Friday, April 30, 2010

Crowdsourcing Album Art: The Johnny Cash Project

Producer Rick Rubin was having an understandably hard time deciding on the visual to accompany the single for Johnny Cash’s final album – American VI: Ain’t No Grave – the options for a posthumously released album tend to be rather limited given the sensitive nature of the release. Director Chris Milk luckily had an idea that matched the challenge – and the artist’s iconically defiant attitude – perfectly.

Milk and creative technologist Aaron Koblin pitched The Johnny Cash Project, a crowdsourced web film that allows fans to create original drawings based on archival frames of Cash, combined with animation. Pieced together in sequence and set to “Ain’t No Grave”, the artwork becomes an ever-evolving, abstract portrait. The project’s drawing tool allows contributors to illustrate over single frames of archival footage, undo or redo brush strokes, customize brushes and zoom in to perfect details.

When finished, contributors have the option of categorizing their creations as “abstract”, “sketchy”, “realistic” or “pointillism”. Viewers can then choose to watch versions of the ever-evolving video comprised of work that falls into one of those categories – or the most recent or highest-rated frames. So far fans have contributed more than 4,600 frames.

The Johnny Cash Project is a great example of how crowdsourcing with a passionate community can work successfully to engage fans – vs. dictating something as subjective, conversational and polarizing as album art. It also demonstrates how well the integrity of a “brand” – in this case, Cash and his defiance (and publicly perceived character) – can be honored, respected and evolved – even when handing it over to fans.
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Thursday, April 29, 2010

Previewing The Crowd-Sourced Ad World

At this week's Media Magazine Outfront Conference, keynoter and Current TV Chairman Al Gore teased the audience with an offshoot of Current TV he called "Crowd-sourced TV." Without revealing much detail about the upcoming project, Gore suggested that the new service would leverage user-generated content in ways we haven't seen before to work with marketers, perhaps in crafting and distributing their messages. "What if we let them create content and the advertising," Gore said.

In fact they already are democratizing video ad production. Gore showed clips from a recent user-generated video campaign for Frito-Lay SunChips. Current TV and Frito Lay challenged viewers to create their own ad that highlighted a new biodegradable chip bag. They used the long-running Current TV VCAM program (Viewer-Created Ad Message) which offers viewers a marketing "assignment" they can execute with media assets from the company and submit for judging. In this case Gore himself chose the winner, a stop-action video called "Little Steps." 25-year-old Brooklynite Heather Kramer made the clever piece, which shows a Sun Chips bag making its own way from a trash can to a backyard compost heap. The spot will air on Current TV and live on the network and Sun Chips' sites. They also singled out three other spots, each of which will get $5,000 for their spot.

While Gore was playing it pretty coy at the Outfronts, we imagine his Crowdsourced TV concept will be something more along the lines of VCAM and the idea that even advertising now can be collaborative with the audiences it is designed to persuade.

Which can invite into the marketer's thinking a weird new ad aesthetic.

As you can see from the winning video below, it has the charm of a well-crafted film school project. The narrator is expressive but just flat enough not to feel professional. Like user-generated blog posts involving branded consumer goods there is a fine line here between pitching a product and earnestness. It helps of course that in Sun Chips case it is promoting a message of sustainability that a consumer can get behind. But it is curious to look over some of the other top entries and see how the forced amateurishness of professional advertising is somehow colliding with the enhanced professionalism of amateur work. Some professional spots are made to look child-like, and now the homegrown videos are appropriating that mock-amateurishness in order to give the ad a polished and familiar "official" look. Yeah, the logic gets a little thorny here in Crowdsource-land.

Some of these entrants are so well-made they lose the authenticity that user-generated media is supposed to carry.

Or perhaps that isn't even the point, either. Is crowdsourced advertising about getting real voices and real visions into marketing? If so then retaining authenticity becomes part of the art even as professional and amateur tool sets become indistinguishable.
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Wednesday, April 28, 2010

How to Use Kickstarter to Launch a Business

Have a little idea that needs a boost? If you have a robust social network, this crowdfunding site could be just the thing to help.

Caroline Mak and her boyfriend Antonio Ramos loved the taste of ginger, but didn't like the sugary-sweet taste of ginger ales and ginger beers on the market. They weren't spicy enough, nor were they adequately tangy. On a whim the couple set out to brew their own potent carbonated beverage out of their Brooklyn kitchen. Along the way, they concocted an array of other soda flavors, including grapefruit, jalapeno and honey and cucumber, lime and sea salt.

Lacking bottles, kegs, and any sort of industrial kitchen, Mak and Ramos – by profession an artist and a research chemist – needed funding to create any sellable quantity of their inventive sodas. So, they asked their friends, family, and strangers to pledge to them $1,500 over 40 days. The dollar and time parameters are part of the setup at, itself a start-up founded in April 2009 by five friends with the idea that individuals would give a little – especially if they got something back – to fund a creative project.

Roughly 1,000 projects, from rock albums to documentary films to, well, soda-bottling ventures, have been funded on Kickstarter since its launch. Kickstarter has never been about long-term funding; it's supposed to facilitate the asking for and giving of support for single, one-off ideas, says Kickstarter co-founder Perry Chen. Usually, project-creators offer incentives for pledging. Say, give a writer $15, and get a book in the mail. Give $50 and get an autographed copy and a screen-printed poster.

"The thing about the projects is that they are finite. You are telling people if you support me with these funds, you are going to get this thing," Chen says. "People are not investing in your soda company going on to become a big thing."

That means there's no long-term return on investment for supporters. There's not even the ability to write off donations for tax purposes. That hasn't stopped close to 100,000 people from pledging to Kickstarter projects.

Though Kickstarter is not designed to launch entrepreneurs into sustained success, it has shown great potential to bring ideas to fruition, and give traction to projects that, if smartly executed, can grow into small companies. Just look at Brooklyn Soda Works, which now sells its product weekly at a Brooklyn market and is getting requests from restaurants and retailers to sell the artisanal beverages.

Dig Deeper: Self-employment Basics

Using Kickstarter to Jump-Start a Business: Hone Your Idea

Before rushing into the world of crowdfunding, or micro-finance, as Kickstarter has alternately been called, there are a few facts to consider.

1. There's a barrier to entry.

Although Kickstarter is potentially open to everyone, each project must be approved by the site before it is given the go-ahead to post photos, videos, and a plea for pledges. Highly inventive projects are usually shoe-ins; a business venture with apparently adequate existing funding is not. A plan to travel Asia while creating location-inspired couture or mailing hand-designed postcards back home to donors could be approved; just saying "I want to backpack Europe" might not.

2. You set your own goals.

Once a project is approved, the project creator sets up a goal amount of money and a time period, say $2,000 over 30 days. If that amount is not reached in the time period, the project gets no donations and donors do not contribute. If the amount is reached or exceeded, it gets the funding and goes ahead.

3. Your online social network might be your biggest asset.

One other helpful way to meet both of the above criteria is to have a vibrant, diverse, and enthusiastic social network already backing you online. Whether it's just lots of Facebook friends or followers of a website related to the proposed project, Kickstarter will take that into account, knowing that friends will likely kick in a few dollars here and there – and big numbers really add up to strong support. Chen says projects succeed more often when they are a creative idea backed by strong network with existing gravitas.

Artists and entrepreneurs who have used Kickstarter say that though the barrier to entry might seem prohibitive, the founding crew of the crowdfunding site is often willing to work with potential project-starters, offering tips or coaching through the process. When April Smith, a musician from Brooklyn, had a repertoire of songs that she felt went over well in front of live concert audiences, but lacked a record label to record them onto an album, she turned to Kickstarter.

"Basically, I really wanted to record – I had the songs ready and really wanted to be able to release the album soon, because I had been playing them live and they had been getting a really great response," she said. "Rather than wait for a record-label break, and deal with all the red tape that could be involved and hold back the album, we decided to see what happens when we try to do this by ourselves."
Smith and her band grossed $13,100 – $3,100 more than her $10,000 goal – from 224 backers.

She says her fans and social media following contributed greatly to the success, even when they didn't have money to pledge. "What was really great about the project on Kickstarter is that it wasn't just people donating money, it was people spreading the word by tweeting and posting on Facebook and telling friends – and they helped me reach the goal as much as people who donated," she says. "I wound up getting a lot of new fans and new supporters."

Dig Deeper: Six Questions to Ask Yourself Before Starting a Business

Using Kickstarter to Jump-Start a Business: Master Self-Promotion

Just as you wouldn't start a business without a website, you should treat your Kickstarter pursuit seriously and build it a home online. Kickstarter itself helps with that, by giving your project a landing page (for description, donations, photos and video), a blog/updates page for periodic postings. And, if you're lucky or have a particularly interesting or well-executed project introduction, they might just feature your idea on the homepage or suggested projects pages.

Jane Palmer, a textile designer from Chicago, decided this January to found Noon Design Studio, her natural-dye business. But before she did so, she needed to pay off a lease on a dye machine she'd been renting. She turned to Kickstarter, and was featured on the front-page of the site for almost the entire duration of her project, despite that hundreds of other projects were asking for contributions on the site at the time. Her secret?

"I would say that the video quality is probably one of the most important things," she says. "I felt so lucky, because there are lots of other projects buried. But it was really visible, and it was project-of-the-day once. But in truth, my video was really good, with professional lighting and music composed just for it. So that I think made the difference."

Even with all that exposure, Palmer says her pledges were split fairly evenly between people she knew and those who just stumbled upon her project, showing the power of enlisting help from friends, fans, and anyone else who might already be connected to you online.

One tip: Don't feel like too much of a beggar. Remember, the most successful projects tend to give back to supporters in a way that feels like it is worth their funding. Giving access to an exclusive product or service goes a long way.

"Offer as much as you can in return for their investment and keep them a part of it," Smith advises. "When people start a project on Kickstarter, they don't realize that its really fun and an awesome way to connect with your fans."

Smith says one way she kept her project on people's radar was by keeping her page active and vibrant. She credits sustaining supporters' interest with her success.

"I would say, you know, you should constantly be creating. Try to do video updates, and update your project backers as much as possible," she says.

Mak, who founded Brooklyn Soda Works, credits both clarity and great incentives for her Kickstarter success. "The simpler the message, the more people will get into it," she says. "Also, having good rewards and incentive levels really gets peoples attention, and it shows you are actually contributing your own time and are really starting a legitimate business."

Dig Deeper: Businesses You Can Start In Your Pajamas

Using Kickstarter to Jump-Start a Business: Proceed Wisely

To take your endeavor seriously as it moves into the future, cross-promote your website and Kickstarter profile, and incorporate links or widgets to any and all social networking you have.

Once you've tapped your social networks, don't be shy about sending out news blasts or links to Kickstarter updates – so long as they have something to say. And make sure that while your viral marketing and online presence is strong, that you don't let the actual project you're seeking pledges for slide.

"I would say that your audience or social network, if you're lucky enough to have one, are going to be the ones to support your project with money and spreading the word in social networking, so you want to really be sure you're going to be able to deliver," Chen says.

While it's not necessary to have a business model at first, it's a good idea to have goals in mind, and be prepared for a period of growth. Palmer says her business plan developed organically as her project grew. Simultaneously, orders started coming in for her organically-died fabrics.

"The most unexpected part of Kickstarter to me is that it also acted as advertising for me. I've definitely gotten publicity and a few clients from that site," she said. It was only after Kickstarter that she put together a functional business model and extensive marketing materials, including color swatches and information about all the natural dyes she uses.

While Mak agrees that having a clear mission statement is necessary both before launching a Kickstarter project and after, she says the one secret to starting her business through Kickstarter funding is something that can't be forced: "You have to really love and believe in what you're doing, because that really does come across."
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Crowd Film Funding: Losers and Winners

Crowd-funding has a future, but that future will not look anything like the present. The current online crowd-funding models will soon be extinct, but it’s not too late for any of them to do a quick re-vamp of their business models to make them work. Here are my predictions as to the future of the crowd/tribe financing institutions as they currently stand:

* LOSER - Donations/Gifts fundraising is only mildly sustainable in social/issue and hyper-niche filmmaking. Otherwise, it’s business as usual for raising money for a cause, where grant writing is replaced by signing up for a funding site. Is anyone really making $250,000 or even $25,000 online? Outside of Nigeria?
* LOSER – Rewards in the form of gifts won’t work. It’s a passing fad and the novelty will wear off. People will tire of swag, the exception being for fan-boy films that already have a cult following and for which an exclusive reward of some value can be earned (e.g. graphic novel based films), or an animated film where one could earn actual cells from the movie (assuming it’s animated old school.)
* LOSER – Pre-selling DVDs as fundraising won’t last either. First, this, too, is a novelty. Second, people aren’t interested in owning DVDs any more. DVDs as a sell-through are down 40%, whereas DVD rentals are up 7%. But VOD is the fastest growing segment in home entertainment. I own a Blu-Ray player and I think Blu-Rays look amazing (especially “Coraline”), but I don’t buy them, I only Netflix them. The ONE except to this is family films/animation: kids love to pop in the same video and watch it over and over again. That’s why their video takes are 100% higher than other genres. But again, I use Netflix’s Watch Instantly feature for unlimited viewings of “Dora” and “The Wiggles.” Pre-selling a video download won’t cut it either — it’s valueless.
* LOSER – Building an audience as a way to appeal to investors/financiers might sound like a great idea, but having a bunch of YouTube hits does not translate into dollars and means almost nothing to the buyers or financiers. Filmmakers need to remember that their job is to market to buyers and distributors, not to audiences. It’s the distributors’ job to market to their audiences. It’s easy to lose sight of this during the publicity phase leading up to your film’s release, because distributors use filmmakers to market to their audiences. But you have to remember who is pulling the PR strings: the distributor.

If crowd-funding is going to have sustainable legs, it needs to appeal to the most basic of investor emotions: greed and self-interest.

In order to get disinterested investors to support a project, you’ve got to give them something back for their money – and it better be more than a sense of satisfaction. Think about it, what would you want in return?

I’ve been thumbing through the securities blogs for the past couple days (compelling reading) and the fundamental roadblock that crowds hit is the prohibition of “general solicitation and advertising” (unless it’s to accredited investors.) This clearly pulls the rug out from under the crowd concept. But where I do see a ray of hope is within the “intrastate exemption.” Following is an excerpt from a blog called Cutting Edge Capital Raising:

Intrastate exemption – this exemption is based on the premise that an offering that stays within a single state does not require federal regulation (it will be regulated by the relevant state). The business must be incorporated and do a significant portion of its business in the same state where the offering takes place (for example, if you are incorporated in Delaware but located in California, you cannot use this exemption). You must also take stringent measures to make sure all investors reside in your home state and do not sell their stock to anyone living outside that state. Because the statute is somewhat vague about how to qualify for this exemption, the SEC created a “safe harbor” for compliance. A safe harbor is a set of conditions that, if you comply with them, you can be assured that you will meet the requirements of an exemption. However, it is not necessary to comply with the safe harbor conditions to comply with the exemption. The conditions required to meet the safe harbor are as follows:

a. 80% of the company’s assets are located in the state in which the offering is made;

b. 80% of the company’s revenue comes from the state in which the offering is made; and

c. 80% of the proceeds from the offering will be used within the state in which the offering is made.

In short, if your film’s LLC is registered in the state where the film is going to shoot, then that is where you restrict your fundraising. While this isn’t as appealing as casting a net across the globe, it is perhaps more realistic for home grown filmmakers wanting to stay local.

Section A, above, is pretty straight forward if the film stays within the state.

Section C works if the film shoots in the state, while still leaving room to “post” elsewhere if your state does not have facilities.

Section B is a bit trickier, but not impossible… Deriving 80% of your film’s revenues from within California or New York is certainly plausible, since most of the entertainment companies that you could sell to would be intrastate, but you would have to restrict yourself to a buyout arrangement for all non-California revenues, like foreign sales and domestic exploitations outside California.

Basically, the buyout works to shield the LLC from foreign and out of state revenues.

If you’re outside a major media center, then perhaps arranging a non-recourse “buy-out” situation with an intrastate entity (like a broker of some sort) might be the way to go.

I’m not going to presume that this buyout will be the model that sustains crowd-funding, but this is how filmmakers and crowd-site business models need to think about their financing.

People don’t want kitsch — they want cash. And you should always give the people what they want.

POSSIBLE WINNER? – I’ll leave the details for the crowd sites to iron out; with the buyout. But this is one of my suggested possible frameworks I see most likely to succeed.

POSSIBLE WINNER? – The Biracy Project uses rewards as a deferred compensation model to motivate people to do actual work on behalf of the production. Like any other low budget film, these deferrals would be paid out of the film’s profits (if any). This may not let you “ride the upside” like an equity investment would, but at least they’re appealing to the right human motivation: self-interest.

POSSIBLE WINNER? - Another would be if local crowds could create local intrastate investment clubs that raise enough capital so that the club entity itself becomes accredited. This to me is a smart entrepreneurial move for the motivated business player.

POSSIBLE WINNER? - Offshore based crowd-funding business (like in the British Virgin Islands or Costa Rica), where income isn’t generally reported. Many large production companies keep their projects’ intellectual property rights there.

POSSIBLE WINNER? - Crowd-funding for post production: finishing funds, visual effects, editing, sound track, etc. has merit. Vlad Vukicevic of mentioned this and I kind of like it.

This is crowd-investing, so the wisdom of the crowd will need to weigh in.

One of these crowd funding sites will get it right, but who it will be, I don’t know. The winner is the one I am waiting to work with as a future partner in alternative financing for indie films.

Note: I am not an attorney or a securities expert, so please don’t construe this blog post as legal or investment advice. But I do welcome all attorneys and securities experts to join the discussion.
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Independent Films' New Path to Financing

Indie filmmakers are always looking for money, and as I wrote in my last post, as conventional forms of financing for indie films continue to dry up, enterprising producers have discovered an unprecedented new resource for money: they're going online and hitting up their audiences. This online solicitation is called "crowd-funding" or "tribe-funding." This lets the audience members who care most about a film its "tribe" -- play a bigger role in getting it made.

Intriguing idea -- so intriguing that, although my background is inside traditional film financing, I have been actively exploring how crowd-funding might work either on its own or in conjunction with traditional and alternative film financing models.

To see some of the sites in the tribe- and crowd-funding space, visit Biracy, IndieGoGo, Investedin, Kickstarter, Rockethub and Massify. These sites are cool, hip, innovative - absolutely - and some of what they offer might help producers get their projects off the page and into production.

One site, Trampoline Systems, publishes a blog about crowd-funding along with definitions and information.

Who's got the best platform and the best ideas? These are my suggestions about how to use crowd-funding, who's got the best ideas out there, and what strategies to avoid:

DVD Salesmen. Some of these sites tout the strategy of pre-selling DVDs to investors as a way to amass film financing. This might have worked a few years ago, but DVDs are about to be extinct. DVDs as a sell-through are down 15%, whereas DVD rentals are up 7%. But video on demand (VOD) is the fastest growing segment in home entertainment. I own a Blu-Ray player and I think Blu-Rays look amazing (especially "Coraline"), but I don't buy them, I only Netflix them. The ONE exception to this is family films/animation: kids love to pop in the same disk and watch it over and over again. That's why their revenue projections for US home video are 100% higher than other genres. But again, I use Netflix's Watch Instantly feature for unlimited viewings of "Dora" and "The Wiggles." Pre-selling a video download won't cut it either -- it's valueless.

Donation. For documentaries and social issue filmmaking, online donations can expedite (or circumvent) the traditional charitable giving circuit. On Indie GoGo (recently nominated for a Webby), "Seventh Gay Adventist," a documentary sponsored by the San Francisco Film Society, has raised nearly $10,000 over the past six months from 27 donors. In this case, crowd-funding can replace or supplement grant writing and other fundraising efforts. But if your project needs significant money, like $250,000 or $500,000, this process could take years; the online option is like putting out a house fire with a water gun. It's the right idea, it's just going to take too long to matter.

Swag Fatigue. Another strategy is to reward funders with gifts, like the coffee mug you get from your local PBS station during pledge drive or that license plate frame from your alma mater. But people tire of swag, the exception being for fan-boy films with a built-in cult following. In that case, if the producers can include an exclusive, collectible reward of some value, like an actual cell from an old-school animated film, a "gift with purchase" might be a good strategy. A hurdle here is for indie filmmakers to license characters and properties that generate large-scale interest. People don't want kitsch, they want cash.

The SEC is Watching You. Since the SEC regulates investing, and restricts soliciting to "qualified investors" within state lines, indie producers can't just open a PayPal account and start selling investments in their films. Given how busy the SEC is cleaning up real problems - 80% of their staff must be working solely on Goldman Sachs - I'm not sure how closely they're monitoring developments in crowd-funding, but no independent producer I know is too big to fail, so filmmakers are not immune to investigation. It only takes one article about a poor retiree who lost her savings investing in films online to rally the ire of regulators.

Club-Funders. One possible way around this might be for local crowds to create local, intrastate investments clubs (clubs whose investors all reside in the same state) and raise enough capital so that the club entity itself becomes accredited. This, to me, is a smart entrepreneurial move for the motivated business player.

Take It Outside. Another good move is to create off-shore-based crowd-funding businesses (like in the British Virgin Islands or Costa Rica) where income isn't generally reported. Many large productions companies keep their projects' intellectual property rights off-shore, and it's possible crowd-funding could get "out-sourced," too.

Buzz Killers. As I wrote recently in my blog,, YouTube hits for your trailer and general Internet buzz doesn't necessarily equate a strong return on investment (see "Kick Ass"). Online buzz might make for a nice chart/graph in your business plan deck, but don't misconstrue this as something that can be converted into hard dollars. Likewise, tribe interest in a movie may not translate into tribe investment.

Sweat Equity. The Biracy Project uses an innovative crowd-funding strategy: work now on a movie, and get paid later, when (and if) the movie makes a profit. This allows film crews to earn money and experience on indie projects. This feels "win-win" to me, and I think the people at the head of Biracy, David Geertz and Phil Botana, can make it work. I'm not sure what kinds of assignments they're doling out to the crowd, but it can't be anything too critical, because the filmmaker is still going to have to re-check their work.

Finishing Funds. Vlad Vukicevic of shared the idea on FilmClosings that the best use of crowd-funding was to use the money for post production: visual effects, editing, sound track. This seems like a great idea for several reasons, most importantly that the film is already finished enough to give investors a good feel for what they're investing in and a sense of security that the movie will indeed be completed. Finishing funds might be a smaller amount of money to raise through a funding space, and could be raised over the duration of the project, with the filmmakers posting dailies and reports from the set. At present, I think this is the best use and has the best potential for crowd funding.

Combo Funds. I'm researching the possibility that crowd-funding could be used to raise that first critical 20% of equity that most films need (along with a strong business plan) before they can attract traditional funding. In this scenario, the crowd replaces the "friends & family" investors that always get burned on most filmmakers' first films. I think this avenue could help pull indie filmmakers out of the "no funding" abyss while also avoiding the rookie mistake of doing business with friends and family in the first place.

These are just a few of the ideas out there, and this is my perspective on these possibilities; I welcome comments and input. One of the more intriguing ideas I've seen lately came from a reader's comment to me on Twitter: @NoRestrictions told me, "We'll be crowd-funding for an iPhone app that donates a portion of a film sale to a related cause/charity/org that deals with a social issue in the story." That's a very cool idea.

Ultimately, if crowd-funding is going to work, it needs to appeal to those most basic investor emotions: greed and self-interest. Why do disinterested investors support a project? Because they see a potential upside for their money -- and it's the producers job to make sure that happens. You can't reinvest a producing credit.

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Crowd-sourcing goes global

It was interested to hear that Unilever has recently unveiled its new crowd-sourcing campaign. The Unilever Consumer Creative Challenge is the FMCG giant's largest-scale crowdsourcing drive to date. It was unveiled at the Tribeca Film Festival in New York. In collaboration with MOFILM, a community of aspiring film-makers, Unilever will seek video content for 13 of its brands: Lynx, Ben & Jerry's, Close Up, Dove deodorant, Wall's ice cream, Knorr, Lifebuoy, Lipton, Comfort, Sure, Surf, Sunsilk and Vaseline. The consumer products group will name five winners for each brand at the London Film Festival in October, and one overall winner who will walk away with £7,000. Unilever plans to use the winning ideas in future marketing campaigns.

This story was featured on Brand Republic and has attracted a number of comments, many of which are not particularly supportive of the brand and its initiative. But what struck me was that no-one had commented on the fact that this was a great example of a cross cultural campaign not to mention an innovative approach to gathering global customer insight. Contestants can enter the competition in English, German, French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese and Chinese and so in one coordinated campaign, Unilever will get an insight into the messages and cultural brand associations across a diverse range of countries and cultural groups.

I do agree with some of the views expressed in relation to this story in that sometimes, stories like this do seem to suggest that there is no need for creative departments if we can simply outsource the idea generation function to the public. We often have a similar problem in the translation industry, as many think it is something that they can do themselves or that can be done with an online translation tool. The same answer applies to both. Crowd-sourcing as a vehicle to obtain customer insight will always be valuable to a brand and will continue to grow in popularity, but ultimately there will always be a need to sanity check this input against solid industry experience, theory and wider management information.

Crowd-sourcing has been introduced to the translation world via tools such as Google Translate, but even this isn’t fool proof. According to reports a few months ago, an error in translation was made by an individual with a point to make. Apparently Google was quick to fix the translations, but it draws home the fact that even Google isn’t protected from the desire by individual members of crowd-sourcing applications to take matters into their own hands to lead their own political agenda.

Global crowd-sourcing initiatives that serve to facilitate a two-way dialogue across language and cultural boundaries is an approach which should be commended and will undoubtedly add value to any customer insight programmes, but we should be careful not to let it completely overtake strategies to the point where we lose sight of how important internal expertise and knowledge is too.

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Crowdfunding with FundBreak

Crowdfunding, the process of collecting funds from the public to support a project, is about to become a lot more accessible.

FundBreak is a Sydney-based crowdfunding web platform created by Rick Chen and Alan Crabbe and seeks to help fund creative projects by enabling anyone to set up their project to receive funding through crowdfunding.

Users outline their project on the website and set both a target fund amount and a date by which they need to have the money. If they receive the required amount of donations by the set date FundBreak takes a cut and the project receives the funding. If they don't, all donations are returned to the respective donors.
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TomTom says crowd-sourced maps are better for mobile LBS

The phrase “crowd-sourced” often causes brows to wrinkle when it comes to mobile or on-line services. But Rik Temmink, VP of global product management for GPS navigation experts TomTom says that crowd-sourcing when it comes to digital maps doesn’t lead to subjectivity and low standards. In fact, he claims, it can lead to much more accurate results.

Speaking at the Location Business Summit in Amsterdam, Rik Temmink took us through TomTom’s experience with crowd-sourcing, and how it feels the area will develop.

Three years ago, TomTom enabled user contributions to mapping through a service called Map Share. It was based on the notion that people “on the street” are much more keyed to local map information than any company is. They can see in real time what happens in their local area - roads closing and opening, traffic flow changing direction as one-ways systems change, even new areas opening up in the form of housing developments. But there’s more information that the “crowd” can provide. They have local knowledge, and can provide opinion on areas along with just raw data. Map Share allowed them to correct mistakes and make changes to their maps. They could add or remove roundabouts or roads, and change the direction of traffic flow on a street. These edits could be pushed through to the user community, and once they were validated they became an official part of the map.

The thing that surprised TomTom here was the great response it got from the user base. Since launch, over 11 million Map Share reports have been uploaded from over 2 million devices. This includes 1.7 trillion updates that TomTom refers to has “passive” GPS measurements. These are updates that the user doesn’t actually know they’re making… but don’t worry, every effort is made to ensure the anonymity of those updates. But what these passive uploads provide is a rich field of information including altitude, speed and direction. In effect, TomTom can see exactly how a large body of people are driving through a city. Rik showed the example of the Russian city of Minsk - a city that TomTom has no mapping information for. But by mapping the passive updates from people who drove through the city, it was able to not only create an accurate street map based on user movement alone, but also to see where all the major traffic choke points were on that map.

In 2008, TomTom formally combined with digital mapping provider TeleAtlas - and it began to use both crowd-sourced and professionally gathered data to create maps. And this is what you might call the “secret sauce”. For those who ask “how can you trust something that has been crowd-sourced?” the answer is that you cross-reference that data with information from other sources - like government ordnance surveys. TomTom regards professional and crowd-sourced map information as equally important, and both sources feed into a joined map.

Crowd-sourcing also allows TomTom to see what areas of the map they need to update. As Rik said “map maintanance is the hardest part. It’s a horrible job having to continually monitor roads to make sure the maps are up to date. But since we can accurately see what direction cars are driving on a street, we can constantly update directionality of roads through GPS. It also allows us to find a new road… or eliminate an old one.”

What we think?

I remember when I first encountered the OpenStreetMap project - it’s a completely user-generated world map, created to offer an open source alternative to services like Google Maps and TeleAtlas. At the time I thought, “can user-generated maps ever really compete with the big boys?” It turns out that the question is redundant - the big boys are already doing it.
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The Man behind crowdsourcing IBM's workforce

Who is Tim Ringo? What is his role at IBM?

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – So just who is Tim Ringo who made those comments about massive “crowdsourcing” and job reductions at IBM? What are his responsibilities within IBM?

Ringo is a vice president and Global Leader for IBM’s Human Capital Management consulting practice. According to IBM, he is based in London.

An author and thought leader within IBM, he is cited as a writer on several IBM reports related to work force and management issues.

Ringo also is listed as a speaker with the “Celebrity Speakers” Global Speakers Bureau in London.

His bio at the CS Web site says Ringo has “overall responsibility for more than 2000 HCM professionals around the world whose focus is helping clients enable enterprise innovation and performance through improved workforce effectiveness. His primary focus is to help clients create workforce and enterprise transformation through implementation of integrated human capital lifecycle strategy, processes and technologies. He is a sought-after expert on the topic of Human Capital Management and HR.”

Ringo joined IBM in 2006 after working at Accenture for 16 years.

The speakers bureau Web site says Ringo is “sought after in the media for expert opinion and interviews with organizations such as The New York Times , Wall Street Journal, Financial Times, The Spectator (Business). He is regularly booked as keynote speaker or panellist for Human Capital, HR and IT conferences around the world (China, US, India, Japan, Europe).”

Samples from two IBM reports

In a report titled “Focal jobs” released in November of which Ringo is listed as an author, IBM said:

“Increasingly, organizations are being asked to improve employee productivity while at the same time limiting discretionary spending on workforce investments. How can they accomplish both simultaneously? One approach is to channel time, energy and resources towards positions that make a clear and positive difference in an enterprise’s ability to succeed in the marketplace. By identifying these “focal jobs” – and the talent management practices that support them – organizations can pinpoint areas that require more attention, and more effectively allocate limited resources.”

Check out his video interview about the report at YouTube here.

In a 2008 report about “Transforming the workforce,” the writers that included Ringo advocated “A new form of organization.”

“The spotlight is once again being thrust upon the workforce. Major business publications and conferences are now placing issues such as talent management and employee engagement at the forefront of the corporate agenda. We believe this attention is long overdue. However, we do not believe that this focus on employees is merely another on the long list of corporate trends with a predictable shelf life. Instead, we see fundamental shifts in the way that organizations will operate in the future. These changes will require organizations to think about their employees, and how they contribute to business results, in new and different ways.”
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VW Turning To Crowdsourcing For In-Car Infotainment Application Ideas

Beginning on May 3rd, Volkswagen will launch an “App My Ride” contest where designers, programmers, developers and interested users can submit an idea for a new in-car infotainment application. Inspired by the innovative application development process and ‘app stores’ of Google and Apple, VW will become the first car manufacturer to use the idea of open innovation for the development of its products.

When the site is open, “App My Ride” will allow anyone to review ideas, try submitted apps, and comment on the designs. VW will also have their existing apps available to analyse and comment on. One winning developer will get to take part in a special VW vehicle reveal along with a cash prize. For a lucky student, VW is offering a placement position in their research group offices in either Tokyo, Shanghai, California or Wolfsburg.
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World Bank posts data for crowdsourcing solutions

The World Bank Group recently made many of its statistical databases available to the public online in the hopes of enlisting the help of a global community to affect change.

The site is called and is a place for global crowdsourcing, among other things.

This has required the cooperation of several governments and groups, many of them speaking different languages, and includes some 2,000 indicators that could be of help to researchers, journalists, nongovernmental organizations (NGOs), entrepreneurs, and even students.

Carl Hanlon is manager of corporate communications at the World Bank and explains what they've managed to accomplish so far.

"What we've done, in essence, is thrown open the doors on thousands of indicators that really tell what life is like for many of the poorest people in the poorest countries -- everything from life expectancy to infant mortality, school enrollment and some [other] indicators people are familiar with -- GDP, GNI and so on. These numbers and statistics really tell a story about conditions in some of the more challenging countries, and the emerging economies, as well."

The interface online is very user-friendly, Hanlon said. He explained that the data is arranged in a variety of ways, and a user can search by country name for information on health, education, environment, standard of living, cost of living and other indicators.

"We really think that for researchers, for policy makers, for people that do work in development, especially, this provides them with a very rich database of information to help them, first of all, determine what conditions are in countries to help them form policies, and then to track and measure and monitor improvements over time."

The website also comes with a variety of interfaces that allow a user to manipulate the data in any way he or she wants. The information is also available for download in XML, and chart and graph form.

The site is part of the World Bank's broader Access to Information policy that will deploy July 1.

"We're basically opening up much more of our information and our reports and the business we conduct at the Bank. This is sort of a step in that direction, whereby we're saying -- 'We have these databases, previously they were available through subscription to libraries and universities and so on'. [Now] we want everybody to have access to this information because we do want to hear what people think of the information [and] we want feedback on it."

The Bank will also soon have an apps for development competition, where it will ask people to create new ways to interpret the data in the hopes of increasing overall world knowledge about what's happening in developing countries.

"[For example] with the recent disaster that struck Haiti, we took aerial photographs of the destruction after the fact. What we did was invite a whole bunch of different groups to come in and look at that data. . . . They all came together globally and interacted with the data and quickly started to do some assessments on the damage. . . . We really got a jump start on the damage and needs assessment that we were having to do anyway and came up with an $11.5 billion needed for rebuilding in Haiti. That's just one example of how, when you throw it open to the crowd and the experts, you can further the work you have to do by letting people get access to the information."

Since launching, Hanlon said the bank has gotten a great deal of positive feedback from governments and groups across the globe, but there's also a great deal of excitement throughout the Bank itself.

"Everybody is really excited about it. This is a knowledge institution. We have experts from around the world who really apply their knowledge and share it across countries and across regions to try and improve the situation on the ground for some of the poorest people in the poorest countries. When you share the information, get feedback from others, you obviously come up with better solutions."
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Unilever experimenting with crowdsourcing for ads

LONDON: Keith Weed certainly knows how to make an entrance. The first major piece of activity signed off by Unilever's new chief marketing and communications
officer is the company's most ambitious attempt at crowdsourcing to date.

The activity centres on a global initiative, unveiled last week, to source consumer-generated advertising content. This is not an original idea, but it is taking place on an unprecedented scale — 13 of Unilever's biggest global brands are involved, with the goal of finding content that can run in multiple markets, either on TV or via online channels.

The plan represents a step up from Unilever's previous experiments in this area, which used single brands in single markets. Last year, for example, it dropped Lowe from the Peperami account and held a crowdsourcing contest to find replacement creative, while in China it asked consumers to post videos based on Lipton tea.

It should also be noted that the latest invitation is aimed squarely at film-makers, not consumers in general. In that respect, it is similar to the Peperami exercise, which was carried out via creative network Idea Bounty.

Babs Rangaiah, Unilever's vice-president of global communications planning, says the lesson learned from earlier campaigns was that crowdsourcing should not be 'about getting a million people creating ads'; instead he is looking for entry numbers in the hundreds. He believes the company can tap into a desire among a film-making audience for visibility and the chance to advance their careers. 'Using this technique properly can produce some really engaging ideas,' he says.

Unilever is paying out £70,000 in prizes — a relatively small investment for creative ideas. According to Carl Ratcliff, planning director at ad agency MCBD, who worked last year on a campaign for OXO built around user-generated content, the approach could allow Unilever to focus its investment on media buys. For example, OXO, he says, was able to secure high-profile slots around The X Factor.

Of course, squeezing creative costs in this way may not go down well with a brand's creative partners. Rangaiah insists that the strategy does not 'replace or interfere with our relationships with agencies'.

However, the agencies in question show a marked unwillingness to comment on the idea. Off the record, executives at some of Unilever's agency partners express disgruntlement with being so publicly bypassed. 'It's not just about coming up with an idea, it's about following it up with a coherent campaign,' says one. Rory Sutherland, president of the IPA, also questions why crowdsourced campaigns are judged on their likeability alone.

Opposing views

These critics may have a point. After all, the Lynx campaigns by Bartle Bogle Hegarty are often held up as an example of successful long-term marketing. Why, then, would Unilever run the risk of disrupting such work? Ratcliff contends, however that this risk is negligible: 'This is allowing consumers to play at the margins. Those margins are never going to take centre stage.'

Nevertheless, such crowdsourcing initiatives are unlikely to go away. Rangaiah confirms it is 'more than a one-off' for Unilever.

Alastair Duncan, partner at crowdsourcing agency Alternative Genius, argues clients are looking at these options because they are 'frustrated'. 'With Peperami, Unilever's frustration was that it felt it was bottom of the (agency's) food
chain,' he claims. 'It would issue a brief and weeks later it would get an idea.'
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Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Analysis: Crowd sourcing revolution gathers pace

Could the growth of crowd sourcing be one of the major procurement trends of 2010? In recent years what started out as a niche sourcing area has gained greater credibility as some of the world's leading companies have embraced a sourcing route that, perhaps more than any other, links the world of procurement with the world of the consumer.

Earlier this month, the set-up of a new website aimed at "Democratising Fashion" was announced in New York. Fashion Stake, which will launch officially in September, could change the face of fashion procurement by offering consumers a forum to share ideas with designers and, ultimately, influence the clothes they produce.

"We think this can be a real game changer," said Daniel Gulati, the website's founder. "What we're basically doing is redirecting the margin to fans and cutting out the retailer altogether."

It's an innovative approach that Alec Karys, who is working in an advisory role with the company, believes could offer a pointer for what the future holds.

"You can crowd source, you can crowd fund, you can get economies of scale, and you can customize the output to deal with local markets," he said.

Fashion Stake's move is viewed as a dramatic innovation in the fashion industry, but elsewhere, crowd sourcing has already taken hold.

According to a recent report in Personnel Today, IBM is considering crowd-sourcing proposals that could see its permanent workforce slashed by up to 100,000 people by 2017, as the company looks to cut its head count by bringing in expertise on a project-by-project basis.

Tim Ringo, head of IBM Human Capital Management, the company's consultancy arm, said the approach would bring a number of significant advantages.

"There would be no building costs, no pensions and no healthcare costs, making huge savings," he said. "I think crowd sourcing is really important where you would have a core set of employees but the vast majority are sub-contracted out."

His comments were rebuffed by an IBM spokesman, who labelled them as "pure speculation", but there's little doubt that in the current economic climate, the attraction of crowd sourcing is stronger than ever.

Back in October 2009, Procurement Leaders magazine reported how Proctor & Gamble had utilised a crowd sourcing network to find a solution to commercialise a new molecule for auto-dish detergents. That solution - which made a significant difference to the company's bottom-line - came, not from within P&G's own sphere of knowledge, but from a previously unknown individual in India.

That is as dramatic example of you are likely to find of the impact that crowd sourcing can have, and the innovation that it can engender in procurement organisations across the world.

"Currently I think the impact (of crowd sourcing) is small - but over the longer-term I think the impact is going to be huge," says Fergus Dyer-Smith, founder of Crowd Sourcing networking website Wooshi.

"Take the simple process of procuring graphic design service for example. The traditional route involves phoning a number of suppliers finding the best quote and taking little leap of faith in terms of whether the supplier will deliver.

"Crowd sourcing offers you the opportunity to get quotes from scores of suppliers, base your choice on actual feedback and all from the benefit of your browser."

It also, he believes, offers a pointer as to the future role of the CPO.

"Now the CPOs role becomes one of experience in using services like crowdSpring or Elance," says Dyer-Smith. "It takes time to learn of all the services available, how to write good briefs and how to assess submissions. Once you do, however, the savings are huge."

Whether Fashion Stake takes off or whether IBM will cut its global head count remains to be seen, but whatever the outcome in those two cases one thing is clear - crowd sourcing is here to stay.
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Monday, April 26, 2010

Tories unveil 'crowd-source' plans

Sections of new laws could be drawn up by members of the public under Tory plans to "crowd-source" legislation announced.

Experts would be able to submit draft clauses to Bills online as part of moves to involve more people in law-making.

The idea, to be piloted in the first session of a Conservative government, sits alongside proposals for legislation to pass through a "public reading stage" - including a "public reading day" when MPs and Peers would consider suggestions submitted on the internet.

Both suggestions fit within party leader David Cameron's central General Election pitch to create a "big society" by involving more people in the way the country is run.

They were outlined in a document called "Big ideas to give Britain real change", which includes a plan to ensure that all prime ministers who take office in the middle of a parliamentary term should be required to secure their own mandate by holding a general election within six months. It also sets out proposals to expand the Freedom of Information Act, including bodies such as Northern Rock and Network Rail; fund 200 postal primary elections to select parliamentary candidates; and provide greater protection for whistleblowers in the Civil Service and public sector.

The document says crowd-sourcing legislation would "help produce better Bills", adding: "Government legislation is often hastily drafted, leading to unintended consequences in the law."

The government department putting forward legislation would publish "detailed instructions" on the aims of the policy, and people would then register for an online forum which allowed them to submit draft clauses. "We expect this to include lawyers, academics and other experts," the document says.

Participants would be encouraged to rate any draft clauses put forward, with the highest-rated passed on for consideration by the the Office of the Parliamentary Counsel - the official government drafter of legislation.

Earlier, Conservative leader David Cameron said Prime Ministers who take office in the middle of a parliamentary term should be required to secure their own mandate by holding a General Election within six months.

Campaigning in Essex, Mr Cameron said that Prime Ministers should be voted into 10 Downing Street by the people of Britain, not because their party has "stitched up some deal" as happened when Gordon Brown succeeded Tony Blair in 2007.
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Babson Competition Winners Sell Viral Videos, Healthful Foods

Babson College started the first ever business plan competition for undergraduates in 1984. That helped it achieve its status as a top United States college for aspiring entrepreneurs, especially at the undergraduate level.

Babson’s 2010 competition concluded on Thursday, with the best undergraduate award and $5,000 cash prize going to Crelligence Media, a digital video venture founded by a Babson senior, Alexander Debelov, from Rostov-On-Don, Russia.

Crelligence gives incentives to independent digital filmmakers to create online videos — about specific products or brands — that have the potential to go viral. Ad agencies and marketing teams pay Crelligence a per-campaign fee to “crowdsource” — or send out assignments to video makers — and then to syndicate the clips online.

To test the concept, Crelligence started a “filmmaker community” Web site,, offering $3,000 in cash prizes for videos to spread the word about the site. An impressive 2,000 filmmakers participated.

Producers who met the assignment criteria, and whose clips went viral, won a piece of the $3,000 “budget,” explained Mr. Debelov. Those garnering the most views got the most money. More than 600,000 people watched the videos online, he said. And some videos were chosen to air on broadcast television shows on CBS in the United States and Fuji TV in Japan, adding two million more views.

The buzz factor helped Mr. Debelov, the 22-year-old chief executive, sign a $20,000 deal with his first customer, a spray-paint maker called Bosny that is based in Bangkok and expanding its sales in North America.

Crelligence uses a proprietary application to automatically post select clips to blogs, social media sites and groups where online audiences share and comment on them, including YouTube, Metacafe, StumbleUpon and Digg.

“The application makes the process quicker than it would be to upload and share videos manually,” said Mr. Debelov. “It takes less than two hours to get them out to at least 100 sites.” He and his partners have invested $20,000 out of pocket into their start-up, spending it partly to hire lawyers to ensure their technology and plan comply with copyright and other laws.

A judge at Babson’s competition, Abigail Hechtman, who is a Boston area lawyer specializing in corporate transactions, said Crelligence was the clear winner in the undergraduate division because its concept was both market ready and cutting edge. “Inventions like DVRs, and on-demand TV mean you don’t sit through a traditional ad anymore,” she said. “You fast-forward right through it. If your friend made the ad, or shared it with you online, though, you will watch.”

Babson’s best graduate business plan award — $20,000 in cash and $20,000 worth of business services — went to a more traditional company, Evolve Foods, which offers gluten- and allergen-free packaged foods for consumers who have allergies or other dietary concerns.

Sara Gragnolati, Evolve’s chief executive and founder, plans to use her winnings to make market-ready samples of her first product, a ready-to-eat hot cereal made from ancient grains, including quinoa, and packaged in microwaveable, single-serving pouches. She brought samples for judges to taste.

Ms. Gragnolati was inspired to start the company by her own gluten allergy diagnosis a few years ago. “I worked in the natural and organics foods industry for 10 years by the time I was diagnosed,” she said. “So I was a very educated consumer. But I was so frustrated. Every time I went shopping, there was nothing nutritious, tasty and gluten-free that wouldn’t take a lot of time for me to prepare. After griping to my friends that someone needs to do this, I just decided to do it myself.”

A Babson competition judge, Jo Tango, who founded and is a partner with the venture fund Kepha Partners, said he was impressed by Ms. Gragnolati’s passion and presentation. “The entrepreneur hit both the left brain and the right brain criteria for me,” said Mr. Tango. “She knows this space and had worked with Procter & Gamble. But her passion came through. She isn’t just looking for a paycheck.”

A third award of $5,000 cash went to the best student-run business of the year, Emergent Energy Group (also known as Emergent Group) founded by a Babson senior, Chris Jacobs. The chief executive joked that he was glad to “get an ‘A’ in entrepreneurship,” because his G.P.A. this year was not above a 3.0, though he will be graduating in a few weeks.

Emergent is an alternative energy consulting firm that develops solar and wind projects in New Jersey, Massachusetts and other regions where state and local governments give them tax breaks or credits as incentives. Mr. Jacobs was a 2009 finalist in the Global Student Entrepreneur Awards held by Entrepreneurs’ Organization.
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Thursday, April 22, 2010

What to Do When the Next Global Crisis Strikes? Crowdsource!

LOS ANGELES (CBS) I met Patrick Meier at last week's Twitter Chirp Conference and was immediately intrigued by his card, which read: Ushahidi, Crowdsourcing Crisis Information. Ushahidi means "testimony" in Swahili. The platform, which is completely free and open, was initially developed in early 2008 during Kenya's post election fallout as a way to map reports of violence.

"We threw up a Google map of Kenya," says Meier. "We got a short code 6007 with Safaricom (a Kenyan mobile operator), which meant that anyone in Kenya could text in their observation saying I just saw a riot, I just saw a person getting beating up and then we'd be able to geo-locate that and have a completely transparent map that anyone could access and see what was happening."

After seeing the traffic grow to 45,000 users from Kenya alone, they knew they were onto something.

Come January 12, 2010, a 7.0 earthquake hit Haiti. Within 48 hours of the earthquake, Josh Nesbit of FrontlineSMS:Medic and Katie Stanton of the U.S. State Department convinced DigiCel, the largest telco in Haiti, set up a short code - 4636 - (much like our 911) that people could text for help. Anyone in Haiti could text their urgent life and death situation with their location, and Ushahidi would map that information.

"If you go to, we've mapped over 3,500 individual crisis related incidences and you can animate that map from January 12 and see how that information gets distributed over time."

There were two problems: Translating the flood of texts in Creole, and getting workers to carry out the labor.

To tackle the translation problem, Ushahadi teamed up with CrowdFlower, a web service that provides labor-on-demand - in this case translators.

"Harnessing thousands of volunteers would normally create a logistical nightmare, but it is specifically this kind of amorphous virtual labor force that the CrowdFlower platform was built to accommodate," said Lukas Biewald, the company's CEO.

Ushahadi also joined forces with Samasource, a nonprofit specializing in socially responsible outsourcing, who got Haitians on the ground hired to handle emergency message routing. That, in turn, created jobs for the local economy.

This collaborative effort is now being hailed as

There's no doubt that this is a model for how governments, NGOs and aid workers on the ground can more efficiently report and react to any event or incident (not just a crisis) through SMS, Twitter and the web.

Ushahadi is not only being used to deal with disaster.

As I spoke to Patrick backstage at Twitter Chirp, he showed me Ushahidi's latest voting map for Sudan that was made to "track and create transparency for any irregularities that may take place," during the recent presidential election.

There can be bumps in the crowdsourcing revolution however.

The independent site had a few hundred markings on its map showing locations tagged for defamation, voting access, disturbances and vote tampering. The morning I spoke with Patrick, it had been suddenly shut down. As of today, it remains blocked.

Now that's a big issue that has yet to be crowd sourced successfully. Any hackers... I mean volunteers out there that want to give it a go?
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What If Everyone On Twitter Read The Same Book?

In 1998 our nation's most famous librarian, Nancy Pearl, posed a question to her fellow Seattleites: What if everyone in the city read the same book? The answer, she learned, was that a wildly diverse group of people would suddenly have at least one thing in common. That summer thousands came together to read The Sweet Hereafter by Russel Banks. Seattle loved it, and the "One Book, One City" phenomenon was born. Cities large and small started their own "Big Reads," and in 2003 Pearl was credited with starting the "most significant public humanities program in the past 10 years."

I wouldn't dream of second-guessing anyone with her own action figure, but I think the "One Book, One City" programs make a very industrial age assumption: Namely, that most of our relationships are determined by geography. On the Internet--where affinity is more powerful than geography--that's just not the case anymore. And so I'd like to ask a slightly more ambitious question: What if everyone in the world read the same book? We have the ideal technology at our fingertips--Twitter. All we need now is the book.

Toward that end I recently launched the world's first global book club: One Book, One Twitter. And because it seems to me this should be democratic in every way, I asked, well, everyone to help decide which book we should all read. As you read this people around the world are voting on which book they'd like to read this summer, and gathering at the #1b1t hash on Twitter to discuss their choice. So far American Gods by Neil Gaiman has been leading the field by a healthy margin, but strong lobbies have formed behind Gabriel Garcia Marquez' 100 Years of Solitude and Ray Bradbury's Fahreinheit 451. By the time voting ends next week anything could happen.

We've already drawn in thousands of people from Pasadena, Portugal, and Peoria. (Really. I'm not just being alliterative.) But of course, for this to truly reach a global audience, we need your help. If you like what we're doing, vote now, and spread the word. Tweet it, blog it, tell your friends. And go global. Voting ends at Midnight next Wednesday (April 28). After that, we'll all start reading, and tweeting, and reading, and tweeting.

What's the point of all this? First and foremost, to have a boatload of fun. The very people who most want to encourage reading often seem to treat books like brussel sprouts for the brain. Screw that. I'm taking the Cookies-and-Milk approach. Join One Book, One Twitter because a good story is unsurpassed fun, like rollercoasters and boogie boards and a ridiculously late night out with your friends.

As it happens, there's another layer to all this if anyone decides they need one: I believe a global, Twitter-based club has the capacity to build something academics call "social capital." I'm in the unusual position of playing college student again, and have been taking a graduate course in social capital with Robert Putnam, author of the book, Bowling Alone. Social capital is the WD-40 in our lives, the connections that result in new jobs, new spouses, and new friends. It's why George Bailey is the richest man in town. And what social scientists call bridging social capital allows connections to form between people who have nothing in common. Except, perhaps, that they happen to be reading the same book.

We can't make Sunnis love Shia, or or turn the Blue and Red states into the United States, or make everyone accept a two-state solution. We can all read one book, though, and maybe all get to know each other a bit better.
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Salesforce buying contact crowd-sourcer Jigsaw for $142 million is buying business data provider Jigsaw for $142 million, a move designed to help customers more easily build contact lists in their Salesforce databases.

The deal to acquire the San Mateo, Calif.-based company was announced Wednesday.

Salesforce offers cloud-based CRM (customer relationship management) applications geared toward businesses that need to keep track of and communicate with customers, clients, and other contacts. But the process for finding, adding, and organizing contacts can be cumbersome, Salesforce noted, especially if people are manually entering that information into their databases.

Jigsaw offers a searchable online database of companies and key employees, which is the type of data that Salesforce users are seeking. But Jigsaw offers a twist--it relies on crowd-sourcing to collect the data. Using Wikipedia as an example, crowd-sourcing encourages people to add information on their own. With contributions from Jigsaw's more than 1.2 million members, the company said that its database now provides contact information on more than 21 million professionals from nearly 4 million companies.

By acquiring Jigsaw, Salesforce plans to offer its own users the ability to more easily locate, purchase, and manage contact information that they can seamlessly integrate into their Salesforce databases. Salesforce said it believes the acquisition will create opportunities for developers and software vendors to build new applications based on the business contact information found in Jigsaw.

Jigsaw will also give Salesforce a foothold into the growing $3 billion market for cloud-based data services and open up a door for Salesforce to partner with other information services companies like Dun & Bradstreet, Hoover's, and LexisNexis, Salesforce said.

" is excited to bring the data services industry into the era of Cloud 2," Salesforce CEO Marc Benioff said in a statement. "With Jigsaw, we'll make it as easy as Wikipedia to source data, as easy as iTunes to buy data, and as easy as Facebook to stay updated as the data changes."

Since last year, Salesforce has been touting its Cloud 2 service as the next wave in customer service by allowing people to integrate other applications with their Salesforce data. The company has also been on a social-networking kick, working on its own Salesforce Chatter app due sometime this year and adding Twitter to its cloud services in December.

In addition to paying $142 million in cash, Salesforce will kick in up to another 10 percent of the purchase price based on Jigsaw's performance. The deal is expected to close in Salesforce's fiscal second quarter, which ends in July.

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Jigsaw’s $142M sale is BIG news for Charlotte entrepreneur

RESEARCH TRIANGLE PARK, N.C. – Charlotte’s entrepreneurial community has a big connection in more ways than one with’s $142 million acquisition of startup Jigsaw.

Not only is Garth Moulton, one of the California firm’s co-founders a resident move-in to Charlotte, he also is an active member in BIG – Charlotte’s entrepreneurial group Business Innovation and Growth.

As part of his giving back efforts, Moulton also helped coached two startups in the recent “Five Ventures” business competition an UNC-Charlotte.

“Garth will continue to remain involved in BIG and will give back to our community to support entrepreneurship,” BIG Chief Executive Officer Terry Thorson Cox told Local Tech Wire.

She sees involved as a “mentor, investor” and more.

“He’s the kind of serial entrepreneur that we need in Charlotte,” Cox added.

Moulton moved to Charlotte over a year ago even though Jigsaw is based in California. While helping run sales and marketing for Jigsaw in what Cox describes as a “bi-coastal” run company, Moulton also became involved in the Queen City’s entrepreneurial committee by joining BIG.

“He basically joined BIG to get connected to our entrepreneurial community for purposes of launching the next big thing,” Cox says.

What that next “thing” is remains to be seen, but Cox and fellow BIG members are excited that Moulton could be creating it in North Carolina.

At Jigsaw, Moulton is vice president of community. He describes himself as Jigsaw’s “ambassador. Moulton also led business development. Before joining Jigsaw, Moulton worked in sales at several other tech firms. He’s a Brown University graduate.

In his blog at Jigsaw, Moulton discussed his involvement in Five Ventures.

“I originally balked when the director of the program, Ken Paulus, asked me to coach two of the entrepreneur teams,” he wrote. “But a combination of his hypnotic radio voice and the enthusiasm of the founders of the fledgling crowd sourcing companies ( and convinced me to get involved. Once I got used to the constant reminder that bright eyed MBA students inadvertently gave me that I am an old fart (I hit forty in two months) it turned out to be well worth my time.”

Cox – and others, I bet – are assuming Moulton will be sharing his Jigsaw experiences with others. purchased Jigsaw for $142 million plus earn-outs for up to another 10 percent.

Jigsaw focuses on business contacts based on crowd sourcing similar to Wikipedia. Founded in 2004, it has raised some $18 million in venture capital TechCrunch reports.

The company has some 1.2 million members and contact information on some 21 million people since launch.

Now that’s crowd sourcing.
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Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Consumers Can Snuggle With Lipton, Surf With Vaseline or Get Close Up With Lifebuoy

Another giant consumer marketer is turning to a company that specializes in crowdsourcing contests for advertising ideas.

Unilever has hired Mofilm, based in London, to oversee what is being called Unilever’s Consumer Creative Challenge. It is a contest to create short films of up to 90 seconds — or long commercials, depending on your perspective — for any of 13 Unilever brands sold in markets around the world.

The contest is to be unveiled at the Tribeca Film Festival, where Mofilm plans to announce on Wednesday the winners of a similar contest that asked filmmakers and other creative types to produce ads for brands like Best Buy, Chex Mix, Nature Valley and Nokia.

The winners will be announced at the London Film Festival in October. Five winners will be selected for each of the 13 brands; one overall winner will receive 7,000 British pounds (about $10,683).

The 13 brands are Axe, Ben & Jerry’s, Close Up, Dove deodorant, Heart Brand ice creams, Knorr, Lifebuoy, Lipton, Rexona deodorant, Snuggle, Sunsilk, Surf and Vaseline.

More information about the Unilever challenge will be available on the Mofilm Web site.

Crowdsourcing refers to open innovation, usually online, that relies on the so-called wisdom of crowds to produce concepts. Participants can be amateurs, professionals or anyone in between. Crowdsourcing is used as an alternative to the traditional model of hiring advertising agencies to generate ideas from teams of copywriters and art directors.

Proponents praise the concept’s ability to find filmmakers, artists, writers and creative thinkers from outside the usual channels. Critics of the practice say it pits struggling artists against one another for small prizes.

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Out of Volcanic Ash Blooms Creative Spirit

The Rumpus points out a cool new project that is underway as a result of the thousands of travelers stranded across the globe in the wake of Volcanopocalypse 2010. Writer and editor Andrew Losowsky is attempting to crowd source the content for a magazine purely from the talents of the creative folks who have been halted by the Volcano eruption in Iceland. The memorable tag line that Losowsky is using for the project is “If there’s one thing my ol’ ma taught me, it’s that when life gives you volcanoes, make magazines. And so we shall.”

Lososwky is looking for “designers, writers, photographers, illustrators, art directors and anyone else who is stranded by the ash cloud, and would like something to do.” From the project’s web site, here is the official casting call:

If you’re out there and interested, email me and tell me what you do. I’ll then give you an assignment to complete today/tomorrow. Depending on how long this thing lasts, we’ll work the rest of it out from there. The copyright will remain yours on anything you produce, I just ask for permission to include it in the currently-untitled ashcloud magazine (working titles include Grounded, SkyFail and Someday We’ll Fly Away.)

If you’d like to be a part of the core creative team who will put together this impromptu publication, let me know as well. The only criterion for any contributor is that, like me, you have to be stuck somewhere unintentionally.

If all goes well, the results will be published, probably via MagCloud and/or the Newspaper Club, and any proceeds sent to a charity that helps mitigate the effects of climate change on human populations. After all, we have to repent somehow.

Quite the intriguing idea. So if you are stranded and want to do something rather than sit around in an airport or bus station or train station, send Losowsky an e-mail and do something with your time. Or you could go the John Cleese route and when your plane does not take off you can book yourself a 5,100 dollar cab ride across Europe.
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Hukilau crowdsources $ for ipad movie producers

Hukilau and the art of filmmaking

Clap app. The iPad could be a boon to movie making. How? We’ll tell you. Hukilau has just launched its Slate app for Apple’s new gear. The digital slate – aka the clapperboard – boasts the usual fields for items such as the production name and scene number. Plus, and this could be the kicker, if you shake that iPad you get an authentic clapping sound.
Actually, Hukilau’s an interesting outfit providing film, video and alternate reality game projects with crowdsource funding and matching funds.
“Hukilau is a response to the current and future predicaments facing medium to low budget film,” says Hukilau founder, Joseph Matheny. “Namely, that funding for traditional sources – i.e. studios, networks and even angel investors – has become almost non-existent for such projects.
“This predicament also spells a lack of viewing choices for fans of those films as well. We propose to spearhead our solution with a site that functions as a portal for first time or established filmmakers to propose short or feature length film/video or ARG style projects to a community of film enthusiasts and aspiring or established producers for crowdsource style funding. It could also be used for a number of projects, like aspiring bands wanting to make a music video.”
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Crowd (fill in the blank) is Good for Giving

Twenty years ago, all that stood between thousands of small farmers in Indonesia and $100 million of investment was a 30-year-old World Bank economist. Because of his concerns about the way the financing would flow and technical issues related to processing the crops, the economist refused to let the project go forward. Senior government officials alternately pleaded, berated and threatened the economist, but he refused to budge. He had been selected as the best expert by the Bank to make such decisions, and he was not going to back down. The farmers never got their investment.

That World Bank economist was me, and the outcome has weighed heavily on me over the last two decades. What if I was wrong?

This story captures the essence of why we need much more open-sourcing in the aid and philanthropy fields. Official aid (World Bank, USAID, et al) and large foundation experts say, "If we do enough research and analysis, we can: a) determine the most pressing social and economic problems facing a society, b) come up with good ideas that address those problems and c) we can develop investment projects that will solve the problems." In this equation, "we" = a small group of development, program and government experts.

During the multi-year standoff between the Indonesian government officials and me, I got little input from civil society groups, private sector business people or even the farmers themselves. Consequently, I had no idea what they thought of the original project design. Nor had they any ability to suggest alternative designs that might have worked better. Against this background, it is not surprising that studies have failed to find much social or economic impact from the bulk of the $2 trillion of development aid provided by the World Bank since 1950. This analytical, expert-driven, data-intensive approach has not panned out as we had expected.

Fortunately, the world has changed -- especially in the last five years. Because of our transformative experience with the Development Marketplace at the World Bank, Mari Kuraishi and I created GlobalGiving to allow anyone in the world with a good idea to submit it, and anyone in the world to fund it or comment on it. So far, almost 100,000 individuals and many leading companies have provided more than $28 million to 2,000 projects in 115 countries.

Throughout our nine years, we have experimented with ways to engage "the crowd" in choosing the best projects on GlobalGiving. Early on we tried voting-only contests. These proved complicated for a small organization focused on giving to manage. In late 2007, we were fortunate to work with the Case Foundation on the first large-scale online philanthropy challenge -- America's Giving Challenge. This campaign demonstrated to hundreds of nonprofits that they could utilize the Internet and social networks to mobilize donors to support their work...and the results of that mobilization determined which causes would receive $50,000 bounties provided by the Case Foundation.

More recently, a number of companies and foundations have launched their own online philanthropic crowdsourcing campaigns. One of the most impressive of these has been the Pepsi Refresh Project. Pepsi is giving away over $1 million per month -- a total of $20 million this year -- to ideas selected by popular vote.

The approach is almost pure crowdsourcing. Any person, organization, or even company in the U.S. (and soon Canada) is eligible to submit an idea, and as long as the idea is for public benefit, provides sufficient information about its idea and doesn't violate the published rules, it goes up for public vote. In the first three months, millions of votes have been cast, and many great ideas have been funded. Undoubtedly, some of the ideas will not be stellar, but it's only by being open to all ideas, and being willing to take some risks, that Pepsi has a chance to fund amazing ideas that would otherwise not have had access to this level of investment. Either way, Pepsi is committed to providing an open platform for updates and feedback on the ideas as they become realities. (Disclosure: GlobalGiving is a partner in Refresh.)

So far, Pepsi is alone in the scale of brand dollars it is using to power this campaign. But other innovators such as American Express, GiveMN, Chase, Google, and Sam's Club have used crowdsourcing to allocate corporate philanthropy. At GlobalGiving, we conduct quarterly Global Open Challenges that require interested organizations to demonstrate their ability to use our platform by attracting 50 donors and $4,000 in order to secure a spot on the GlobalGiving platform. Small prizes sweeten the pot. This is crowdfunding, more than crowdsourcing of votes. And it works for us. We've found this mechanism effective in identifying and qualifying organizations that an "expert" at GlobalGiving would not otherwise have found or given a chance to succeed.

Different structures will work better for different types of organizations and campaigns. Matching, prizes, thresholds, voting -- all have a place in the crowd (fill-in-the-blank) approach to social impact. While some contests have had flaws, this is to be expected at this stage, and we hope the experimentation will continue. Despite their flaws, my bet is that, in aggregate, these contests have produced more social good than would have been produced by corporate or foundation committees making the decisions alone.

Some caveats are in order. Cass Sunstein, in Infotopia: How Many Minds Produce Knowledge, notes the importance of avoiding "knowledge cocoons" and herd mentalities that can lead to poor choices. And as James Surowiecki points out in the Wisdom of Crowds, we would not want crowds to do open-heart surgery, fly 747s across the Atlantic, or construct big dams. Technical expertise can still play a core role after the appropriate course of action has been selected. And this is why Pepsi has hired our partner, GOOD, to work with each Pepsi Refresh grant recipient to help ensure their success and to facilitate feedback loops and portfolio impact assessment. There are no silver bullets. As much as I love crowdfunding platforms such as GlobalGiving, Kiva, and DonorsChoose, we alone are not going to solve all the world's problems. Nor will corporate-sponsored crowdsourcing campaigns. But all of these together are moving the ball in the right direction, and I, for one, am very encouraged.
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