Barack to JAM: Crowdsourcing in the modern era


Applicability, connection and authenticity. That’s how I would sum up this week’s three articles about crowdsourcing, a trend inconceivable in most of the last century and now the norm for sites like Wikipedia. I was familiar with a the ideas noted in the Wired Magazine piece highlighting different case studies — but had no idea the level to which some industries are playing, including figuring out how to get fluoride to stick to toothpaste, apparently! I’m also struck, however, by the parallels of some of these examples and the multiple ways that Barack Obama basically counted on crowdsourcing to expand his campaign message (vs. relying on traditional media or paid staff) during his first (and second) presidential election.

The power to connect students from around the globe to tackle some of the biggest issues of its generation  was clear in the IBM Jam session. But I must say I was left underwhelmed by the final product. It seems they did a great job establishing a baseline of knowledge for a farflung group of people, but it seems to me the next step would be establishing microcrowd groups to actually tackle concrete efforts. Nonetheless, I can see the power in this approach. And as  the study noted, in using this kind of technology to connect constituents in a given political area to solve and brainstorm problems.

Finally, the research paper on Wikipedia — perhaps the most successful but still unreliable crowdsourcing initiative everyone has heard of. And while I understand the founder’s notion that to keep this pure you keep PR sources out, it seems to me he is trying to apply an old-school rule to a new-school technology potentially for the detriment of the user and the truth. Would it not make a lot more sense to allow the PR/communication professional editing but clearly denote it as such? Wikipedia seems to want to operate under the illusion that information can be neutral because the crowd will make sure it is when in fact, particularly when it comes to crowdsourcing, the integrity is further undermined by barring/censoring some one’s people’s input. Better to cite the source and let the reader decide.


1) How do you use Wikipedia? Do you trust it? Have you ever contributed/edited an article?

2) If your local government was to set up a JAM type event, would you participate? And are you more likely to do that than get involved in other ways, such as voting, attending/watching public meetings, etc?

3) Do you know anyone who has made money off crowdsourcing work? What did they do?


News Alert: Obama’s tweeting, twerping machine

Reputation management? This Wall Street Journal column from Daniel Henninger post late Wednesday basically makes the case of how President Barack Obama leveraged Twitter over the last 16 days to do a number on the GOP and argues that Republicans failed to respond effectively. I thought it parallels nicely with our lecture last night about the need to match/respond to social media directly in its own form vs. old style communications.(If you can’t access the link (you may a digital subscription) but want to read the full article, let me know in comments below and I can send you a link via email from the site.

“…Want a look at how a pro is spinning the Washington mess? Punch into and type “Barack Obama” into the search window. Click on “Barack Obama,” next to the “End This Now” logo. The Obama tweets the past week have been fairly amazing. As in the presidential campaign against Mitt Romney, the Twitter feeds going out in the name of the president of the United States are virtually wall-to-wall propaganda.

Barack Obama: “If the debt ceiling isn’t raised by Thursday, America could face an economic shutdown.” This from the man who accuses the GOP of “manufacturing crises.”

Everyone recalls the 2012 campaign’s carpet bombing of “the wealthiest,” even after they’d been shelled with a tax increase. Barack Obama has found—actually, it was handed to him—a scapegoat analogous to “the wealthiest” and “the banks” for his campaign to suppress votes for GOP candidates in the 2014 elections. It’s “tea party Republicans.”

Barack Obama: “Tea Party Republicans are threatening an economic shutdown. Tell them to #EndThisNow.”

Barack Obama: “The #TeaPartyShutdown is harming small businesses. Say you’ve had #EnoughAlready.”

Wednesday’s first Obama tweet: “Day 16 of the #TeaPartyShutdown. This can’t continue—Congress needs to #EndThisNow.”

This isn’t routine partisan noise. The Obama Twitter account lists 38,258,000 followers. Unless some of these are fake, that’s nearly 30% of the total popular vote in 2012. All through the week, this number rose as the site poured forth boiling oil.

Virtually every Obama tweet demonizes the tea party. Last week, within minutes of the collapse of the Obama-Boehner talks, the tweeting robot called “Barack Obama” had hung the collapse on the “tea party.”

Wednesday morning (with even the New York Post cover depicting Uncle Sam going over Niagara Falls on the “Brink of Disaster”), the machinery that runs @BarackObama rolled into view. It’s the former Obama re-election apparatus, which has shape-shifted into a 501(c)(4) group called Organizing for Action.

From the Barack Obama Twitter feed at 10 a.m.: “Be a part of @OFA’S Twitter takeover and tell Congress to #EndThisNow.”

Republicans complain constantly that the media “lets him get away with it.” The media is floating down the electric river. No, they—the message-impoverished Republicans—let him get away with it. The Washington GOP is now a political Gulliver, tied down by tweets and twerps…”

News Alert: Google getting aggressive with your opinion

In case y’all haven’t seen the news in the past few days: Google joining Facebook in trying to  profit off your opinions of advertisers.

“Google on Friday announced that it would soon be able to show users’ names, photos, ratings and comments in ads across the Web, endorsing marketers’ products. Facebook already runs similar endorsement ads. But on Thursday it, too, took a step to show personal information more broadly by changing its search settings to make it harder for users to hide from other people trying to find them on the social network…”

Full article from New York Times here.


Good gossip, bad gossip: Doing business in the Internet age


All I could think about, reading this week’s readings, was how incredibly careful companies in sensitive industries have to be in hiring the individual(s)  or media firms who are the designated responders to social media. The best proactive campaigns would seem to me to be those that are nimble, clever and quick — without being stupid or making a faux pas. And the PRNewswire piece was a reminder of how sometimes the best response is to do nothing and wait it out. So just how do you train those communicators when “learning on the job” could be disastrous? Or do companies have a baseline “editor” situation set up to protect them from such errors (i.e. does anyone do a backread before a Tweet goes out? — Perhaps you saw this horrendous example this week out of the White House)? Or is it easier than I expect given we now have a generation raised on social media who may be far better than me about anticipating how certain efforts would be received?

I was also struck by how relevant (yet dated) the 2000 article by Bunting and Lipinksi (Drowned out?) was. Some of those examples seem so extreme today and is that because in general we have gotten more used to such antics of Internet sabotage or because companies have gotten more sophisticated about handling them so they make less waves? Or is it that social media has matured to such a point that many people just ignore a lot of noise?

Finally, the MITSloan article on building an Online Reputation System really hit home to me how building loyalty for your site/company online is more than baseline marketing, it’s corporate defense. You are trying to season a band of brand ambassadors. Hadn’t quite thought of it that way before, but I also thought about how little time I have for following/joining any company’s web community. How to measure return-on-investment? 


1. Does your company have a system for editing/backreading social media responses before they are sent out? 

2. Can you think of a recent case of Internet sabotage on a corporation that made headlines or you became aware of? 

3. What is your preferred way for complaining to a company? (Personally, I like email because I have a record and I’m not stuck on a phone — and I’ve never anticipated that social media would work…)


The haystack is getting bigger


Needle in a haystack.

That’s all I kept thinking this week as I read through the Cisco forecast for mobile traffic. Why aren’t we all network programmers? Job security for at least the next decade! The numbers are mindboggling, but in some ways, the challenges are exactly the same as now: How do those of us on the other side of the bandwidth find the needle in the haystack – i.e. the audience for whatever we are trying to sell or provide on the Internet? Which of course, gets us back to analytics or perhaps more succinctly, the ability to use metadata to find and track your potential/returning audience.

In that vein, QR codes are almost a quaint notion of how to do it: Convince a potential customer to take the time to scan a code. But I still find QR codes flawed. Designed to be more convenient, it actually can be more time consuming than just typing in a web address. And personally, after using QR codes a few times and being disappointed by how unremarkable the “get” was, I find I barely utilize them at all anymore. I was ready to write them off until I saw this column from the Tampa Bay Times showing how a retail outlet is using them in a way that makes more sense. For now it seems like the technology being offered by Apsalar and other developers seems much more likely to help find that needle in the haystack.


Just as a point of reference, QR codes were an improvement over a reader-engagement model the Dallas Morning News tried back in 2000 when tying Internet content to the morning paper was a lot more nouveau. But the CueCat (a barcode reader) never took off, in part because technology eclipsed it and as the Wall Street Journal’s Walter Mossberg noted, “In order to scan in codes from magazines and newspapers, you have to be reading them in front of your PC. That’s unnatural and ridiculous.” QR codes may have fixed the mobility issue of the CueCat but it still hasn’t delivered.  I think the local Bluetooth technology Richard highlighted in his blog post is the likely next generation “CueCat” solution.

1)   What’s the mobile device-to-person ratio in your home? Do you see that growing by 2017? Why? (Personal disclosure: We have five- mobile-equipped devices in our house between two adults and a child — two smartphones, two laptops, one tablet. I imagine it’s only a matter of time before we acquire at least one more device for my daughter, age 6, which would take our ratio from 5:3 to 6:3 – no wonder there will soon be more mobile devices than people).

2)   What is your favorite function of your mobile device? (For me, it’s online banking, for example – huge timesaver) And do you see a niche for a product you want on your mobile device that isn’t being fulfilled?

3)   Would you consider employing a local Bluetooth-type technology for your own home? Would you like lights to come on when you approach your house? The oven to start cooking dinner, etc?

Virtual Discos: My spin through Second Life

Screen Shot 2013-09-28 at 11.48.57 PM

For years I’ve read about Second Life and didn’t get it. Now after spending a few hours on it, I admit it’s still not my cup of tea. Apparently, I’m not alone. Ten years after launch, Second Life’s growth has stalled at 1 million, and I’m betting they are just the kind of users Tom Boellstroff came to know more than a half-a-decade ago when Second Life was still so avant-garde. He is an anthropologist. But I couldn’t help thinking of sociological and psychological questions about who comes to Second Life and why – and if there is an applicability for commerce outside the band of entrepreneurs already serving the community. But I heartly agree with Boellstroff that Second Life as a whole is a culture, even if it has multiple subcultures.

451px-BronislawmalinowskiFor my venture into Second Life I adopted a feminized name of Boellstroff’s inspiration, Bronnie Malinowski (the original Bronislaw Malinowski is the guy in the portrait to the right), and opted for blond hair (do they really have more fun?) and the so-called student attire (grad student on reconnaisance) and stylish backpack included. I quickly jumped from the beach and then went looking for some of my favorite cities: London, Paris, Miami, New York, Buenos Aires to name a few. The landmarks were fun to see, but they all seemed to have a disco. And after seeing a couple of avatars’ moves and you’ve seen them all.

25_rosedale_philip(An interesting insight I stumbled across from Second Life Founder Philip Rosedale…”one of the biggest surprises he had building SecondLife was how when given total creative license, most of the houses just looked like ones in Malibu. Most people just covet the things they know, he says. And in the US, perhaps that life is attainable enough. And for those who can’t attain it, there are already well-trod ways to escape into it, through television, music videos, or RomComs set in Manhattan where everything winds up okay. Perhaps they want the culture that’s already built for them, not the responsibility to build it themselves. Full write up here.)

After our reading, however, I was surprised to have minimal social interactions on Second Life – just three over the course of my multiple visits and all of them the most superficial of sorts. Personally, I found the stop-motion-vibe of the entire experience at times unpleasant and hard to navigate smoothly. And perhaps the most virtual I felt was in discos when a creepy guy would invade my avatar’s space and not offer to chat. So more realistic than I expected, eh? I found myself most taken with the fantasy sites I visited – Musiclandia and Serenity Gardens – for their better-than-reality creations, interactive elements and relative lack of crowds. (One viewer was so taken by Musiclandia, she posted her own video of her avatar’s trip there on YouTube .)

I found this week’s second reading a bit more of service, with its good discussion of techniques for digital ethnography, even if its references were dated. How quaint it was to read that just 10 years ago social scientists were pondering, “Until consumer digital technology products like cellular phones, faxes, and digital cameras become common household items, we will tackle a steeper learning and logistics curve bringing the participants into the research process.”

Steve Jobs must have been reading.

Indeed, the modern era provides tools Malinowski could not have dreamed of and that commerce is already exploiting, from Twitter and instant feedback to Google alerts. The challenge – for academic research in particular – is how to insure the data comes from a representative sample, when appropriate, and that data gathering itself does not skew the results because of participant awareness as in the Valentine’s Day experiment. Nor have we resolved that privacy issue the authors’ mentioned, have we?

And if you still haven’t had a chance, please take a moment for Joni’s Silly Survey.


1. Do you think Second Life has reached its peak? Do you envision any changes or technology advances that would allow it to grow again? (Oh, and please tell me YOUR avatar’s name!)

2. Nowadays we all give data to commerce via cookies, etc., mobile applications on the Internet — but tell ourselves that in the aggregate it doesn’t mean much. But under what conditions would you go a step further and give a researcher carte blanche access to parts or all of the  personal contents on your mobile device/email account, etc?

3. A previous reading talked about research connected to Twitter; now we have Second Life; is there anyway to do something similar on Facebook, where privacy settings make it impossible for a “digital ethnographer” to lurk?

(Old) News Alert: Buying Twitter followers

So stumbled today on this year-old New York Times story about buying Twitter followers….Full story here, excerpt below.

“…It may be the worst-kept secret in the Twittersphere. That friend who brags about having 1,000, even 100,000 Twitter followers may not have earned them through hard work and social networking; he may have simply bought them on the black market. And it’s not just ego-driven blogger types. Celebrities, politicians, start-ups, aspiring rock stars, reality show hopefuls — anyone who might benefit from having a larger social media footprint — are known to have bought large blocks of Twitter followers. The practice is surprisingly easy. A Google search for “buy Twitter followers” turns up dozens of Web sites like, and that sell Twitter followers by the thousands (and often Facebook likes and YouTube views). At, for example, users simply enter their Twitter handle and credit card number and, with a few clicks, see the ranks of their followers swell in three to four days…”


News alert: Online Reputation Management on trial

Thought my classmates would like to see this: We haven’t talked much about online reviews in class yet, but New York’s attorney general has signaled he will crack down on false reviews that mislead consumers. Excerpt here, link to full story below:

“Investigators working for Mr. Schneiderman began by posing as the owner of a Brooklyn yogurt shop that was the victim of unfair reviews. Could the reputation management firm gin up some good reviews to drown out the naysayers?

All too often the answer was yes. The investigation revealed a web of deceit in which reviewers in Bangladesh, the Philippines and Eastern Europe produced, for as little as a dollar a rave, buckets of praise for places they had never seen in countries where they had never been.

In some cases, the reputation shops bribed their clients’ customers to write more fake reviews, giving them $50 gift certificates for their trouble. They also went on review sites that criticized their own fake-review operations and wrote fake reviews denying they wrote fake reviews.”

Story here.