Wikinomics: How Mass Collaboration Changes Everything

Wikinomics by Don Tapscott and Anthony D. Williams is a book about large communities collaborating on projects which evolve and adapt with time. The strange part is that Wikinomics is a book written by two people, not a community, and it is already woefully out of date. The authors make some confusing references to 2010, due to a recent, half-hearted attempt at a revision. But the majority of the book was written in 2006 and it shows. Badly.

They talk a lot about MySpace and make no reference to the financial crisis or smart phones. And, at one point, the authors discuss the possibility that one day Apple might make a portable, pocket computer. What, like the iPhone?

I can’t blame the authors for not knowing the future (although I can blame them for the sloppy revision). But, I couldn’t help thinking, if this book were a wiki, someone would have updated it long ago. I think the problem for me is that writing a book about wikis and mass-collaboration just seems contradictory, like having a conversation about Twitter through telegraph.

I decided to put the irony behind me and just enjoy the book on its own merits. But I found myself distracted again. This book uses more jargon than a bad comp lit seminar. I couldn’t help cringing at made-up words like prosumers, b-webs and ideagoras. I just wish the authors would forget trying to coin hip-sounding lingo and stick to the point.

They could use a lesson in brevity, too. Like several other business books I have read, the authors have a couple really good points, but they hammer them over our heads until we’re numb. In a book that is in large part about efficiency, they sure waste a lot of space, presumably just so the book is thick enough to look good on a shelf.

Nonetheless, I found the main thesis compelling.  The authors make a forceful case that mass-collaboration can produce results faster and more efficiently than traditional methods. The authors encourage companies to take an open approach to innovation and, basically, put the public to work for them.

In other words, this book describes the crowdsourcing phenomenon before the term was even coined–although I bet the authors wish they had coined it!

Perhaps most worthwhile are the well-explained examples of how businesses have used mass collaboration and open sourcing to their benefit. I particularly like how they took examples from the tech world and elsewhere. I enjoyed reading about the enormous success of a gold mining company that made all of its geological data public and held a contest imploring others to help them find new gold. On the tech side, I found the discussion of web APIs informative and it still seemed timely in 2011.

While they make a convincing case for companies to open source, the authors would have done well to consider the possible problems this can cause. An open approach may have helped Google, Procter & Gamble and IBM, but even these companies must defend their intellectual property. The authors do not clearly articulate when to share and when to protect innovations.

Also, I also would have liked to have read more discussion on how mass-collaboration can be used outside the business world, for example, on art projects.

All in all, I would recommend this book, but mostly for the interesting examples. They convincingly illustrate how mass-collaboration can be used effectively and how it can be a profitable business decision. Many CEOs would do well to take this advice, but they should take it with a grain of salt. And maybe an aspirin–they’re going to need it after being pounded over the head with the same information over and over again.


Hey, hey, you, get ONTO my cloud

I may be in a program about social media, but in many ways, I’m an old-fashioned guy. I wear a wind-up watch from the 1940s. My favorite movie stars and musicians are dead. I ride a horse to do daily chores. I send telegraphs instead of emails. And screw modern medicine.

Okay, maybe I’m exaggerating a little bit, but I have long been a purist when it comes to music. I mean, I have a vintage tube amplifier in my living room and I listen to vinyl.

So I surprised even myself when I decided to try Mog, a music-streaming service which allows me to listen to a vast library of music wherever and whenever I want: through my computer, iPhone or internet connected TV. I will never stop buying physical records, but I am now convinced by all the hype about music moving to the cloud.

The times they are a-becoming different.

Let me start by explaining that I’ve never understood the appeal of iTunes. I mean, if I am going to shell out twelve bucks or more for an album, I want to physically own that album: to be able to look through the book, hold the disc, file the album neatly on my shelf or even use it as a frisbee if I so please. Sorry, paying to own a collection of digital files just holds no appeal to me.

But music subscription services make sense: you rent, not buy. With the best of these services, you can listen to almost any song imaginable wherever and whenever you want, all for one monthly fee, like Netflix.

You can be on a bus and hear someone rave about the newest Beach House album, and next thing you know you’re listening to it. And if you think it’s pretentious, hipster crap (FYI: it’s not), you’re in luck because you haven’t bought it.

Here are some of the best options:

If you read tech blogs, you’ve heard about Spotify. This is the service that got me interested in the whole idea of streaming music. It features highest quality streaming and a vast catalog.

Unfortunately, it’s only available in the UK and parts of western Europe. I thought they’d let me sign up since my name is Gareth McGahey Wilson. But, alas, they check your IP address, not just how Anglo your name sounds.

What makes the service unique is that users can stream songs in the catalog on demand for free, with periodic advertisements interspersed in your play list.

However, in what must be a major disappointment to our European brethren, starting May 1 of this year, there are some pretty hefty restrictions on how much content a non-paying user can stream without  ponying up some pounds or euros.

Even before these changes, users had to pay a subscription fee to listen on mobile devices. But I still wish we had this available stateside.

Grooveshark is the closest service to Spotify available in the US. Users can listen to a very impressive selection of music for free through a web browser.

The catch is that the legality of the site is in dispute. EMI sued them in 2009. The label ended up settling and granted Grooveshark the rights to stream their catalog legally. But Grooveshark has no such deal with other labels.

Grooveshark has been sued by Universal and even by Pink Floyd. And if they’re pissing off the Floyd, they’re probably doing something wrong. (UPDATE: Ok, ok, actually PF sued EMI and EMI subsequently deleted all PF songs from Grooveshark. Still, no Atom Heart Mother?).

A $10 subscription fee allows users to listen on mobile devices. But there is no iPhone app and even Google recently removed the app from it’s Android store recently. So, unless you’re rocking Symbian, this is not really a viable option.

As I have already gushed, I love this service and am seriously considering forking over 9.99 a month to continue using it. The catalog is vast. New music is uploaded as it comes out. The iPhone app has a beautiful interface and the steaming is high quality.

Also, you can download music for offline listening through the app. The only downside is that all these files are lost if you cancel your subscription.


There are many other options out there, too. Rhapsody pioneered the music subscription service, but their library is light on indie bands and their app seems a lot clunkier than Mog. Sony just released a service called Qriocity, but there are no mobile apps available. There is also Rdio which seem pretty good. But as far as I’m concerned, for us Yankees, Mog is the clear winner.

All in all, I am not ready to throw away my record collection. But I am definitely ready to ditch iTunes. At least until they get their act together and take a stairway to heaven…uh, the cloud, that is.

Speaker Preview: Heath Row

Heath Row, our speaker this week, is currently  a research manager at Google and the namesake of the UK’s  largest airport. (Okay, okay, the latter part isn’t true.)

Row began his career as a journalist, writing about business and technology. He worked as an editor for the first newsstand magazine about the Internet, Online Access. Later, while working for the magazine Fast Company, he helped create Company of Friends, which was one of the first social networking sites and a predecessor to sites like Linkedin.

He also worked on the launch of a website called Squidoo that lets users generate pages on a variety of topics.

He is now a research manager for Google’s North American sales organization. At Google, he manages a multi-million dollar budget, trains the sales team, coordinates with Google’s partners and is in charge of syndicated data services (i.e. the content that Google sells for use by other companies).

He also keeps an industry intelligence blog and sends out a weekly newsletter about the latest trends in digital marketing. Last year, he taught a course about blogging at NYU.

Stay tuned next week when our speaker will be Mr. Gat Wick. (Sorry, I couldn’t resist.)

February 7, 2011 News Roundup

Sports fans were talking about the battle between The Steelers and the Packers, but several equally charged battles raged in the tech world this week.

First up: Google vs. Microsoft. A team at Google who monitors search results noticed some striking similarities between its own results and those in Bing. Google suspected theft and, being good detectives,  decided to conduct a sting operation. The team manually highly ranked a page so it would show up when users entered an unusual search string. Lo and behold, the same results showed up in Bing a week later.

Microsoft denied Google’s accusation, but allowed that a small part of their algorithm involves data from anonymous users about what sites they click on when conducting searches. Is it theft? Leave that to a linguist.

Google is also sparring with Apple, on two different fronts.  Google showcased its new Android based tablet, The Honeycomb, the most promising rival to the iPad, and rumors are buzzing that their competitor to iTunes, Spotify, could be launching in the US soon. The cloud-based software, already available in Europe, may be delayed stateside though, as Google has not been able to secure agreements with many of the top record labels.

Meanwhile, AT&T battled Verizon, who is releasing their version of the iPhone on February 10th, preorders having already begun this week. Verizon unveiled it’s new iPhone commercial with some not so subtle jabs at AT&T, putting extra emphasis on their catchphrase: “Yes, I can hear you now.”

Meanwhile, AT&T fought back with ads reminding users that only on AT&T can iPhone users surf the web and have a telephone conversation simultaneously. Apparently, googling mindless trivia while not listening to your mother is a good thing.