Thierry Happe’s insight into the digital revolution

Yesterday, I had the pleasure to hear Thierry Happe, president and cofounder of the Netexplorateur Observatory,  talking about the influences of the digital society in the fields of journalism, marketing and education.

He came from France, invited by the IHEC and Wanabe, and as he said, had to limit himself to 3 topics because the subject is too vast.

The changes that Internet is bringing in the fields of communications are a revolution for our society. Now everybody has a voice, can publish his ideas and make himself heard. What used to be the ‘elite of knowledge’, the ones that had the information and the means of diffusing it, the ones that had a voice before, are losing their privileges.  So he chose to speak on the impact of these 3 new trends: Crowdmash, VirtuReality and WEBego.  Here is a brief description of the trends, mix of what he said and my personal opinions on the matter 🙂

CrowdMash or Wab 2.0 is the interconnection of people in groups not well defined, called crowds, creating not only different business models like crowdsourcing or crowdfunding  but also allowing mass wisdom to appear.

VirtuReality is the shrinkage in the limit between our real world and the virtual one.  There is an explosion of users that have nowadays a smartphone, device that is carried at all times in the real life and allows to get connected to Internet, retrieve information or tweet. Not only that, but tags are appearing that can be applied to things, connecting those things of our real life to Internet (the Internet of things).

And WEBego is a social phenomenon that is being observed and that, for me, has to be looked up very closely.  We have each day better applications to customise and filter our use of Internet.  There is so much information, that usually the sites that provide information give us the possibility to put some parameters, keywords of what we are interested in, on what we would like to be informed.  We create circles in our virtual life, connecting to persons that have the same interests, that think and act like us.  That’s fantastic, but that creates groups of similar people interconnected, where they only see, like in a mirror, their egos.  So one of the big changes that Internet brought in the beginning, the possibility to interconnect with basically everybody, with people that couldn’t be reached before, is also allowing the creation of these new ‘silos’.  This is something to be watched.

Success Story of Collaborative Citizen Science

This is great news!  Players of the game FoldIt solved the puzzle of the molecular structure of a protein causing AIDS in rhesus monkeys that hadn’t been solved for 15 years.

The game FoldIt has been created to propose as a game the scientific problem of finding the 3D molecular structure of a protein.    Computer programs have been created to help find the 3D structure, but there are multiple possibilities, and they have to find the One and Only with minimal energy state that Nature has created :-).  But they don’t always find the right solution.  That’s what motivated scientists to create the FoldIt game. As humans are good at reducing the search space in 3D, the game presented one structure, that you can move around following the chemical rules, and your score goes up if the change is in the good direction (less energy consumption) or down if not.  The idea  is changing the molecular structure until its minimal energy state is found. It has a collaborative approach, as any gamer could leave the puzzle unfinished, and let others try it from there.

In this particular protein case, the gamers solved the puzzle in 10 days, chatting and collaborating with each other to find the solution.  A crowdsourcing success that will encourage other scientific problems to be released as games to the public.  Collaboration in times of Internet, is really a powerfull tool for innovation and discovery.

Unraveling a retrovirus
For more than a decade, an international team of scientists has been trying to figure out the detailed molecular structure of a protein-cutting enzyme from an AIDS-like virus found in rhesus monkeys. Such enzymes, known as retroviral proteases, play a key role in the virus’ spread — and if medical researchers can figure out their structure, they could conceivably design drugs to stop the virus in its tracks. The strategy has been compared to designing a key to fit one of Mother Nature’s locks.

The problem is that enzymes are far tougher to crack than your typical lock. There are millions of ways that the bonds between the atoms in the enzyme’s molecules could twist and turn. To design the right chemical key, you have to figure out the most efficient, llowest-energy configuration for the molecule — the one that Mother Nature herself came up with.

That’s where Foldit plays a role. The game is designed so that players can manipulate virtual molecular structures that look like multicolored, curled-up Tinkertoy sets. The virtual molecules follow the same chemical rules that are obeyed by real molecules. When someone playing the game comes up with a more elegant structure that reflects a lower energy state for the molecule, his or her score goes up. If the structure requires more energy to maintain, or if it doesn’t reflect real-life chemistry, then the score is lower.

More than 236,000 players have registered for the game since its debut in 2008.

The monkey-virus puzzle was one of several unsolved molecular mysteries that a colleague of Khatib’s at the university, Frank DiMaio, recently tried to solve using a method that took advantage of a protein-folding computer program called Rosetta. “This was one of the cases where his method wasn’t able to solve it,” Khatib said.

Fortunately, the challenge fit the current capabilities of the Foldit game, so Khatib and his colleagues put the puzzle out there for Foldit’s teams to work on. “This was really kind of a last-ditch effort,” he recalled. “Can the Foldit players really solve it?”

They could. “They actually did it in less than 10 days,” Khatib said.

University of Washington

A screen shot shows how the Foldit program posed the monkey-virus molecular puzzle.

Slide 10

Humans are very good at reducing the search space
Humans try to fold the protein into a minimal energy state.
Can leave protein unfinished and let others try from there

Experience on Crowdsourcing Screenplays and Videos

The most mentioned benefits of Crowdsourcing are that reaching many people allows you to do things cheaper and faster.  This properties have been tested by Stephen de Souza, screenwriter, and Sunil Rajaraman, CEO of They published their experience in: Crowdsourcing creative content: a case study, check hereunder their Lessons Learned!

Steven de Souza has written major screenplays as Die Hard 1 & 2, 48 Hours among others.  In 2008, he produced a web series, entitled Unknown Sender.

Cost per minute to produce on his own, keeping costs lean = $1,000/minute.

Unknown Sender got considerable critical acclaim, not only from the blogosphere but from the mainstream media as well, and was a triple honoree in the 2009 Webby Awards for Best Series, Best Writing, and Best Individual Performance (for Mr. Dalton).  Wanting to continue Unknown Sender but now re-immersed in his conventional media projects stalled by the strike, Steven turned to Sunil and Scripped to crowdsource new scripts for Unknown Sender, and Talenthouse to crowdsource videos based on those scripts.  They received over 200 submissions for the script content (in one month’s time), and averaged roughly 10 video submissions/per script once the video portion of the contest began (duration of two months).  An incentive of $200 per winning script was allotted, and $500 per winning video.  All winners received a contract for half of the future net profits.  Entries came from not only the United States, but from the U.K., Chile, Spain, and Russia, and the results were impressive[…]

Cost per minute to produce using crowdsourcing = $140/minute.

Takeaways/Lessons Learned

Stephen and Sunil were impressed by the quality of the crowdsourced screenplays and crowdsourced videos. That said, the cost per minute shown does not account for their time to vet the scripts, time to vet the videos and, most valuable for all involved, time to give each filmmaker one-on-one criticism.

In the end, there were definitely a few major takeaways from the whole exercise:

  • The crowd needs management before, during and after production.  This was an area they fell down in:  After the scripts were approved, the filmmakers were left to their own devices.   A surprising number lost track of the ground rules, i.e., that all entries were to appear to be “found footage”, and diverged from that concept in post, if not during production itself.  Had they had a layer of screening and interaction with the contestants in the gap between delivery of script and delivery of finished cut, and had viewed dailies and assemblies (easy enough in a wired world), these filmmakers could have been saved from disqualifying themselves by veering off course.  Here, the model for the vaunted “new media” is clearly the almost century-old studio system.
  • The quality was much better than expected, approaching independent film or broadcast quality in some respects, such as acting, production values, or direction, but not yet in all cases across the board.
  • Filtering the artists before they submit might be a more viable solution, or “curated” crowdsourcing. This solution may not be as attractive for other types of projects, but for video production, is a must.

How Tech Is Changing the Museum Experience

Remember how boring it was to visit a museum as a child? And more, when everybody was over the sign you coudn’t even reach the explanations?  Lately museums have adapted their displays to attract children’s attention, but see now How Tech Is Changing the Museum Experience. writes about the new experiences implemented in 3 museums, it goes from mobile applications for guided tours, augmented reality (AR) on specific places or items, even outside the Museum walls, games to test your knowledge, and even using crowdsourcing to complete information about an artist.

The Smithsonian — Washington, DC

One of the leaders in the space of digital and mobile tech in museums is the Smithsonian. […]

The Smithsonian has an array of mobile apps and websites that allow museum visitors to interact as they go through an exhibit or to experience the exhibit remotely. Apps include Infinity of Nations for the National Museum of the American Indian, which provides an English and Spanish mobile tour, and includes slideshows and video in versions for both children and adults. Another is called Yves Klein: With the Void, Full Powers (produced using the Toura apps platform) that provides an overview and insights into select art pieces with hi-res images, video, audio and quotes directly from the artist. This app traveled with the exhibition to the Walker Art Center, and they were able to add more content to the app specific to their own installation of the show.

Citizen Crowdsourcing

People encouraging people’s initiatives for the common good: here’s a great use of crowdsourcing for the benefit of the Indian population, and it’s done through crowdfunding!

Here’s how the system works: Utility employees call NextDrop’s interactive voice response system when they manually open neighborhood water valves. The system generates text message updates for local residents (most of whom have cell phones) 30 to 60 minutes before water delivery. Residents are also contacted by the system randomly to verify the accuracy of the information given by the valvemen. Updates from the utility employees are also turned into Google Maps-based streaming visual data so that engineers can track valve status throughout the city
in real time.

Read the full article from Ariel Schwartz: How NextDrop Is Using Cell Phones, Crowdsourcing To Get Water To The Thirsty!

Designing the Future with Crowdsourcing

Crowdsourcing is changing traditional business models allowing new service markets to develop across international borders, and enabling a large number of providers and consumers to participate.

It’s also being used in social and public initiatives, like emergency response organisations in the case of the Haiti and Japan earthquakes, where a large number of people joined efforts for a common cause.

Evolution can help us understand how crowdsourcing may evolve, and provide us clues and strategies for designing its future use, and handling the challenges that may arise in our society.

That was the central theme of last Friday’s seminar, that I presented at ECCO, Evolution, Complexity and Cognition , a multidisciplinary research group at the VUB in Brussels.  I enjoyed the exchange we had at the end of the talk. Among others, Francis Heylighen mentioned his ideas to improve reputation systems using techniques as in the ‘Combining votes’ presented for quality management.

Scientists have a great opportunity to think ahead, influencing the organization of the markets, shaping the impact crowdsourcing will have in our society.

Exploitation of the Crowd?

While discussing crowdsourcing with friends here in Belgium, the issue of  how moral it is to hire people for less money than a local worker would charge,  has been risen.  Belgium is a very socialist minded country, and I will give you an example of what I’m talking about:

For the TaxMan, if you ask your friends to help you painting your house, you should declare the VAT for their work.  That is , tax authorities think that all work has a market value,  and thus should be taxed.

Would it be moral to pay less than a local worker, if that less is the usual pay in the worker’s country?

And what if you coud not have paid any local worker (so no local work could have been generated)?

And what about morality when you don’t pay at all the crowd? You may just gratify the worker with recognition or not even that, counting on his personal satisfaction of knowing what he did.  That would question any volonteer job, as the religious crowds…

Joe McKendrick explores this question from Zittrain:

Is corporate social media ethical? Is there a “Tom Sawyer syndrome” at work in which people are suckered into doing work thinking that it’s something to be enjoyed?

Those are the provocative questions raised by Jonathan Zittrain, co-founder of Harvard University’s Berkman Center for Internet & Society, at the recent South by Southwest Interactive confab. His argument: a key value proposition of social networking is crowdsourcing, in which an actively engaged community contributes new ideas for innovation, or even does some piecework, for little or no compensation. As reported in The Chronicle of Higher Education, Zittrain argues that these may be morally questionable ventures.

Read the full article Is There an Ethical Quandary to Corporate Social Networking and Crowdsourcing?

The Rise of the Crowd

Look at this article where Paul Sloane talks about Open Innovation and Crowdsourcing on the Rise

[…] Crowdsourcing is an extrapolation of Open Innovation in which you throw out a challenge to a group of people that you may or may not know and solicit their ideas and solutions for your issue. Many web-based companies specialise in different crowdsourcing fields. So if you want a name for a new brand of product you can get many suggestions by using the crowdsourcing site Naming Force. If you have a tough programming problem you could use who will set the challenge for ace freelance programmers from around the world. Similarly if you have a difficult technical or scientific challenge you might use Innocentive or Nine Sigma.

What surprised me was his first example, just how cheap crowdsourcing is becoming, as to think of using it just for a private party!

Imagine that you are planning a big surprise party. You want it to be entertaining, spectacular, memorable and different. You could plan and project manage every element of the party yourself: the theme, venue, music, food, drink, entertainment, games, diversions etc. Or you could involve a number of people to help you with their ideas and their skills. One person could manage all aspects of the venue, someone else could design special decorations, another person could put together a music mix and so on. If you do it all yourself then you are in complete control, you have sole responsibility and you can keep the whole thing a surprise but you have to remember to do everything and it is only as good as your ideas. If you bring in a group of friends and experts to help then you can harness their imaginations; you can bounce ideas off each other. You have to delegate tasks which involves collaboration, supervision, letting go and an element of risk. Keeping the whole thing a surprise is more difficult but can be done. The choice between doing it all yourself and doing it with a group is the choice between a closed and an open model.

And we are also having it for free: my son asked his  crowd (his followers on Tumblr:-) for music advice… and we have been hearing a bunch of new groups during our holidays!  Before, a crowd was following  a public figure or a trend, now  crowds are being adressed for advice.   By the way, we discover very good ones 🙂

Crowdsourcing for Emergency response

Again this article in the Guardian: How remote teams can help the rapid response to disasters talks about crowds used for helping emergency response after a major disaster.  After Haiti, the users trained to OpenStreetMap used it again for Japan tragedy.

A report on humanitarian and volunteer technical groups co-operating after the 2010 Haiti earthquake could make a big improvement to the planning and effectiveness of response work

A crowdsourced map of Haiti

A crowdsourced map of Haiti created by volunteers following the 2010 earthquake. Photograph: OpenStreetMap

When catastrophe strikes, for the humanitarian aid community it often seems like we’re caught in a race – against time, and in difficult conditions – to identify needs, deliver supplies and save lives. Understanding the environment in which we’re trying to do this – whether Haiti, Pakistan, Libya, or, most recently, Japan – is the key to ensuring that our response is timely, appropriate and life-saving.


This is why I am excited about the publication on Monday of Disaster Relief 2.0: The Future of Information Sharing in Humanitarian Emergencies, a groundbreaking report we commissioned with the UN Foundation and Vodafone Foundation Technology Partnership.

UN emergency relief co-ordinator Valerie Amos and the report partners are launching the report at the Dubai International Humanitarian Aid and Development (Dihad) conference. The theme of the conference is his year is: “New technologies: how these impact humanitarian and development operations”.

Don’t hesitate to join them!

Crowdsourcing as Collective Intelligence

Ringo-ring posted to the Global Brain group this info about Ledface : Web-based startup is to launch their global brain for private testing in June

A startup company called ledface is working on their new web service that will turn each registered user into a node within collectively intelligent network. After acquiring the membership, users can start asking their questions and collective intelligence is supposed to answer them.

As I understood from their website, it works like this:

  • you post the question
  • ledface starts googling through all of its users, looking for people who are best fit to give an answer
  • chosen ones form a small team to solve the question in a collaborative manner

That makes it different from current Q&A websites, where answers compete with each other to become the best one. Plus, on the Q&A services we have now, you can only hope that your question will get noticed by an expert, but ledface will take care of finding the right people.

It seems that this new site will work differently from Yahoo!Answers or Quora, because they will be posting the questions to a certain group from within their crowd in order to reduce the usual level of noise, and additionally, they will have some members composing the final answer from the individual ones, in order to create collective intelligence (thus to obtain more in the composed answer than in the individual ones).

They say they want to reach Scientifics and through anonymity make them loose their fear to be wrong.

[..]the scientific world acts as if you couldn’t have weak sides in your knowledge.[…] Ledface wants to promote altruistic co-creation based on trust and collaboration. It’s all about know-how and cultural knowledge sharing. Collective intelligence with no names, no egos, just knowledge.

But for their purposes of directing the question to the pertinent people, how will they be qualifying the contributors?  Will they be able to maintain anonymity between their community?  Will altruism emerge, or will ego prevail despite of all?

It seems that this new site will work differently from Yahoo!Answers or Quora, because they will be posting the questions to a certain group from within their crowd in order to reduce the usual level of noise, and additionally, they will have some members composing the final answer from the individual ones, hoping to create collective intelligence (thus to obtain more in that answer than in the individual ones).

They say they want to reach Scientifics and through anonymity make them loose their fear to be wrong.