Bing/Google Now: Context Wins

I woke up this morning and my Galaxy Tablet reminded me that I have some phone calls, an offsite meeting that will take approximately 20 minutes to drive to, and some interesting news as well as a weather report. It’s easy to overlook how far we have come in the quest to provide useful personal assistants.

Screenshot_2013-03-12-09-20-01While catching up on some reading two articles jumped out at me that really drove home this point, the first is really incremental in nature about Google Now coming to the desktop and the Chrome OS.

Google Now is something that snuck up on me and despite my initial cynicism it has grown on me. When I updated my tablet to Jelly Bean I stumbled on the Now feature when I held the Home button for a little too long. The cards are still pretty sparse but I really like how it pulls things out of my email and present additional contextual information like directions and time to drive, and package tracking information. This is really useful and unobtrusive. I don’t have to manage it, things just happen.

I only wish that Now would support multiple accounts.

The more interesting news piece I read this morning was about Microsoft’s research project, coincidentally (or not) called Bing Now. What is really fascinating about this is how Microsoft is looking beyond what you have on your device and realizing the greater vision of “an internet of things”.

Heavily invested in the vocabulary of crowdsoucing, I think this misses the point that it’s not about crowdsourcing but rather networked devices. Crowdsourcing implies co-creation, being able to find restaurant that isn’t crowded is incredibly appealing and not at all a function of crowdsourcing in the traditional sense of the word. Having said that, if Microsoft can deliver even just a small part of this they will have a winner.

Content Management in the Social Age

I read this interesting piece on the redesign of the Reuters website, one paragraph jumped out at me as a consequential observation affecting a wide array of companies today:

Known internally as “Reuters Next,” the new reuters.com will be a “state of the art” offering with a redesigned front-end and a proprietary content management system built from scratch, said our sources, who described the site as being remodeled into editor-curated, stream-based channels such as world news, politics, business and tech.

Content management systems are undergoing a social technology upgrade cycle that is not talked about very much but has two significant consequences that individually are disruptive and together are utterly transformative.

The first of these disruptions is how social content, which is just another way of saying user generated content, becomes an input into a website’s CMS in the same way that company sponsored content is enabled. In the advertising world there is a well understood concept of earned, owned, and sponsored media; the earned media being the most valuable because it is inspired rather than paid for and as such has broad utility in a company’s marketing efforts. In the social technology world getting people to create content about you, in the form of original source content (e.g. blogs) and interaction content (comments, shares, likes) but mainstream content systems that power websites have few capabilities for doing more than appending this to “owned” content.

The second major theme I want to highlight is the notion of company vs. community curated content. Having an editorial agenda in a website that is enabled by your employees is a no-brainer, but it ultimately proves to be a challenging scale problem because, in many cases, the most interesting content about your company and products isn’t created by you. As a result of this the curation capability relies on smart people who are good at discovering and organizing content, but increasingly mainstream is the notion of crowdsourced content and externally curated content sourced from your fans and followers… but none of this is integrate with the typical CMS that a company will rely on for a web experience.

The challenge that is facing companies, large and small alike, is how do they capture externally sourced and curated content, organize it in the structure of their website, and then providing a social experience in the presentation that takes into account the activities of your brand advocates. Yeah, it’s a big challenge and in the absence of a next generation of CMS capabilities it is unlikely that we will get there.

The Crowdsourcing Sweatshop, Not Really

There is a lot going on in this review of the a SXSW session on the “dark side of social media” and the participants are raising really interesting points of view, but I want to focus in on one particular passage:

In many cases, companies have persuaded people to complete simple tasks for no pay at all, instead offering recognition within the volunteer community or points in the guise of a game. Mr. Zittrain called it “a wonderful Tom Sawyer syndrome.”

Crowdsourcing is not the virtual equivalent of a sweatshop. In fact, the notion is so preposterous that I find it difficult to argue against the point without resorting to just calling it preposterous. Ooops, I did it.

Here’s the difference, no one who is benefiting from the effects of crowdsourcing initiatives is achieving those benefits from forcible coercion and exploitation. Crowdsourcing initiatives don’t impose demands on the participant and at any time the person contributing can simply stop without consequences. This was the case with me and Foursquare, I stopped checking in.

I do believe that one of the challenges that any group who is initiating a crowdsourcing project has is finding the right mix of incentives and rewards that create a sense of fairness for company and consumer alike. Badges alone are not enough, actual rewards go a long way to creating sustainable equity and companies would be well advised to consider this in advance.