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OpenStudy’s Catapult Update: Get Paid To Learn

26 Jul

OpenStudy Catapult Update

OpenStudy’s newest update, Catapult, is an effort to incentivize learning by giving students the opportunity to get paid for it. Through the website, students can set up simple learning goals like “get an A on this essay” or “finish my science fair project”. Friends and family can then pledge money towards those goals, and the student collects if the goal is reached.

OpenStudy has always been about polish, and it shows in how put-together this service is. Catapult is free to use, although OpenStudy and the payment system take a few percentage points for fees. A feature I especially like is the ability to post constant updates on your goals; if it looks like you’re doing well, or like you could use an extra push, your sponsors can donate extra money. Plus, making your goals known gives you extra accountability, which is another push to Get It Done.

Of course, I am not without my concerns. Offering money for studying has been effective in the past when it’s just between a student and their parents, or a similar setup, but I worry that adding it to a system like this may pull students away from the primary incentive of learning. There are already students who treat their final grades, and not the knowledge itself, as the end goal; this additional reward may push them in the wrong direction. It’s a minor concern, but one to keep an eye on nonetheless.

All things considered, I’m excited for this update. My parents gave me money when I was a kid if I made the grades, and I distinctly remember being ecstatic. OpenStudy has once again broke the mold with a feature that makes learning more fun and less of a hassle. If you’re a student, check it out, set up some goals, get knowledge, and get paid.


Make Your Idea A Reality With Quirky

17 Jul

I’m a sucker for platforms and campaigns that give people power where they previously had none, so it was practically a given that I would write about Quirky, a sort of supercharged Kickstarter for product designs.


The idea is novel and has a lot of room for creative depth, but everything else is handled in a very standard fashion. Product ideas, as polished as 3D models or as crude as hand-drawn doodles, are submitted to Quirky and presented for public endorsement. You can vote on products you like, and if they get enough attention, they’re manufactured and sold on a wide scale thanks to Quirky’s deals with retailers like Toys R Us, Best Buy, Target, and The creator of the product gets a very nice share of the profits, of course.

Like I said, as far as the process goes there isn’t a lot of new ground trodden.  We’ve seen a lot of platforms conform to the go-to “submit ideas, gather votes, they become a reality” process. What determines their success usually boils down to how easy the platform is to use and how tangible or exciting the results are.

To this end, I think we’ve got a winner with Quirky. They’ve already invented some really cool products, and more are always on the way. If you’ve been looking for the perfect place to launch your new product idea, Quirky is there to help you make it a reality, and yourself a rich person (hopefully).

Peter LaMotte Clears The Air About GeniusRocket at TEDxWDC

10 Jul

Many of you may remember my less-than-kind critique of GeniusRocket a little while back. Peter LaMotte, the president of the company, was so kind as to comment on the article (amicably!) and invite me to their DC office to discuss the matters further.

Our meeting was an eye-opening experience, and I am much more at ease with how their model works now. If you’re still wondering how this story shook out, this speech, given by Mr. Lamotte at TEDxWDC, may shine some light on the GR process. The company is nowhere near as bad as I originally thought; they’re just geared towards a different type of audience than I expected.

Neat Idea: Crowdsourcing to Locate Silence

6 Jul

Have you ever just wanted to be able to hear your own thoughts for a few minutes? Noise is everywhere, and sometimes we don’t even notice it until it drowns out everything else. And if you live in a city, it’s practically impossible to escape.

So where’s a good place to read? To meditate? To enjoy a peaceful moment without the ever-present wail of the real world? Jason Sweeney hopes he has the answer with the Stereopublic project, which simply uses crowdsourcing to find areas of silence within a bustling city.

Crowdsourcing is at its best when it allows us to do things like this. A silent space could be no more than a few cubic feet in size, located anywhere, or otherwise difficult to find. Mass collaboration is the only efficient way to gather such data.

Additionally, there are benefits for autistic or disabled people who don’t handle loud noises for extended periods well. Indeed, this entire project is Sweeney’s way of helping the “sonic health” of cities worldwide, in addition to encouraging their residents to go exploring to find new silent bastions of solitude.

Sweeney has tapped into the creative power of the crowd before, so I’m confident that he has the know-how to push this project in the right directions. The concept is still new, so if you’re interested, setting up a Google Alert might not be a bad idea. Let me know if anything interesting develops!

Gaming, Porn, and LEGO: The Common Thread (Part 2 of 2)

25 Jun

Last week, I highlighted three companies that, for one reason or another, have welcomed the emergence of crowdsourcing with open arms. Video game mods allow players to add their own content, LEGO’s CUUSOO brings fan-created models to store shelves, and amateur pornography… well, enough said.

I promised you then, dear readers, to soon reveal what makes these companies so right for crowdsourcing. And so I come to you today to present the two key traits that these companies share.

The first trait is intrinsic, meaning that it has to do with the very nature of an industry; either they have it or they don’t. This trait is the fact that these industries all represent pastimes that are typically enjoyed alone.

  • Lengthy single-player games like Half-Life and Skyrim can’t really be enjoyed in a large group; add to this the “geek” stigma still surrounding video gaming, and you get a hobby that tends to be solitary.
  • It’s fine for kids to play with LEGO, but when it’s full-grown adults we again see a stigma preventing mass public acceptance.
  • Porn? Figure it out yourself.

If you’re getting ahead of me, you’re calling BS at this point. “That’s nonsense!” you cry, “I go to LAN parties and arcades, there are a million local LEGO groups, and there’s even such a thing as adult movie theaters and kink communities…”

“Ah but you see,” I’d say in response, “those groups are specifically designed for enthusiasts.” Unless you’re a big fan of the aforementioned activity, you wouldn’t seek out these groups. And these aren’t universal interests like art, movies, or music; if you can’t find a special group with which to share your passion, you’re stuck going it alone.

This is the key element that makes these industries ripe for crowdsourcing. They have a highly passionate user base who unfortunately is largely unable to share their passion. But given a platform on which to present and the guarantee of a similarly eager audience, enthusiasts are more than willing to show the world what they’ve created.

Furthermore, we’re seeing some crowdsourcing efforts fail for the movies, music, and art industries specifically because they are so popular and universally  accepted. Businesses pick up on the fact that vast amounts of money can be made, and it becomes a game based around competition instead of shared passion. Keeping the subject matter specialized guarantees that the only people who will seek it out are the truly interested.

This segues nicely into the second trait, which is less intrinsic and more reactionary. It is this: LEGO, gaming, and porn all noticed that people were getting into their products enough to want to create their own. So they let them. It’s so simple it’s hard to tell if it’s the effect or the cause. But often the only thing an industry needs to make crowdsourcing work for them is to simply let the people who want to help do so.

Let’s not be unreasonable, of course; you should still definitely make money off them. Crowdsource a LEGO set design, but sell it retail or on the official website. Allow game mods, but not without buying the “vanilla” copy of the original game. And (by all means!) solicit amateur porn, but put it on a website that’s absolutely dripping with paid ads. Profits soar, you toss the original creators a (tiny) cut of the earnings, and everyone walks away happy because they have inexpensive, high-quality new content.

After these pieces came into place for me, I had to look back and check to see how many other campaigns grew from typically insular activities that were given a chance for public recognition. It didn’t take long to find several. It would seem this is the real deal, so if you’re hoping to take advantage of crowdsourcing, here’s your bottom line. Tap into previously silenced interest groups, and simply let them help. Control the process, but if you give a passionate person the ability to enact some real positive change, you’re going to be pleasantly surprised every time.

Gaming, Porn, and LEGO: Bachelor Weekend or Key To Crowdsourcing? (Part 1 of 2)

19 Jun

I started this blog with the intention of bringing crowdsourcing to the masses. To do so, I knew I would have to uncover real-world examples of it that most people had interacted with. Today, I write to you because I have realized this goal; I found amateur pornography, PC gaming, and LEGO bricks.

Porn was a topic I wanted to discuss at one point or another on this blog, because I recognized that it was an industry that had whole-heartedly accepted crowdsourcing as Copyright 2008 The Weinstein Companyone of their methods of production. Non-professional or amateur porn has been around almost as long as videography itself, and recently received a huge boon in the form of camera phones and user-uploaded content (“tube”) sites.  This industry was quick to accept crowdsourcing as a form of content creation, when so many others have dragged their feet or actively resisted. Now, they enjoy the fact that they have tube sites like these to generate heaps of content at no personal cost, which helps offset their recent losses in DVD sales.

I sought other entities that had accepted crowdsourcing in the same way, and found the brick-building toy LEGO. Their integration was to a lesser degree, to be certain, but Copyright 2008-2012 CUUSOO SYSTEMnonetheless multifaceted; their websites solicits pictures, ideas, and full-on schematics of any custom model their users have built. They even go so far as to have implemented the CUUSOO program, which takes popular user-created models and packages them as actual retail items that can be bought from the website or a real-world toy store. LEGO understands that even though they are primarily a children’s toy, they still have a not-insignificant portion of adult users who want to show off their creations. And so like porn, LEGO has recognized a need and made steps to fill it by utilizing user content.

And finally we have video games, who take on crowdsourcing in a limited, but more profound way. User-generated content is again the key here, this time in the form of “mods”. Mods are custom modifications that a user may make to a game they own that Copyright 2011 Dread Father & XFrostbitechange the graphics, gameplay, maps, items, or just about any other aspect of the game. These mods are typically collected, shared, rated, and downloaded on community sites that are wholly or partly supported by the game publishers themselves. Games like Half-Life and Skyrim enjoy a massive community of modders, which not only adds to the game’s content but ensures that people will continue to buy it long into the future. Add to this the fact that there are other communities that simply program and release their own games to play, some of which are good enough to make it onto professional retail platforms like Steam or the Apple store. All in all, the gaming industry is one that is largely on-board with user-generated content.

So what is it about these industries that makes them so apt to bring their users into the fold, when so many others have to be dragged kicking and screaming into the world of crowdsourcing? The answer, which I will reveal next week, has implications that could mean a whole new approach to discovering which industries are ready to implement crowdsourcing. More importantly, it may reveal industries that are doomed to crowdsourcing failure before they even start. Tune in next week for Part 2: The Common Thread!

It Would Have Been a Great Story

14 Jun

I was supposed to have a great, full-length post for all of you today, but it turns out I was taken for a ride and my source was fake.

© 2005 Marvin Harrell ~ stock.xchng

It’s a true shame; it was a story about a major company (unnamed; they’re probably catching enough flack for this already) who launched a campaign asking users of their website to design a print ad for the chance to win a trip. Whoever developed this prank, or whatever it is, set up an entire site for submitting, viewing, and voting on these ads.

But as the submissions trickled it, it was clear that they weren’t going in the direction they were supposed to. This unnamed company has some pretty shady business practices, and the vast majority of the submitted ads called these practices into question in ways that wouldn’t be considered “kind” or “not heavy-handed”.

It would have been brutal if it was true. Imagine a company blindly launching a campaign without being aware of the general populace’s opinion of them. And imagine the campaign entirely involved having people plaster whatever message they want on a professional-looking ad with your company’s name and logo. It would have been a fiasco.

Unfortunately, the campaign was created not by the company, but by some outside force that opposed their politics. Further digging into the website proved it was all subtly tongue-in-cheek,  designed in such a way that it would only reveal itself as fake if you gave it more than a cursory glance.

So why was I taken in at first? Because this company wouldn’t have been the first one to make a mistake like this. A big aspect of crowdsourcing that continues to keep some companies away is the lack of control and privacy. When you host a contest like this, it does indeed become exceedingly important what the public’s opinion of your company is. If your company is controversial, crowdsourcing will provide you with messages that promote both sides of the issue. Unfortunately, there is usually one side that yells louder, and that’s the dissenters.

So is there a lesson we can learn from this? Crowdsourcing is best suited to companies that already have a large positive following. Will it completely stop situations like this? No, but a lot of consumers on your side certainly helps support the messages you’re actually trying to promote. Conversely, if your company is afraid of what the populace has to say about them… well, maybe they should reconsider how clean their hands are.

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