in data from TIGER, which is the dataset of the U.S. Census. If you follow this blog or the developments brought forth by the Open Gov Initiative, you know that state and federal government datasets are becoming more readily available and comprehensive. Assuming widespread, crowdsourced participation, OpenStreetMap could in a few years threaten Google Maps as the most comprehensive, dependable map of our world.

    More info:

      John Basile · Idea Scale blog contributor

    Based in Oakland, California, John Basile is a regular contributor to the IdeaScale blog. He is also the founder and CEO of Scraster Professional Screencasting.