Crowdsourcing V Co-Creation

Just wanted to post a quick follow up to my piece on the Croudsourcery panel that took place at JWT last week.

I was in a meeting this morning with Jory Des Jardins, the Co-Founder of BlogHer, a phenomenally popular blogging community for women, and in mentioning a particular facet of crowdsourcing, she got me thinking….

Jory stopped short of advocating every project being crowdsourced, but emphasized the importance of brands using communities of consumers to help them with select and mould a creative idea.

Many employees of creative agencies, and in particular the Creative department, navigate the issue of crowdsourcing with considerable trepidation. And who can blame them. While lots of us are excited at the opportunity and potential, some of my creative brothers (and I by no means want to suggest this rule applies to all of them) worry that they will be cut out the creative process, and that their worth will be rendered greatly diminished.

I have heard several solutions to this potential problem. Jory’s was that creative agencies should become the curators of the crowdsourced content, using their creative know how and strategic chops to select the content that will best deliver for the brand. This to me sounds like a potentially excellent solution. Consumers are empowered to have a say in the brand’s future- the idea, will after all ultimately come from them- while agencies retain some loose control of the idea, exerting a light guiding hand that steers away from stormy waters.

Perhaps rather than curator, the agency’s role could be better described as alchemist. Rather than choosing one complete idea over another, they might take elements of several ideas and help meld them together to create one uber idea, or perhaps solid gold. Clearly the term crowdsourcing requires further definition and etymological analysis as it  currently means a lot of things to a lot of people. However, I still like to imbue it with a sense of collaboration, so the notion of an idea being created by many rather than one individual, appeals to me, especially as it leaves more consumers feeling like they are part of something.

A few lingering concerns- Where does crowdsourcing end and co-creation begin? I don’t think these terms are interchangeable, but I am yet to hear a clear articulation on their precise differences. Also, to what extent will consumers, especially given that most of those who dedicate time to winning crowdsourcing competitions are far from the amateurs we like to imagine they are, accept us taking elements of their idea, and meddling with them?

I could go on and on. But I wont. Would love to hear your thoughts on the topic…

Crowdsourcery- A Crowdsourcing Event at New York’s Social Media Week

As part of New York’s annual Social Media Week (I presume I can legitimately say that despite this only being the event’s second year), I made the arduous hundred yard journey from the comforts of my desk to JWT’s café to see a stellar panel featuring Ty Montague, The Co-President of JWT North America, the inimitable Faris Yakob, Chief Technology Officer of McCann, Michael Lebowitz, founder and CEO of Big Spaceship and Saneel Radina proprietor of the somewhat brilliant title of Alchemist at Denuo.

The panel was hosted by John Windsor, whose new agency Victors and Spoils caused somewhat of a stir within the advertising community last year when they launched, professing to be the world’s first creative ad agency built on the principles of crowdsourcing.

What follows are my disjointed recollections of some of the ideas and thoughts that piqued my interest. Lacking the basic multi-tasking skills to simultaneously write and listen, I didn’t take any notes, so apologies to anyone whose ideas I have butchered, misrepresented or misappropriated.

What I think I found most refreshing about the panel was that there was significant disagreement and divergence of opinion. All too often, these panels can seems an excuse for self-congratulatory backslapping and ego massaging, and so it was really good to see some healthy and respectful debate.

So…

The democratization of creativity now affords the opportunity for anyone with a Mac and some creative skills to potentially cross and blur the lines between amateur and professional. There seemed reasonable consensus on the panel that this was a good thing.

However, there were certainly some legitimate concerns raised about the limitations and pitfalls of crowdsourcing. Michael and Ty, in particular, seemed worried about the potential commoditization of creativity. If, say, 100 people work on a project to design a new logo on the crowdsourcing site Crowdspring, only the winner and few runners up will actually end up getting paid. To some this seems grossly unfair. Shouldn’t people be paid for their labor, even if their idea isn’t selected? John did point out, however, that in pitching for new business, we constantly give away work on spec, and this could certainly be considered free labor, particularly if you don’t win the business.

Ty, I believe, suggested the best compromise, which was that something like 70% of the fee gets paid to the winning idea, with the remaining 30% spread amongst the other entrants; a relatively small, curated group of individuals. As long as mechanisms were in place so as to discourage coasters, this seemed to me like it had the makings of a solution.

Perhaps more stinging a criticism of crowdsourcing is that despite its collaborative connotation, it in fact panders to the lone-wolf mentality. This is all well and fine when deigning a corporate logo on Adobe Illustrator, but when it comes to designing and building complex systems, as is the bread and butter of a digital agency like Big Spaceship, there is the requisite for cross-disciplinary collaboration.

A final cautionary note I liked came from the mouth of Faris, a thoroughly nice and articulate fellow who I had the chance to have a few words with after the panel ended, who warned that some were conflating the notions of Crowdsourcing and James Surowieki’s theory The Wisdom of Crowds. This, he argued had led to the fallacious logic that since crowds are wise, (itself a point up for debate) sourcing a crowds is also wise.

And on that note, I end my random and badly organized conference thoughts.

I undoubtedly left with as many questions as I did answers. What became very clear, was that there was not one unanimously accepted definition of crowdsourcing adhered to, which of course makes understanding the concept somewhat tricky. That said, there was plenty or brain food to ponder.

The Beatles visualized like never before

Over the last few years infographics and data visualization have experienced somewhat of a renaissance, and in the process have made the transition from a visual means of representing and simplifying data, to an art form that is celebrated and lauded just as much as any typographic design or other form of graphic design.

Topics that have had the pleasure of this visual treatment have ranged significantly, and have covered subjects as diverse as the recent financial crisis and the history of swine flu, emerging web trends and student budgets.

While I have has encountered countless examples of data visualization that I would happily have grace the walls of my apartment, few have captured my attention quite like Michael Deal’s visual exploration of The Beatles music. Topics brought to life using the visualization technique include the degrees of collaboration and authorship on different Beatles records, song keys and the band’s working schedule between 1963 and 1966.

The project is an open and collaborative one, inviting further contribution and ideas. If this is indeed just the start of the project, then I’m very excited to see where this one goes next…

A Real Good Experiment: My hunt for one of Blu Dot’s Real Good Chairs

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The combination of working as a strategist at an ad agency and having an unhealthy obsession with design meant that it was almost inevitable that I was going to get a little overexcited when I heard about this campaign…

Blu Dot, one of my favorite NY design stores, inspired by the incredibly prevalent New York sight of furniture and art left on the sidewalk for people to take, decided to embark on the Real Good Experiment. The story: 25 of Blu Dot’s beautiful Real Good Chairs were going to be dropped in spots all over NYC for passers by to find, take home and enjoy. As if this act of brand generosity wasn’t a good enough way to spark a strong word-of-mouth campaign and create a legion of new brand advocates, these chairs were also GPS-enabled which meant that their journeys to homes across New York, the US and perhaps beyond could be followed online. Real Good Chair also set up a Twitter page, posting tantalizing clues and photos as to which New York neighborhood they were currently residing in.

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So now it’s time for my story- All day at work, I watched as the Real Good Chairs came and went- From Soho, Noho and Greenwich Village to Brooklyn and Harlem, it was torture knowing that the chairs were but a subway ride away…After what seemed like an eternity having to impatiently bide my time, waiting for the end of the working day, I set off, determined to find a Real Good Chair.

As fate would have it, I was technologically neutered as my Blackberry decided that it wasn’t going to let me access Twitter to follow the whereabouts of the chairs (serves me right for not having an i-phone I suppose). I was going to have to do this old school. Having quickly established that walking round New York looking for a chair on a sidewalk was going to prove fruitless, I headed for Blu Dot’s store in Soho to get some info. After pleading with Traci and the staff at Blu Dot to give me a clue as to the whereabouts of a chair, I was sent in the direction of the East Village where I was told I might find the last remaining chair. The chase was on…

I had fantasies of jumping in a yellow car, seeing a Blu Dot chair on the move and barking “Follow that chair! For the love of God, follow that chair.” Alas with Manhattan rush hour traffic at a complete standstill I had little choice but to head to the East village on foot. When I say on foot I mean it quite literally, as with strict orders from my Doctor and various physical therapists that my left foot was barely up to the task of walking, let alone jogging, I was forced to hop most of the way there. As I got closer, however, the tantalizing thought of a chair just sitting on the curb, begging to be taken home, was too much for me to take and I broke out into full on sprint. Forget health, I thought. This was in the name of design.

Armed with the knowledge that the last Chair Drop had been made somewhere in the East Village I began my hunt. After calling and repeatedly begging the guys at Blu Dot to tell me at least what street it was on (by this point I think I had gone from a cheeky but lovable English chap to a downright nuisance) I was told it might be on 1st Avenue between 5th and 15th street. To say I am now well acquainted with those 10 blocks is an understatement. I spent the next 45 minutes doing my best impersonation of Usain Bolt, sprinting back and forth down these streets time after time. With the rain lashing down, an unhinged look in my eyes and an increasingly disheveled appearance I soon became aware of the complete bemusement my escapades were causing shop owners and passing locals. I didn’t care. I pressed on. however, knowing that the last chair was black, noticing that the last of the day’s light had long-since vanished and possessing eye-sight as atrocious as my 85 year old grandma, I was starting to fear the worst.

As I fell to my knees to suck some well deserved air and rue my bad luck I noticed a man with an impressive looking SLR camera and a women who looked too cool not be in the design or fashion industry…Salvation? Alas, while they were indeed the crew from Blu Dot and Mono (the agency who I later learnt were responsible for the conception and execution of the Real Good Experiment), they informed me that I had, regretfully, missed the chair by a matter of minutes…

Although I trudged downbeat to dinner with some old work colleagues in the Lower East Side, dejected and disconsolate at my failure, I soon realized not only that I had just had a hilarious and typically Dylan encounter, but that I would be telling the story of the chair that got away for years to come. I had not only loved and admired Blu Dot’s Real Good Experiment, but had, to some extent been part of it; A truly killer Word-Of-Mouth campaign from my favorite New York designers. I was already a fan and advocate, but am now undoubtedly an evangelist.

I look forward to writing more when the video diaries are released next month, telling the tales of the lucky few to have found the chairs and the homes, near and far, that they have ended up in.

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Digital Mistakes

I can never quite understand or believe those individuals who purport to have no regrets.

Very occasionally I wish I lived the kind of life, and made the types of decisions, that meant I too could say that I had no regrets- these occasions are normally found in painful moments of self reflection and remorse, contemplating some regretful incident the night before.

My reality, however, and I think the reality of most people, is that life is full or bad judgments, flawed choices and mistakes that we later lament and regret.

One of the aspects of life that I believe affords, or certainly contributes to the possibility of regretlessness- I think I quite possibly made this word up but I trust that it makes sense- is simply that memories blur and dilutes over time. I believe that the mystical people I speak of that have ‘no regrets’ are making just as many mistakes as us mere mortals. It’s merely that they succeed in forgetting about them. As we forget our mistakes, the extent to which we wish we hadn’t done those things wanes. Regret, in other words, is causally related to how easily we can recall certain incidents.  This is my theory, anyway. Not science. Merely conjecture.

This ability to genuinely enjoy or experience regretlessness is, in my opinion, about to change because our digital world has made it increasingly hard for us to forget our mistakes.

We have perilously little control over things we have said or done online; or for that matter things we have said or done offline, that our so-called friends have decided to publish. While there are stringent privacy controls on social media platforms like Facebook and Twitter, as we all know only too well, there is little to stop people sharing, propagating and spreading content to realms that stretch far beyond the confines of the platform. Corporations like Disney are very quick to have Youtube videos removed that commit even the mildest of Copyright Infringements, but it’s often the case that by the time they have disappeared from Youtube, they have spread to corners of the web so clandestine that the content can never be wholly purged.

If Disney struggle to remove or bury content they want to keep hidden, what chance do we mere mortals have? Mistakes that we might have formerly been able to purge from our minds now mock us at every online click.

And now to the point of this rant…

What worries me is that with our mistakes increasingly hard to avoid or forget, we might become more self-conscious about what we do and say. Actions will be more considered, well thought-out and spontaneity will be dealt a fatal blow. I believe that mistakes, and indeed the healthy dose of regret that should accompany them, is what keeps life exciting- It is what keeps us real and allows me, for one, to try to become a better person. Far from trying to avoid regret, we should embrace it. Life is too short not to make the odd well-intentioned mistake.

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What I think about when I think about running.

Corblimey wrote a nice piece the other day about his running addiction, which prompted me to write this post…

Like most philosophy graduates, I carry with me an arsenal of clichéd quotes, which I randomly interject conversations with, in a somewhat pretentious and ultimately futile attempt to make myself sound vaguely intellectual.

One that does mean more to me than most of the catalogue of sound bites I pay lip service to, however, is the famous Socratic assertion that ‘The unexamined life is not worth living.’ I love this sprit of questioning, analyzing and dissecting. It’s definitely true that engaging in it too often can become a wearisome burden- I know this only too well- but I definitely think life would be poorer without such an attitude.

About four months ago I decided to run the New York Half Marathon, and for the last sixteen or so weeks I have been waking at ungodly hours, pounding the pavements of Manhattan and sucking in the swirling exhaust fumes that envelop the West Side Highway.

Talking to my good friend and marathon running guru Mr. Stolerman the other day, I realized that I hadn’t actually given any genuine thought or consideration to why I was actually running. Socrates would have been appalled.

The answer seemed somewhat of a mystery. Why on earth do I run? It’s certainly not because of the feeling of my knees jarring as my feet repeatedly hit unforgiving and disappointedly solid ground, my oxygen-starved lungs burning as they desperately grasp for air, my head swirling, my temples throbbing, not to mention the chafing, the details of which I feel I should spare you. Whilst there are undoubtedly some runners with masochistic tendencies who thrive on, and dare I say, enjoy this pain, these have never been feelings I have derived any pleasure from. So why exactly do I do it?

Running yesterday morning, I think I figured it out. It’s a few things really. Firstly, it turns out that I really enjoy the battle- not the physiological one, but more the psychological challenge. Every time I run, what I really have to fight- and normally every few minutes- are the voices in my head (it’s funny how having voices rather than a voice makes me sound that little bit more unhinged) imploring me to give up, to stop, to slow down, to quit. There’s something truly satisfying about silencing these voices, ignoring the urges to stop and finding the mental strength and willpower to carry on and get it done.

Also, despite aural relief being pumped through my headphones, the majesty of the New York skyline, and the sight of depressed looking suited bankers on their way to the office, I often find that after my run I can’t accurately recall having seen or heard anything. On the run I’m alone, completely in my head, seemingly blind and deaf to what’s going on around me. Living in New York, there is something truly priceless about this solitude and space.

Okay, so there you have it- a somewhat self-indulgent post, but I feel slightly better having worked out why on earth I’m running the Half-Marathon in 11 days. Gulp…

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Thou shalt not covet stuff: Confessions of a consumer

Something I wrote a while back about inconspicuous consumption. It’s a little on the long side- Brevity has never been one of my strengths- but I hope you enjoy…

Imagine a world where designer labels are treated with the same disdain as profanities. A world where owning a convertible sports car draws disapproving shakes of heads rather than admiring or envious gazes, and clutching a designer handbag is seen as bad taste rather than the height of elegance. The picture I’m attempting to paint is not in fact some Orwellian dystopia or a socialist experiment. This, I believe, is a reflection of the future of consumerism, and a seismic shift that will take place in the prevailing set of values that will govern modern society in the near future.

To credibly suggest the extinction of conspicuous consumptions it would undoubtedly require a rather liberal sprinkling of hyperbole- in reality, I believe that there will always be those who covet and bestow value on the ownership of a Porsche, Tiffany earrings and Gucci purses. However, I genuinely believe we stand poised on the brink of change, and not merely because at the time of writing Barak Obama has just taken the reigns as the supposed leader of the free world.

I believe that conscious consumption is a sickness in need of a panacea. I wish to argue that the combination of a global economy on its knees, the curious dissatisfaction we suffer when making choices, and a sheer exhaustion with the ideology of excess that is promulgated by the media will pave the way for a global society that will not only reject the notion of valuing this lifestyle, but will indeed embrace and celebrate a seemingly contrarian set of values based around frugality.

Whilst some might write off our thirst for purchase and our desire to own things as a mere behavioral idiosyncrasy, I believe that we actually bestow significant value on consumerism, the perpetual cycle of purchase filling our dreams and defining our aspirations.

Lest you think I am some proselytizing recent convert to the ways of frugality and minimalism, let me assure you that I speak not from the ivory tower of someone who has purged themselves of the value of excessive consumption, but instead from the dark recesses of a psyche ruled by compulsive purchasing and the constant need to own bigger, shinier, fancier and newer.

Conspicuous consumption is by no means a modern phenomenon. The term itself was coined by the sociologist Thorstein Veblen in 1899 to depict the behavioral characteristic of the nouveau riche, a class that emerged as a result of the accumulation of wealth during the Second Industrial Revolution. However, I believe that our gluttony and penchant for über-consumption has swelled over the century. In our seemingly post-religious era of faithlessness and secularism, devotion to God has been vanquished and replaced by an ardent commitment to clothing brands and automotive badges. If consumerism is the new prevailing western religion, then the mall is undoubtedly its cathedral.

Few images are as iconic and representative of the 1950s as James Dean or Marlon Brando with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths. Smoking was seemingly lauded, valued and desired with such ubiquity that it must have been near impossible for my grandma to imagine that the very thing that made her screen heroes objects of desire, would lose its cachet and be labeled an antiquated value in 2008. Although the ban on smoking in public places that is prevalent in many cities has acted as a catalyst to the demise of the cigarette’s appeal, it could be argued that it was the widespread acceptance that smoking causes lung cancer that was responsible for smoking slowly losing its status as a symbol of sexiness and sophistication, even whilst billions continued to help feed the coffers at corporations like Philip Morris.

Our overzealous lust to buy, to consume and to own has become such a strong and ubiquitous impulse that it has evolved and mutated into a malevolent compulsion capable of subverting our rational capacities, and destabilizing our lives as we drown in a sea of debt. As we slowly come to realize that conspicuous consumption, like smoking, can manifest as a potentially debilitating illness, the value we attach to it will dissipate, with spiraling personal debt and a crumbling world economy acting as the pivotal catalysts that will help free us from these shackles.

One further nail in the coffin of conspicuous consumption will be the dissatisfaction we increasingly suffer when making a purchase. Today’s consumers face an unprecedented amount of choice when making any purchase. Even after I have decided whether I want Levis, Diesel, Wrangler, Gap, or any other of the plethora of denim brands available, I am confronted with a somewhat intimidating choice: Do I want button-fly, zip-fly, high-rise, low-rise, boot-cut, cowboy-cut, straight-leg, skinny leg, easy fit, slim fit, stone wash or acid wash?

Increased choice is encouraged and celebrated by many sociologists and philosophers because choice is linked to maximizing human freedom, which in turn is seen as one of the key ways to increase our welfare. In truth however, this syllogism is fallacious. Increased choice doesn’t always increase our wellbeing. If I am not too overcome with inertia to make a jean selection, it is likely that I will walk out the store feeling dissatisfied and confused. The ‘opportunity costs’ of imagining the features of the alternative denim I didn’t select will gnaw away at me and make me less satisfied with my purchase, as will the increased expectation that arises with the extra choice available. I perennially suffer the bitterness of leaving a store instantly consumed with doubt, regret and remorse.

The crucial tipping point is just around the corner. By the time our children’s generation have receding hairlines and pension plans, valuing conspicuous consumption will seem about as warped and antiquated as a typewriter or a record player. Fast forward half a century and the white gleam of ipod headphones could potentially derail your chances of securing a date and a Ralph Lauren logo on a shirt pocket might cause an employer to consider you unsuitable for a job. Celebrity magazines will laud how little stars on the red carpet have spent on their Oscar dresses and aspirations of owning designer sunglasses, precious jewels and the latest trainers, will be supplemented and replaced with a desire to live a life of minimalism and social consciousness. Traditional perceptions of ‘cheap’ are being subverted thanks to retail brands like Primark and TJ Max. This future awaits. Green is the new black, frugality the new cool and I might just be able to kick my shopping habit.

Cool Granny