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Crowdsourcing – Contests for Content

Blogs are interesting creatures.   When they start out, it’s often with great enthusiasm.  You have lots of ideas to share –  vision, direction, purpose!

The first articles come easily.  They flow.  You are inspired.

Then comes disappointment in one of two forms.  Sometimes, you have no audience.  Even with great promotion, that initial blip of interests fades.  You look at your visits and hope that the one visit today wasn’t you.

Or it can be successful in getting an initial audience — that audience might even grow.  But sooner or later, after a hard day at work or on what could be that lazy Saturday morning, you drag your sorry butt to the computer and you just don’t feel like it.  Excitement becomes unpaid work.  You now understand what columnists who do weekly columns do with the rest of their week.  And you gain a new respect for anyone who publishes daily.  Your content dwindles and the audience drops off.

To paraphrase the poet T. S. Eliot – this is the the way most blogging ends, “not with a bang, but a whimper.”   Sounds kind of sad, doesn’t it?

Maybe one of the reasons why this happens so frequently is that blogs are often lone wolf enterprises. It’s a single person with a single vision in a world and a medium that facilitates and rewards collaboration.   I produce an online radio show, Game Changing – which is actually a blog and podcast every week.  How do I manage that with my schedule?  I’m not sure.  We’re actually going to launch a second show.  I could not do this without the collaboration of my co-hosts.  It’s an interesting irony.   The internet gives the lone wolf an easy way to launch, but in all too many cases the lone wolf may get all the credit, but the collaborator gets success.  It’s an interesting variation on the “give it away and grow rich” philosophy which powers so much of the internet.  If you get it, you can prosper.  If you don’t – the odds of your success are lessened.

Sure there’s someone out there who bucks this trend, but if you really check that one person that you see probably has staff and resources.

And it is easy to find collaborators if you have money, time and resources.  What do you do if you have no budget?  Andrew Ballenthin has been seeking that answer for some time.  He built his Community Marketing Blog on the principle that he was going to find out if you could build a successful blog with no cash investment.  In doing this, he’s come up with some really interesting and creative solutions.  One of these is the Blog Off contest.

When Andrew Ballenthin did his initial Blog Off contest on his Community Marketing Blog he not only generated interest, he inherited a number of new writers who continue to add exciting content to his site. But he wasn’t the only one to benefit. The participants loved it and during and after the initial contest, the group stuck together and has started to form their own community around the blog. This year the contest is bigger, the prizes were valued into the tens of thousands of dollars and a much larger group of contestants participated.

In the spirit of crowdsourcing, our own radio show/podcast Game Changing is pleased to bring in the winners of Blog Off II – three astounding bloggers: Sean Nelson, Sam Diener and Tim Ruffner Want to make YOUR blog a winner? Come on and get some tips from these winners. We’ll also explore the contest and find out about the experience of crowdsourcing from the crowd’s eye viewpoint.

Change the game!

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Rejoice – I didn’t send you a Christmas Letter. Instead I give you a sign!

Last year I posted a note to my personal blog.  It was a bit of satire – a take off on the Christmas letters we had received.   It was silly and tongue in cheek, and it was probably the most popular blog I had written.

This year I thought I’d be a little more serious.  This has been a year where bad news has flourished – the economy, the environment — and at this time of year, once again fear seizes many and airports around the world go into security alert.  It would be tempting to succumb to the barrage.  It would be tempting to think that this was all happening to us, from forces greater that us — beyond our control.

I have to confess that I’ve skirted with that kind of thinking.  We’ve all had our share of tragedy in the past year.  Some of it is, quite rightly, out of our control.  But this year, I saw something that lifted my spirits and made me think.  It was a picture of a man, I’ve no idea who he is, who wore a simple sign that said, “I don’t believe in the recession.”

Futile?  Perhaps.   But I loved his defiance.  Continue reading

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They are never going to know…

I was at a local restaurant the other night.   It’s a Thai place near my house.  Very convenient.  Great atmosphere.  The people are very friendly.  I mean it.  The service is great.   The waiter/owner is jovial, entertaining and makes you feel very welcome.  The prices are really good.

It’s just too bad about the food.

It’s not that it’s terrible.  It’s okay.  Sort of good.  But not great.  Which is why I don’t go there often.  Who wants to go out for “okay” food when you can go another 10 minutes and get really great food.

Now, if they knew this, they might be able to do something about it.  But they don’t.  In fact, when I went in there the first time, the owner proudly told me that this was the best Thai food anywhere.  So I went in and had dinner.  One of us was wrong.  It wasn’t me.  I’ve taken other people there, and the reaction is the same.  Too bad about the food.

The crime is that not only don’t they know, but they never will.  How can you tell someone who is so out front about the food — someone who is so nice to you — how do you tell them that the food is so so.

Maybe some people can be that direct.  I really can’t.  And I suspect neither can anyone else.

I’m good if the service is lousy or the food is lousy.  I’ll complain, I’ll let it be known – I’ll leave a crappy tip.  Somehow, I’ll get the point across.  Strangely enough, when the company is a total bust, even if they hear that their service or product stinks, I wonder if they would really even care.  But if it’s just good enough? These guys have a shot at having a great place. They might be able to use the information.  With a little research, a little trial and error, they could really do well.

I started to think about this.  How could this restaurant have found out what I was really thinking?  Well, they could have invited the feedback.  They could have made it easier for me to comment.

How about if they’d served the food and instead of “is everything okay?” they’d asked different questions.  What if they’d asked, “what did you most like about it?”  “How could we improve it?”  Asking these two things would give me the opportunity to offer comments on what is good and what is bad.  In fact, it would solicit them both.  And you really do need them both.  You want to know what you should do more of and what you should do less of — or do better.

I think if things were asked in this manner, it would make me feel better about letting them know that the eggplant was nice, but a little tough.  The spices were okay, but I think that good Thai eggplant should be a little spicier.  Armed with that, they could have simply thanked me and accepted the feedback.  No falling on a dull knife, just letting me know I’d been heard.

Why? Because they shouldn’t take a data point of one.  They should gather feedback.  If they could do a mass customization, then they’d learn the range of things and be able to ask and decide.  Restaurants do this all the time for non-vegetarians.  “Would you like that steak rare, medium or well done?”  “Do you like a dry white or something a little sweeter?”  We know how to ask these questions.  Why can’t we do the follow on and ask — “What did you like?  What could we do better?  Help us get better.”

My friend Dave Howlett uses the phrase, “what’s one thing that I could improve?”  Again, he’s only asking for one thing, so it gives you permission to open the discussion.

The bottom line here is – make the customer comfortable about telling you.  Invite the comments.  When you do, you can move from good to excellent.  Which of us doesn’t want to do that?

So why don’t we do this?  Well, one reason may be the fear of feedback.  I don’t know about you, but if I’m honest, I really don’t want to hear negative feedback. I’ve taught myself to take it.  I’ve taught myself to not be defensive.  But it’s not fun.  I put my heart and soul into my work.  To find out that it is fallen short of the mark is not a pleasant feeling.

I had to let that go.  I don’t know any other way to say it.  It gets in the way of ever becoming excellent.

How did I do it?  I think of myself like a champion athlete.  If I was an Olympic sprinter, the difference between good and gold is a fraction of a second.  So no matter how good I am, I have to keep looking to shave off that hundredth of a second.  If I can find something that gives me half a second, that’s incredible!  Just that reframing makes feedback so much easier.

Am I fooling myself?  I don’t think so. I’m allowing myself to get feedback that I can process.  When I can process it, i can invite it.   Knowing that can make me a better coach.  And it might make me more coachable with both my peers and my customers.

We’ll see.  Love to have your comments and strategies.

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We are talk radio

Change the game is now a talk radio show on BlogTalkRadio. Every Monday night at 8 pm ET/5 pm Pacific. Join me and my co-hosts Janet Fouts (LA) and Allan Hoving (New York) as we engage with people who are changing the game. BTW – this show is live and interactive. Call us, tweet us or chat with us and help change the game yourself!

The show can be found at www.blogtalkradio.com/gamechanging

It’s also available as a podcast through iTunes.  Open your iTunes account, look for podcasts and search for GameChanging

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Schrodinger’s Internet

Whoah. Philosophy alert. I just want to warn you. I get this way from time to time.

Janet Fouts, who is a fellow panel member on our Game Changers podcast/internet radio show, raised the issue of Google’s Social Search. As I dug more and more into it, I was struck by the brilliance of Google’s strategy. I could also see how this idea of Social Search fit within the larger meta trends percolating through the web discussions lately. Two of those are the Semantic Web and the idea of Vendor Relationship Management as a continuation of the customer/individual focus of the web.

There are two ways that you can look at the internet. You can see it as an engineered network – clever, but well conceived and well planned. Engineered behaviour is there. It sets the standards, regulates the technology and regulates all of those things that allow the internet to function. In large part it was the brilliance of the intial technical design that allowed the internet to emerge from ARPAnet as the dominant form of communication in our time.

But you don’t have to have an avatar in Second Life to realize that there is more to the web than simply an engineered structure. When you stand back and look at it, you see an emergent behaviour. It truly is more than the sum of it’s technical parts.

There’s always been a little bit of a war between the engineered and the emergent. The internet is just one place where that war erupts. Who is right? Both.

Before you start trotting me off to the “home for the new aged” let me tell you, you young whipersnapper, that this is not as idiotic or wish-washy as it sounds. Believe it or not, it was proven long ago that something could indeed exist in two states at the same time.

Take light for example. Is it a particle? Or is it a wave? If you know the answer, get ready to yawn. If you don’t, get ready for me to blow your little mind. It is both. That’s right — it can be proven in the realm of physics that light is both a wave and a particle. What makes the difference? It turns out (mind blowing time again) that what makes the difference is in what you are measuring or observing. If you measure for waves, it’s a wave. If you set up instruments to measure particles, it will be a particle.

The observer and what they are looking for determines what fundamental property light has. If you took high school physics, you probably have encountered this idea that the observer affects the experiment – you probably just treated it like many do – a theoretical exercise.

In fact, that’s where it’s lived for many years. In what is called a thought experiment, the most famous of which is Schrodinger’s Cat. I’m not going to repeat the whole thing, you can use Wikipedia the same as I can. The essence is that the famous cat exists in two states – living and dead. The event is only crystalized when the observer looks into the box.

What’s the point in all this? Well, everyone is trying to label the next big theory in the development of the internet, but the one that makes the most sense to me is David Berner-Lee’s idea that our next move is to the semantic internet. In a nut shell, the semantic internet stores data in the classic fashion, but it labels it with highly symbolic identifiers in addition to the regular characteristics that drive storage and search. The semantic internet, taken to it’s extreme, allows us to have a structure to information that is based not on a top down hierarchical structure (the data model) but on the emergent properties of the various semantic links and webs as seen through the eyes and ears of the observer.

It’s a beautiful balance of engineered and emergent. On one hand, we have the standards and protocol structures necessary for storage and retrieval. Within that, there is the capacity to engage at the symbolic or semantic level. You invent your own internet by your observations and your collaborations with others.

At this point, the semantic web is still in its infancy, but with Berners-Lee and others of his ilk embracing it, we can be certain that its at least a possibility, if not an inevitability.

Why does it even matter? As I point out to those who question new developments like social media, what we are doing today is still rather primitive and doesn’t even scratch the surface of what the real time collaborative internet will be in the future. Outside of a few visionaries, I’m not sure that many of us can even envision that future. We are, after all, as I have said earlier, “immigrants on the internet” and like earlier waves of immigrants, we have hopes and dreams, but our vision of the future is limited by our current experience. Could my ancestors have imagined what we have become? I doubt it. The future, as Yogi Berra said, “ain’t what it used to be.”

For those who do see the patterns emerging in those swirling images out there, the potential is enormous. The semantic web will help us tame the information tsunami by allowing us different ways to associate with the information, extending our reach more along the lines of how we understand knowledge.

There is an emerging theoretical base which claims that our brains actually remember things on two levels. We have episodic memory and semantic memory. Episodic memory is history, dates, time and even based. Semantic memory is about learning and associating. We really do need both. One gives us the immediacy to remember what we did today. The other allows us to generalize and imagine new concepts.

The current web caters to our episodic memory. It’s facts, info, time etc. What I call the information tsunami swamps that episodic memory. Which is okay, because the facts are out there and you can google them when you need it. The internet extends our episodic memory.

The semantic web offers us another potential — it might extend our semantic memory. That allows us to not just retrieve and filter, but to combine and imagine — collectively.

Suddenly the tables are turned and the cat is looking out at us. Are we there? Or not?

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10 years later – do they have a clue?

The Cluetrain Manifesto is ten years old today — and the message is just as compelling as it was when I first stumbled upon it on the internet a decade ago.  I still remember looking at it in awe, saying to myself — yes!  That’s it exactly!   I still remember how energized I was reading it.  Kindred souls.  Smart people.

Yes, they were arrogant.  Yes they were out there.  Okay, maybe they were a little over the top.   But damn, they were a breath of fresh air.   They still are.  Check out the interview that we did with Doc Searls at http://tobtr.com/s/752388 I have to get hold of David Weinberger and ask if I can post the interview I did with him as well.  We talked about his new book Everything is Miscellaneous.  Check back her and I’ll see if he’s okay with posting the link.

The message in Cluetrain is as fresh today as it was 10 years ago. ” We are not clicks or eyeballs, we are people ….deal with it.” Continue reading

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A child shall lead them…

We might be the first generation to leave our children impoverished.  We do this based on our own greed.  We justify this based on what?  Our Prime Minister, Mr. Harper – where is he?  Where are we all?

In Ontario where I live, we give mega corporations contracts to build wind-mills and we pay lip service to the small companies – the real developers.
We are screwed up.  The emperor has no clothes.  Who will say this?  A child…

http://media.causes.com/510213

She says that what we do makes her cry at night.  She says that we say we love our children, but challenges us to make our actions suit our words.
Yes, we can applaud and think “how wonderful”.  We can feel misty and think, how wise.

Or we could do something.

The emperor has no clothes.  Say it loud.

Change the game.

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