Massive Open Online Courses

Massive Open Online Courses (MOOC) are very recent, but are quickly gaining popularity.  Coursera is one of the big platforms that offer those free courses, along with edX and Khanacademy just to mention a few.  Last year I took a fantastic course offered by Coursera  called ‘Model Thinking’ given  by Prof. Scott E. Page, who’s the Director of the Center for the Study of Complex Systems at the University of Michigan ( I posted already about it here : – ).

In March this year, I was glad to receive a mail from Scott Page, giving us some feedback from his experience doing this course, and sending us also a link to a presentation he did about the making of the course.

To give you an idea of the popularity of this course, there were 60.000 students enrolled on the first run of Model Thinking, beginning of 2012.  It grew to 100.000 for the fall run (by the way, if you are interested there will be a new run this fall 2013, and it may be the last one, says Prof. Page).

I would like to share with you Scott’s insights on his experience on making this online course contrasting it with the making of his online course ‘The hidden Factor’.  This last one was professionally done in a studio and he called ‘Model Thinking’: my garage band online course : – )

In fact, it was really recorded in one unused room of his house, because he said that the starting and stopping of the heating system in the rest of the house was picked up by his mike, so sensible it was even though it was just a $100 one.

To prepare the course, he thought of making it more modular.  So he cut it in small chunks, so that each video was independent, and treated a subject in no more than 15 minutes.  But as he said, that was the easiest part because what took him much more time was the recording of each lecture.  One big issue he had was that he was alone in this room to do the recordings, and trying to be smiling, engaging and enthusiastic is difficult without an audience.  Not only that, but he had unforeseen events from time to time, like his dog wandering around, and he laughed and found himself doing funny movement to chase him.

The editing took a lot of time, each video had to be reviewed, and in case of errors, it was difficult to fix it.  So at the end, some mistakes remained.   On the other hand in the professional approach, they took care of each error, but they had better tools and a battery of technicians to look into them and find different alternatives to correct them.  Sometimes he had to repeat one word they detected he had staggered with, and they told them even the intonation he had to use to repeat it; sometimes they just put a picture about the subject he was talking about, and he could rephrase one sentence.

In conclusion, here’s his comparison regarding costs to do the 2 videos:


So it is much more costly for a professional quality. Time-wise, it was surprisingly more or less equivalent:


The studio made video was undisputable better, being much easier to correct any mistakes:



But in the end, is the improvement in quality worth the cost?  Not really he says; the best quality is not needed, a good enough approach is better, even more if the cost prohibits its making.  So the best solution stands between those 2 options.

I found also very important his comment on how presenting this course changed his everyday work life.  He has now 1 hour per day reading his mail, answering to diverse requests on his subject of expertise.  He receives inquiries from technical advisors, deans, diverse influencial people that he cannot really discard.  On the one hand it’s not strictly his job, for what he is paid for, but on the other hand, can these requests be ignored? Is it responsible if you know your intervention can have such an impact as to do better policies, to improve many people’s life?

Snowden showed us the dangers of Big Data with PRISM, are we up to the challenge to steer its use?

A television screen shows former U.S. spy agency contractor Edward Snowden during a news bulletin at a cafe at Moscow’s Sheremetyevo airport June 26, 2013. Credit: Reuters/Sergei Karpukhin


As we already discussed on my Big Data presentations,   being able to analyse the amount of data that traces all our actions and movements is a great opportunity to improve our lives, as much as to do business, but it can also be exploited for the worst.  Now Edward Snowden has put a clear case under the spotlights, will this make us move? Will this lead to change?

It’s time to consider what ethical codes and regulations can be issued, so that this excellent opportunity that technology is putting in our hands, that is sharing, measuring and extracting knowledge from all aspects of our lives, is not misused.

Big Data, a trend to follow for business innovation

Every day more than 2.5 quintillion (2.5 x 1018 ) bytes of data are created, coming from business and bank transactions, posts on social media sites, digital photos, videos, and other sensors as GPS signal and more. Big Data is the name of the mass of unstructured data available nowadays on Internet.

All this large amount of data is a big resource, and many of these sets of data are available to everybody. Some companies are exploiting it already, you may have guessed that Google looks at the subjects you are interested in, and presents you with ads related to that content. Facebook for example looks at the friends of your friends to suggest you new contacts. Other examples are less obvious, but plenty of business good sense, like an airplane company improving the pilot’s ETA of a flight using, among others, weather and aerial traffic information.  The new ETA is more accurate, and allows to reduce idle time at airports.  The McKinsey Global Institute calls Big Data ‘the next frontier for innovation, competition and productivity’.

The European Commission believes that ‘data is the new gold’. To boost the economy they have created the Open Data Initiative that aims at opening up Public Sector Information.  As they put it:

Public sector  information (PSI) is the single largest source of information in Europe. It is  produced and collected by public bodies and includes digital maps,  meteorological, legal, traffic, financial, economic and other data. Most of this  raw data could be re-used or integrated into new products and services, which we use on a daily basis, such as car  navigation systems, weather forecasts, financial and insurance services.

Re-use of public sector information means using it in new  ways by adding value to it, combining information from different sources, making  mash-ups and new applications, both for commercial and non-commercial purposes. Public sector information has great economic potential. [..] Increase  in the re-use of PSI generates new businesses and jobs and provides consumers  with more choice and more value for money.

And they are not the only ones, the UN has also it own open data initiative, so it’s time to let your imagination fly and ask yourself what information could help your business, as unimaginable as it could have been to count with it before. Managers could now make decisions based on real data analysis.  There are many sectors where you can generate financial value from Big Data, the MacKinsey Global Institute points out among them health care, the public sector administration, global personal location data, retail and manufacturing.

From the technological perspective, exploiting Big Data is a great challenge. All these data come from different sources, are stored on different locations, in different formats, so navigating through it is not an easy task. Up to now, companies were using their own stored data to do their business. They defined the format, created the metadata (information on how to interpret each content, what meant each bit of information), used consistently throughout the company. For this kind of data (called ‘structured data’) there are a number of proven techniques that allow manipulating the data usually stored in ‘databases’ or ‘data-warehouses’ and giving answers for the business management.

But when it comes to unstructured data, it’s really another business. And not only there is a challenge as we mentioned earlier on navigating through data from different locations, changing from one format to another, but also dealing with the huge volume of data: think of the quantity of bytes that have to be analysed! Also, to be worth the effort, it has to be done on time. That is giving the answer to a question when it still matters (in some cases it can be days or hours, in others like for a car guidance program, it is measured in seconds). This is really hard, and classical programs don’t stand to the challenge. There are new algorithms being created, different initiatives under construction, that are fighting to gain movement and become standards. For me, this trend is worth following.  If you are interested, check Roberto Zicari’s presentation, from

Join me for the 21st. Anniversary of PWI-Professional Women International

Everything is (almost) ready for the 18th of October, for the 21st. anniversary of PWI (Professional Women International) in Brussels.  I’m in the Board of this networking association since May, and I’m enjoying participating on this event organization, though it’s more work than I though!  It takes time to put us (professional women)  together, just think of finding an empty spot on 10 agendas of very dynamic ladies for a meeting!  And then, when we are together, we have to concentrate on the issues at hand, and forget about talking or “networking” for a while :-))  But we are all volunteers very committed to empowering professional women, so don’t worry and be sure we will be ready for the date!

So this 18th of October, come and celebrate with us, sharing a glass of champagne after hearing wonderful speakers of top executives of the international business world and diplomats of the European Union supporting ‘Gender Balance in the Talent Pipeline’.

To register, go to the page

Looking forward to seeing you there.

Corina Ciechanow

Crowdfunding at the rescue of Iron Sky

Watch out of the dark side of the moon, the Nazis are hiding there and want to invade the Earth!

This weekend I had the opportunity to see the projection of Iron Sky, a dark science fiction comedy from the creators of Star Wreck. The film is a Finnish-German-Australian co-production, with a budget of about 7.5 million euros, from which 1 of those millions has been crowdfunded.


Director Timo Vuorensola presented his film “Iron Sky” in premiere at the Brussels International Fantastic Film Festival (BIFFF).  His production, after the first round of financing, faced a shortage of capital. So they turned to their fans for cash, collecting over a million euros. That sum was then used to convince the “traditional” investors to double that amount, completing the 3 millon euros needed  to finish the film, and proving that crowd-funding is a very effective way to rise capital, even on difficult times for the economy.

Not only they reached the crowd for money, but also to collaborate with scripts, sounds, extras and creating all the marketing buzz around the film.  It is a good success story for the crowdsourcing model.

And by the way, I liked the movie : – ) )

Crowdsourcing is a flourishing market

CrowdFlower Reports Revenue of 300% Year Over Year and More Than 300 Million Enterprise Level Crowdsourced Microtasks Completed, Earning #1 Rank in Industry

CrowdFlower is a microtasking crowdsourcing enterprise.  The company solves information-based problems like product categorization, SEO content creation, web verifications, etc… by splitting the task into small pieces (micro-tasks), and giving them to their workers ( their on-demand contributors world-wide).  They take care of quality issues, and aggregate the results to answer their client’s request.    They have completed 300 million tasks for their customer companies  including eBay, Microsoft, and Twitter.   The Daily Crowdsource has recently published the CrowdCensus report, rating them #1 among industry leaders in micro-tasking.

– In 2011, millions of tasks were performed for virtual goods in Facebook games, with CrowdFlower contributors performing real work (such as sentiment analysis and categorization) for virtual goods or other rewards.

– CrowdFlower has a workforce of more than 2 million individual contributors producing approximately 4 man-years of work daily. In other words, it would take one person four years of work to complete what CrowdFlower’s virtual workforce does in a single day.

[…]  A variety of factors contribute to their success. “Their platform sits on a robust system that does not ignore security, quality, or scalability,” said the Daily Crowdsource report. “CrowdFlower balances the combination of cost and quality through the use of Gold Standard Data, redundancy, and peer review.” [said Woody Hobbs, the CEO from Crowdflower]

CrowdFlower is not an isolated case, the microtasking industry has done great for the last years, and is in great expansion world-wide.


Positive Intelligence

I saw the announcement of a webinar at Standford University on Positive Intelligence by Shirzad Chamine, and was curious about it.  With such an attractive title, what could it be about?  You can check the whole presentation on YouTube, he is announcib his new book, but the idea behind Positive Intelligence is to move yourself from basic negative emotional reactions to more ‘intelligent’ ones, making thus use of your prefrontal cortex.  The main slide is this one:

To maximise your potential and get more happiness on what your are accomplishing, it is a good advise to get distance of the negative emotions, and overcome them.

He points out 10 ‘saboteurs’, basic behaviours that we may have on our survivor mode brain and that work against us when basic survival is not at stake. They don’t allow us to see new opportunities, the bigger picture, to be creative:


The other way to improve ‘the sage’ mind is by improving what he calls the Positive Intelligence Powers like empathie, creativity, activity, curiosity.

His third strategy that he suggests us to do, is to improve the connection to our Positive Intelligence.  This, by reflecting on our basic sensations and feelings.  These exercises will  help us to take our distance on our basic emotions.

So let’s go for some brain exercices!


Gosling sails away from Google and Android

I just read this article Gosling sails away from Google and Android, where they write about the last move of James Gosling (the father of Java) leaving Google for Liquid Robotics. Check the great autonomous and unmanned maritime vehicle they did: as Gosling says, the whole concept is really cool!

Can you imagine the quantity of data it will be collecting? It transfers it to the cloud, works uninterruptedly for a year… Someone (or something :- ) will have to analyse all that data afterwards.  The future will be very busy  for data scientists…

G’day mate!

G’Day, mate!  That’s the morning salute of the Aussies 🙂  We are just back from Australia, where we have been travelling for a month.  What a nice country, and what a bunch of friendly people we met down under!

With the idea of going so far away, we had prepared ourselves, finding a software to help us find our way, downloading maps locally to my new gadget: an HTC tablet (with which I’m very happy, by the way).  We took the plane and landed in Sydney where we visited some days, enjoying ourselves in that cosmopolitan city.  We bought even a local SIM card (even though the maps were locally stored, the software needed an internet connection to act as a GPS and give directions)  and then went for the real countryside to Alice Springs, in order to see their sacred mountain Uluru.

All our setup lasted 20 minutes after leaving Alice Springs… that’s the time our 3G connection lasted in Central Australia.  I should have guessed it when seeing in our 4WD rental agency leaflets for satellite phones!  90% of Australia is not GSM-covered, something you tend to forget, as in the cities Internet is so present: every small shop has its own website, everywhere you look at, the URLs are big in display.

So we laugh at ourselves, and did it the ‘old way’, following the road with paper maps and signs.  But have no worries, even the kids survived without Internet for some days J.  Here is the mythical mountain in the sunset light: as great as they said!

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!