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PucaTrade is a Collaborative Way To Trade Magic Cards

15 Apr

Image © 2013 PucaTrade

It’s been well-established by this point that I am a fan of Magic: The Gathering. There’s just something about shuffling up your deck and launching a barrage of monsters, weapons, and sorcery at an opponent’s tender, innocent face. The only downside is that the cards themselves, the fundamental building blocks of the entire game, are not cheap. It’s not uncommon to see highly-played cards for some formats valued at $100 each.

PucaTrade.com aims to change the game by making the process of trading cards between players crazy simple, and it’s doing it through crowdsourcing. The driving concept is that of Collaborative Consumption, where people share things they own instead of maintaining permanent ownership. Zipcar has used this concept to great success with their car-sharing service, and PucaTrade extends the concept to Magic cards.

With PucaTrade, users mail out cards they own that other users also happen to want. In return, they receive some amount of “PucaPoints”, which in turn can be spent on cards the user wants. It’s dead simple, and PucaTrade plays fair by keeping a constant eye on card values and making sure no users are getting ripped off by uneven trades. In another act of crowdsourcing, the site developers have teamed up with the users to create PucaBot. The site-owned “user” identifies and buys surplus cards in order to even out the economy and make a little money to keep the site running.

It’s a solid concept. People who play Magic often have dozens, hundreds, or even thousands of unplayed and unwanted cards in their collections that would be better off in the hands of someone who’d actually appreciate them. PucaTrade also circumvents the entire economy of online card shopping, where prices can vary drastically and shipping snafus can prevent cards from arriving for days. With PucaTrade, the grassroots approach means its users can send and receive a steady stream of cards to each other at no cost except postage. Brilliant.

PucaTrade is growing quickly, and has already traded over $80,000 worth of cards between its users. They are currently doing an Indiegogo project to get out of beta and add some really great features to the site, including a redesigned interface and more tools for user interaction. If you’re as into Magic as I am, or if you just think these cards are getting crazy stupid expensive, donate to the campaign and/or register on the website and start trading. You get free PucaPoints if you share the campaign on Facebook or Twitter, too!

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Continuum’s Crowdsourced Fashions are Hit or Miss

19 Mar

Continuum

With an industry as fickle, high-minded, and individualistic as fashion, one would think leaving the big decisions to the crowd would be a good way to fast-track your designs to the bargain bin. But Continuum Fashion hopes to change the game through technology by boldly incorporating webapps, 3D printing, and user-generated content into their design processes. Their website is a collection of projects: the custom-clothing line Constrvct, the 3D-printed N12 bikini and Strvct shoe line, and the D.dress app for creating your own Little Black Dress.

The Constrvct and D.dress webapps serve as a pertinent example of how fashion can be crowdsourced, with Constrvct being the most promising section of the Continuum arsenal. Constrvct is a webapp that allows you to order highly customized clothing. The user specifies their personal bodily dimensions and uploads a photo to be used as a graphic print, and Continuum will fabricate and print the final design, in addition to hosting it on their site for others to purchase.

constrvct_designs1This isn’t so much a new idea as it is a well-polished combination of several already-extant ideas. There have been several websites in the past that allow users to order custom-fitted clothing or to create clothing with their own personal designs. Constrvct just combines these two ideas, along with featuring well-liked designs on their homepage for others to customize and purchase. There is no particular design direction that seems more popular than another, either. Designs range from mirrored patterns to full-garment prints of art that looks like a cathedral ceiling, a variety which only serves to highlight the wide range of tastes present in the Constrvct community.

N12-detail

The N12 and Strvct shoe line do not incorporate large aspects of crowdsourcing (yet) and are instead notable for their conceptual design and unique construction. Both the shoes and the bikini are made completely through 3D printing, with the exception of the shoe soles and leather lining. They are visually striking, but an informal poll among my fashion-minded Facebook friends reveals precious little else past the initial impression.

“While it is innovative, in terms of design the only thing that makes the bikini special is the material and how it was constructed,” confirmed Amanda Finesse, fashion model/designer and winner of the 2009 American Mall Model Search. “With the runway, it’s more about how it looks, and I don’t see them translating well for photo shoots either.”

Erica Regelin, owner and lead designer at Hull Street Studio, believes the N12 bikini to be a “weird novelty item you wouldn’t really wear to the beach. But then again, it opens a lot of doors to the possibilities of what you could make with a 3D printer.” Regelin was much more optimistic about the Strvct shoes: “Every woman on this planet would love to print her own shoes in her own house! Plus they could be designed to your exact foot shape and be far more comfortable than a lot of shoes out there.”

Pictured: a dress, sadly.

Pictured: a dress, sadly.

The D.dress app, on the other hand, is very high-concept but falls short on the execution. The project is centered around the app software, in which the user draws a dress that the program will then make through a process of 3D modeling, laser cutting, and triangulation. The result is… well, it’s not pretty. As cool as the idea of being able to sketch out your own Little Black Dress is, the end results look angular, frumpy, and uninteresting; one of my friends compared them unfavorably to crumpled sleeping bags or bad quilting. I understand the draw behind the creation of a system such as this, but I ultimately fear that the technology just isn’t yet at a point where dress sketches can be automatically translated into real garments without some severe hits to quality.

So, more than half a year after my admission of ambivalence over the state of crowdsourced fashion, nothing has really changed. In the space of a single studio’s website, we have examples of the wonderful and imaginative designs that I dreamed could come out of crowd creation, and we also have the “tries to hit too many targets” approach that ends up missing the majority of them. At any rate, we’ll never get anywhere by not pushing boundaries, and sometimes you need to crowdsource just to see what you’ll come up with. I applaud the efforts of Continuum Fashion, and I can’t wait to see how they further the future of garment fabrication.

CrowdsUnite Is Your One-Stop Shop for Crowdfunding

16 Jan

CrowdsUnite

Attention entrepreneurs! CrowdsUnite has emerged as a deadly useful new service, making its way onto the scene with the intention of connecting you with the perfect platform for crowdfunding your dream business, product or artistic endeavor.

What is crowdfunding, you may ask? A fair question; it’s a topic I’ve only addressed a couple times on this blog. Crowdfunding is a specific type of crowdsourcing that aims to change the way that large projects receive funding. Instead of the people behind these projects appealing to an official board or a wealthy corporation for their startup money, they turn the challenge to the “crowd”.

Crowdfunding sites typically consist of a large collection of project plans, and allow individuals browsing the site to donate money to projects they wish to see carried out. Kickstarter and Indiegogo are two of the most popular of these brand of sites; Kickstarter users alone pledged over $319 million in 2012.

In addition, users typically receive some sort of compensation in exchange for their donation to up-and-coming projects. Kickstarter and Indiegogo projects offer prizes to donors depending on how much money they chip in; the looser your purse-strings, the greater the reward. Other sites offer a return on your investment once the project takes off, and still others even offer equity, allowing you to share in your project’s success.

CrowdsUnite aims to become the main compendium of crowdfunding sites. “What Amazon did for retail, we want to do for the crowdfunding industry,” says Alex Feldman, the CEO and founder of CrowdsUnite. Since many crowdfunding platforms are specifically geared towards certain types of projects, and since more of them keep popping up every day, a single place where they are all collected, sorted, and categorized is extremely useful. In the future, Feldman says he hopes that CrowdsUnite will be the first stop for any individual who wants to find the perfect platform to start their crowdfunding campaign.

The site’s features, while constantly improving, are already quite robust. All of the most popular and successful platforms have detailed profile pages on CrowdsUnite, where potential campaign managers can view information such as fee structure, the nature of how the platform handles compensation, and if the platform is specific to certain countries. Additionally, CrowdUnite’s visitors can view reviews, comments, and articles  for each platform, submitted by their fellow users. Possibly the most useful feature is the ability to compare two or more platforms side-by-side to see how they stack up against each other.

If you’d like to help CrowdUnite on its way to becoming the go-to Wikipedia for crowdfunding, the best thing to do it hop over to the site and register an account. Fleshing out the information on various platforms by submitting content is a great way to get your favorite platform noticed and discover new ones. Feldman also adds that he is looking for business partners; if you are an industry professional or consultant that wants to explore the crowdfunding space, the relationship that CrowdsUnite holds with these platform administrators would be useful to you.

Valve Cleans Up Steam Greenlight After Eventful Launch

6 Sep

Valve’s Steam Greenlight launched last week, allowing members of their popular gaming platform and community to vote on games they would like to see appear in the Steam Marketplace. Already, Valve is doing the “good guy” move and making positive changes to the system to reduce the number of sub-par submissions and make relevant games easier to find and vote on.

Steam GreenlightChange 1: Pay To Submit

  • Problem: Too many bogus submissions. It’s all too easy for a jokester of a user to submit a game that’s an obvious knockoff, smutty, or fake; the only thing the submissions process requires is a few screenshots, a short video, and descriptor text.
  • Solution: Valve implemented a feature in which to submit a game to Greenlight for the first time, a user must make a $100 donation to the charity Child’s Play as a show of good faith and seriousness. This is a one-time payment; any later games can be submitted freely with no additional charges.
  • Reaction: If the Greenlight forums are to be believed, the reaction is positive. Many users only found out about the update when they logged on and saw that the “trash” submissions were mysteriously and conspicuously absent. The general agreement is that while a $100 charge is a little steep  (and may want to be reduced in the future), it’s not that much for an aspiring developer willing to take a risk. The fact that the money goes to charity, and not into Valve’s pockets, is another point in the company’s favor. Plus, the fee means Steam’s moderators can spend less time monitoring Greenlight. Fine by me; better they pay attention to games that are already released than try to corral the “someday” titles anyway.

Change #2: Collections

  • Problem: Almost immediately, so many games flooded the marketplace that it became very difficult to rate them all. Search features were confusing and hit-or-miss at best, so it became difficult to find new games to rate, or locate ones that had been previously rated.
  • Solution: The implementation of the “collections” feature, in which a user can make a playlist of sorts filled with games of a similar genre, theme, or other common thread. This list then appears on the Greenlight page, making it easy to find the “Indie Horror Bundle”, for instance, and vote on all the games therein.
  • Reaction: Great idea. Curation is always an issue in systems like this, so once again the solution is to let the crowd do it for you. Friends will be able to look at the lists of other friends, which makes it easier to gain more support for games you’ve rated highly. Plus, it’s an extra angle to game discovery; you can either browse the homepage at your leisure, or check out the lists for a more linear experience.

Moving Forward: More Work to Be Done

This is an excellent start for Greenlight, especially considering how young the platform is. But there is still more to be done to make this the ultimate platform for gaming democracy. Small changes will be made to the fee, I’m sure; the ability to give to a charity besides Child’s Play will likely come sooner than later.

Additionally, there is a lot of confusion about the rating system. Users are hesitant to press the “disapprove” button, even though it’s been stated many times by Valve that only positive votes affect whether a game gets released. Users also want the ability to pass up on a game without removing it from their rating queue. For example, if a game looked intriguing but didn’t quite have the polish to earn the user’s vote yet. I feel that Valve would be wise to add a three-point rating system, with options for “I would buy this,” “We’ll see / Maybe later,” and “Not for me, next!”

At any rate, Valve once again pushed the gaming industry forward and shows us what a company can do when their primary focus is on the people who use their service. Hats off to them, and I hope that we see some truly incredible work come out of their platform in the next few months.

 

“Dead Inside: Do Not Enter” Is Community-Written Book Of Notes From The Zombie Apocalypse

4 Sep

 

Dead Inside: Do Not Enter by Lost ZombiesOne of the most prevailing aspects of any zombie-based story is that the event is all-encompassing. You can’t walk a block away and escape the apocalypse; this is your world now. So it’s pretty cool that one of the most gripping, realistic, and touching documentations of such an event was created by the hands of many.

Dead Inside: Do Not Enter: Notes From The Zombie Apocalypse, in addition to being a mouthful of a title, is a book released at about this time last year. It was written collaboratively by the members of Lost Zombies, a community for lovers of zombie culture. The submitted notes were written on matchbooks, postcards, bits of paper, or scrawled across walls, and told the story of the decline of society into a horrific zombie kingdom.

As you can see from the video, the notes are hard-hitting, sympathetic, and extremely realistic. The sheer variety and breadth of stories told is a feat that could not have been easily accomplished by one author. And since the drive to submit material for this book required relatively little work from their community members, they could devote their entire attention to ensuring that the narrative, point of view, and atmosphere for this book were perfect.

I’ve flipped through a few pages, and I gotta admit, it’s a bracing read at times. A small scrap of paper that simply reads “I never loved you and I’m glad you are now one of them” tells more about the survivors than two seasons of horrible plot ever could.

 

OpenStudy’s Mechanical MOOC Collaboration Teaches You Python, Is Predictably Awesome

23 Aug

MOOC

Were you aware that I love OpenStudy? The crowdsourced study space was one of the first examples I found of a platform that really accomplishes something that could only be done through crowdsourcing, and I’ve been proudly singing its praises ever since.

So naturally, when yet another fantastic new update landed in my inbox, I expected greatness and was not disappointed. OpenStudy has teamed up with some very heavy hitters to create Mechanical MOOC, a massive online open course that will teach users how to program using the Python language.

The collaboration will take the strongest aspects of several platforms and combine them for the ultimate learning experience. OpenStudy, with their fantastic discussion and organization tools, will provide the collaboration aspects; MIT’s OpenCourseWare takes care of the subject material; Codecademy provides the tests and exercises; and the whole thing comes together on Peer 2 Peer University’s established online course space.

This melding of giants should set the standard for ambitious crowdsourcing efforts, especially because it’s so rare to see one company, let alone four, that is able to swallow its pride and admit that a competitor has certain better features. The fact that these companies would team up to provide a service that none of them could provide on their own? Well, that’s the sort of thing that just makes someone all warm and fuzzy inside.

Could you imagine if other companies took their cue from this? If we started seeing computers with Microsoft features, Apple user-friendliness, and Google applications? A fast food restaurant that had Big Macs, Checkers fries, and Starbucks coffee? Or heck, just one social network that combines the best parts of LinkedIn, Facebook, Twitter, WordPress, Pinterest, and Last.fm? How cool of a world would that be?

Sign up for the class (which starts on October 15) and see what can happen when companies put aside their differences for the greater good.

I’m Not Sure How To Feel About Crowdsourced Fashion

21 Aug

ModCloth.com

Online clothing retailer ModCloth recently rolled out their Retro Honor Roll Collection, inspired by creations submitted by their community and supported by designs from the ModCloth co-founder. In terms of how I view crowdsourcing, I’m at a bit of an impasse in reacting to this development. Is fashion the sort of thing that can, or should, be crowdsourced?

The Argument in Favor

We’ve seen the success of crowdsourced clothing with our own eyes. I’m sure many of you are already familiar with Threadless, the community-inspired t-shirt outlet that some might say led the initial charge in crowdsourced fashion designs. In Threadless, we find a company that has leveraged an excellent community and a winning business model to make oodles (non-scientific term) of cash and some really exceptionally popular shirts. Additionally, their service often gives a leg-up to amateur designers, who may find stardom after their design gets approved.

ModCloth’s campaign also turned out very successful, with as much as 40% of the articles in stock selling out in the first day alone. Looking at the designs, one can’t help but offer a nod of approval; they don’t look like they were made by a committee of amateurs, but instead like any other professionally designed piece of apparel. In these examples, we see that crowdsourced clothing doesn’t have to be a disaster.

On the Other Hand…

Is this what you want?!

When I laid out what makes some crowdsourcing efforts successful, I made it a point to state that some industries are doomed from the start if they try to crowdsource because their areas of interest are too broad. Fashion dangerously straddles this line; not everyone is a fashionista, but the majority of people wear clothes and have some sort of opinion on them. In terms of crowdsourcing, this is a dangerous mix, since the design experts are the minority and the clothes-wearers are (for the most part) ignorant of what makes up “good fashion”. Make your contest too public, and you get swarms of people who think it would be a really great idea to have a plaid-and-polka-dot suit. Make it too private, and it may as well not exist.

Granted, this conundrum is not limited to the world of fashion, but it’s a little more tangible since (as I mentioned) the wearing of clothes is one thing that binds many of us together. Not only is it ubiquitous, but important; a large-scale shift in fashion can very well define an era. When something like this deeply affects everyone involved, crowdsourcing it could make people nervous. Think about it this way; would you want people crowdsourcing the quality of the air you breathe? The question of “what if they’re wrong?” looms large, and even a small chance of failure is enough to send many people in the opposite direction.

The Battle For Chic

Regardless of my feelings on the subject, crowdsourced fashion is here to stay. As with practically any other effort that asks for help from a crowd, said crowd is the main determinant of the campaign’s success. If you’re the type of person who’s fashion-minded, the best possible thing for you to do would be to sign up for as many of these sites as possible and lend them your good taste.

But if you’re like me, and your idea of fashion is “as long as my belt sorta matches my shoes, I’m home free”… well, maybe leave the fashion to the experts.

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