Thursday, April 30, 2009

Tagcrumbs vs. review sites

While I understand that tagcrumbs, being a startup company, attempts to clarify in what sense it is different from review sites such as Qype or Yelp, I still find that from a long-term perspective, there are more similarities than differences.

The core idea behind tagcrumbs, as I understand it, is that it enables you to associate any resource to a geocoordinate (also sometimes called a place). Whether you have been to a specific place does not matter, so it is not only about sharing experiences, but also meant as a kind of geotagged moleskine.

On the other hand, review sites such as Qype started out as a kind of yellow pages enhanced with user-generated content that is associated to local places. Most of the places are imported from yellow pages data to make it easier to write reviews, but there are little constraints regarding the generation of new places (even virtual ones, which I personally do not care much about, but it does not really matter here). Important additions were events (associated with time or time periods) and guides (i. e. lists of places which enables users to generate tours).

In the three years that Qype has been online, it is possible to say that the focus was expanded from pure reviews to experience sharing. To claim that

Tagcrumbs has no thematic focus on reviews and thus supports a higher diversity of user-generated content. It's about all the little local discoveries and the insider knowledge around us

is correct from Tagcrumb's perspective, but I do not see in what sense the diversity of user-generated content is higher. Does this refer to content types, or to the semantics of content? Regarding the former, I see a wide variety (except perhaps the association of external links to geocoordinates, which should be constrained anyway for security reasons), and regarding the latter, what you write about should have some connection to the place you are considering, but again, I see little constraints.

And even if the diversity of user-generated content was higher, what would be the advantage? I do argue that sites operating on the basis of user-generated content need to invest some editorial work to make sure that what is contributed is in accordance with some set of requirements stated by the owner of the site, and in addition provide sophisticated means of search and retrieval (fulltext, categories, tags, associations etc.). The more content you have the harder it will be to find what you're looking for.

To sum up, I would see Tagcrumbs and Qype as quite similar in concept and focus, with the difference that the former starts out large (allowing a greater variety in the first place) and, as time goes by, will see the need to narrow down its focus, while the latter started quite small and is expanding its focus in order to perhaps attract more users.

Tuesday, April 07, 2009

The Success of Crowdsourcing

Interestingly enough, the term crowdsourcing was invented by a journalist and not someone from IT or business. Of course, a must-read in that context (and a great overview, too) is Jeff Howe's Wired article form 2006 entitled The Rise of Crowdsourcing.

While outsourcing means delegating a task to a defined workforce outside one's own company, the workforce to deal with a crowdsourced task is not defined a priori - it could in theory be anyone connected to the Internet. Most delegated tasks involve either the creativity or the intelligence of the masses - where this, of course, does not mean the average factor of a given population, but the selection of those who can best fulfill the task, but with a substantially reduced budget. For companies involved in crowdsourcing, it's all about saving money and milking the masses for inspiration, but for non-profit ventures, it's about participating to get some benefit in return - perhaps not immediately, but in the long run. That's why Wikipedia works so well, but WikiaSearch doesn't.

All in all, three factors play a major role in crowdsourcing: money, reputation and fun. But this in itself is no guarantee that a crowdsourcing activity will actually work. Most importantly, define the task you would like to delegate and formulate it in the form of an open call, then decide who should be the participants in it (contributors and / or voters) as well as the success factors so you will be able to evaluate your success (read more about designing and evaluating crowdsourcing).

To sum up, crowdsourcing is, first of all, a buzzword. But applied wisely, relative to your business and after a careful design, you may very well benefit from it if you succeed to gain the participation of your potential (or actual) customers. Good luck!