... with a Purpose

Apr 16

Sorry to be missing out on all the fun… :( 
I need to get back to writing, I promise to do so soon too. I just need to finish with my math studies, it takes me long to get working, and I can’t afford spliting my focus. 
Thank you for understanding :).

Sorry to be missing out on all the fun… :( 

I need to get back to writing, I promise to do so soon too. I just need to finish with my math studies, it takes me long to get working, and I can’t afford spliting my focus. 

Thank you for understanding :).

Mar 14

HOLY CRAP

Haven’t gotten a chance to post a descent post in a while. I did feel compeled to say that the reasom I’m up at this hour is because I had to watch the “Double Fine Adventure” Kickstarter campaign get to the finish line, tripling itself since I posted about Kickstarter on this blog.

As I mentioned in the title: HOLY CRAP!

http://www.ustream.tv/channel/double-fine-adventure

http://www.kickstarter.com/projects/66710809/double-fine-adventure

Feb 27

Sensory Technology

Despite having only taken one introductory course on the subject, psychology has always facinated me.  Once I began to see applications of psychology, to the extent that I understood it, in my dayjob (which is heavily technologically oriented) I figured I liked how the two got along - starting from the little “psychological” support I need to provide to each enraged costumer after they’ve experienced a system failure, to the more complex processes of developing efficient workflows and trying to generate support from peers for a project.

Crowdsourcing is currently of great interest to me because of it’s implications on human psychology and some of the applications I can envision to psychological research. But it is far from the only connection I see between technology and psychology. Recently, another field that seems to be developing fast has been catching my attention - sensors, of all shapes and sizes, connected to all kinds of devices

While I woudn’t have recognized myself the connection between sensors and psychology just a year ago, it is definitly a topic researched under it’s veil, and can shed light on possible applications and developments in the field. Psychological research in the field of senses involves, amoung other things, measuring their capabilities and limits in various terms, from the ranges of senses we can recognize, the speed the signal is acknowledged in our brains, the amount of simultanious stimuly, etc’. This is very similar to how crowdsourcing applications involve finding processes that humans can do easily as opposed to computers.

If I had to name this field of work as a whole, I would call it "the search for new technological applications by studying our own capabilities and limits". I’ve discussed many crowdsourcing projects that fit this bill, but here are some applications of sensors I found simply fascinating:

All these applications are ingenious - they try and push the limit to what both machines and humans can do.

Do you also seen these advances? Any of these projects spike some interest? Let me know! :)

Feb 26

A study analyzes emotions in software engineering -

Since I don’t have time for a full post (I will write up a post on sensors sometime over the next few days), I’ll just share a quick article this time.

It discusses the importance of taking emotions into account when applying requirements engineering techniques, or in other words - trying to set up products that will both please the users (basically - not annoy them) and be clear enough for their engineers to develop without hating the process. No doubt - emoctional investment greatly affects product development: it’s what I try to do every day, and I love that this process in product development is recognized and formally studied (not to mention how much I liked the term “requirements engineering” :) ). 

Hope you’ll enjoy the article - I’ll post something more complete over the upcoming days.

Feb 19

Kickstarter: a Case Study

Once again, I’m taking too long between posts because of my work. Add to that internet shortages (ironically enough – a topic I’m currently reading about in a book about networks), computer reboots and document recovery failures, and you get a week’s delay. Let’s hope this one will be interesting enough to be worth the wait :).

I opened this blog right after I made the conscious decision to invest time in learning about startups to inspire my own future goal – which is, in its full abstraction, to create projects that will allow people’s offhand actions in their daily lives to serve a secondary purpose. Practically, this means:

  1. Create a project that will be used by many people (the crowd).
  2. Create, through the crowd’s work as a mass of humans, a secondary product that cannot be matched by machines of programs.

Specifically, my focus was to think of products that will be free, or even reward their crowd, being funded instead by people (the funders) who will pay for the secondary product produced by the crowd’s work, via the primary product. In short – join the crowdsourcing craze I keep posting about! Once I understood how many crowdsourcing projects already existed, I figured that in order to support my goal, I should look into projects of this kind that appeal to me and study them - not in order to mimic them, but rather to learn how to build a product that will be useful enough to gather a crowd and financers, while staying free and profitable.

Before opening this blog, I wrote down my analysis in Word documents. Now that I have this blog, whose purpose for me is to support my reading by giving me a place to express the things I’ve learnt, I can think of no better place to share my analysis directly, rather than focus solely on general discussions. It’s my great pleasure to start this trend by analyzing Kickstarter - a social funding site for well-defined projects.

First, a little background:

Kickstarter is a website that allows users to post projects and offer rewards as incentives to raise funds. In effect, it’s a platform that allow people to fund their projects using a crowd of backers rather than traditional funding methods. I’ve seen the name come up several times in blogs and sites I read, but it wasn’t until Rich Burlew, the writer of a webcomic I’ve been following for several years named ”Order of the Stick”,  began raising funds for reprinting his books that I’ve actually used it. Since then, I’ve been hooked - helping fund several projects I liked as well as keeping up with updates on these projects.

In fact - that’s what makes this site special - since the funding is social, it is expected of the projects’ creators to be social- share updates, react to the crowd’s questions, requests, and build up support. The "Order of the Stick" pledge drive is a great example for that – over the course of the last month, Rich expanded the prizes he offered to keep the pledge going, shared interesting updates, answered questions, addressed requests and even made creative charts describing the pledge’s progress and following their own weird plot as the pledge goes on.

As I began wandering through kickstarter.com itself, I found myself drawn to more projects, pledging, commenting and following them as well, despite having never heard of their creators prior. While admittedly I could be a fool for doing so, I won’t be the only one – these projects are funded by thousands of individuals interested in the products, the creators, and/or the rewards, and while not all projects get funded (the site’s statistics say that under 50% do), the projects that end up successful raise anywhere between a few hundred to over one million (!) dollars. Finally, if for some reason the project you opted to fund is one of the 50+%, you lose nothing – it’s all or nothing, so if the goal wasn’t reached in the project’s time limit, no one has to pay anything.

So what makes Kickstarter work? To frame this large question, I looked at the following smaller questions, in hopes that they can help my current analysis as well as support my analysis of other projects as well.

1. What is the primary (for the crowd) service provided?

By my own definition, the primary service is the service provided for free. In Kickstarter’s the free service is the site’s crowdfunding platform. Assume your project fits the site’s criteria, you can use the site to create a project page, with your own content, that will support your attempt to generate funding for your project by garnering interest and providing rewards for your funders. The site itself will host your crowdfunding project and publish projects it’s editors like and support. In fact, some of the Kickstarter’s employees are backers themselves – supporting projects they like financially.

2. Who are the project’s crowd?

Anyone with an idea for a concrete project that needs backing can use this site, as long as they meet certain criteria themselves, meant to assure the identity of the person getting the money from the crowdfunding project. This does limit the people who are able to post projects, but being a free platform, and one open to US citizens (quite a big crowd, after all), it creates enough content to generate interest.

3. What is the secondary (for the funders) service provided?

The beauty of this site is that there is no single secondary service. Every project is its own service – due to its creative nature or the rewards it offers. Some people will back a project to support a comic book artist or an independent company they like, others to buy a cool product, while others yet, to try out new board or card games. Each person and project create different service combinations, which is what gets people (or at least, got me) hooked to the site.

4. Who are the project’s funders?

Unlike most crowdsourcing projects, the funders are smaller than the crowd of users using the site for free. Anyone pledging money for a successful project also funds Kickstarter itself, which earns 5% of each successful project’s earnings.

5. How does the project gather it’s crowd?

Beyond what I’ve discussed above when describing the project itself, I see a few more points that help lure projects in:

  1. Mistakes are allowed – thanks to the all or nothing approach, if a project is not fully funded, no money transfers hands.
  2. Publicity – the site has gathered some major publicity on the web and regular media, inspiring more projects to post on the site.
  3. Project blog – the site itself has a blog, highlighting success stories, encouraging more people to join.
  4. Ease of use – the site’s interface is clear, and extensive support is provided before joining, making it an easy task.

6. How does the project gather its funders?

Beyond what’s already been discussed:

  1. Tangible rewards – people know what they’re getting for their money up front. If a project isn’t fully funded – no money changes hands.
  2. Content is value – each project generates a project page and updates, even after funding has ended, making it more engaging for people to join and contribute to.
  3. Social response – projects evolve and react to their funders, allowing them to affect the project itself, get more rewards, and involving them more to the extent of increasing their initial contribution (and I’m speaking from experience here).

7. What are the main challenges for this project and how does it address them?

User identity:

User identity is an issue for both the project administrators and backers. The project administrators need to make sure that they get the money they need for their projects and rewards from real people, while the backers of the projects want to make sure they’re backing a real person and a real project, so that they get what they’ve payed for. Identity is the only way to ensure accountability for the money involved in these projects, and considering the scam stories that occur on the internet when accountability is limited, this is a very big issue issue.

Kickstarter addresses this in several ways:

Only time will tell if these methods are affective, but I can imagine more measures will be taken over time to ensure this remains a non-issue – as one flop can end the whole endeavor.

Limiting the crowd:

Since I don’t know how much profit the site currently makes, but assuming the goal of the site is to grow, it will need to examine how to expand into more market. Currently, it is limited in terms of technology (does not support Paypal and other financial services), geography (for projects) and in terms of its projects’ scope (which are limited both in terms of tangibility and topics). Obviously any expansion can be risky, but might become necessary with the site’s growth, or if members want to increase to profits, not to mention if competition arises.

_________________________________

I find this site both enjoyable to browse and exciting to follow, being a platform for amazing projects that might have never existed or been available to me without it. I can only hope to produce a project that is equally successful and enjoyable myself in the future!

Please share your thoughts on my analysis. Also, make sure you check out the projects I mentioned in the post – all of which I’m backing personally, off course.

Feb 12

Privacy in the Internet - How can something we share on the web be private?

One of the hot button issues on the web these days is internet privacy, mostly with regards user generated content. I can’t even begin listing the various attacks on facebook, google, pretty much any internet company or service on the subject (here’s just an example comparing the privacy problem to that of SOPA and internet censor). Most are legitimate attacks, but they’re really missing the point. If you’re more of the visual kind, check google images results for internet privacy - and just see how many people are scared.

To begin this discussion, let’s look at the definition of “privacy” (taken from Miriam Webster, so you won’t need to worry about precision):

1
a : the quality or state of being apart from company or observation : seclusionb : freedom from unauthorized intrusion <one’s right toprivacy>

Did you notice the problem with the definition with regards to internet privacy? It does not address user generated content - or any content that has been willingly shared!

Obviously not all user generated content is shared with everyone, but you can’t compare it to content that’s completely private. Consider this - if you put something private in public space, it is up to you to protect it. You lock your bicycles when you put them on the street, you put your bags in a locker, you burry your treasure. I’m not saying you’re the only one responsible - if my bike get’s stollen I damn sure want the police to go after the thief. But I won’t leave my bike unlocked or unattended.

Be that as it may, why should I care about all this talk about privacy. Is too much privacy bad? 

There is such a thing as unreasonable security measures - anyone who’s used a system with an annoying password policy, too many verification steps and nagging confirmations can tell you. Privacy can also go too far. Consider annonimity - no doubt it allows for the best privacy possible.  It does however limit accountability - a problem that exists in the real world as well.

And how about the perks - consider how much twitter’s success owes to it’s publicity. It’s been used to follow real live events and trends and made a significant real world impact in several countries, as did facebook. Everyone likes to quote The Onion’s facebook story, showing the potential for spying on these networks. But unless you’re in a regime that would bother doing so, why should you worry? Frankly, we’ve already seen a few regimes that should have been able to deal fall. With all their power to follow, where people stand up against them.

Once again, I’m not trying to minimize the problem. All I’m saying, is let’s keep things in perspective - asking for accountability for what’s being shared about us is OK. I for one think we need to be more aware of how the “free” services we use get financed - it’s true for real life as much as for the internet. But even then, if you’re in control of what you share, you probably shouldn’t care too much.

In short - if we really want privacy, social servies are not the place to look for it.

What’s your take on the matter? Am I too far off?

Feb 07

Sorry for not posting for a few days, I&#8217;m attending a conference that is taking up most of my time and energy. I do however have some basic ideas for blog posts, though they aren&#8217;t refined enough yet.
One of the topics is kind of related to the picture here - how to work in the very spread out world of social media - by going over my current networks and demonstrating the status quo I&#8217;ve reached, as well as listing some interesting services that &#8220;link&#8221; social networks I&#8217;ve found since begining my &#8220;professional&#8221; interest in their uses.
Another issue I want to discuss (but haven&#8217;t defined enough to write up yet), is my opinion on privacy on the internet, which is quite different than the current trend of critisism on companies - in short, while I do acknowledge that companies are garnering &#8220;great power&#8221; which will require &#8220;great responsibility&#8221;, I think we need to be more aware of what kind of information we upload to the web to begin with - you can&#8217;t put full blame on a company that displays public profiles for using your public information, if you&#8217;re the one puting the information there to begin with,
I hope to write up at least one serious blog post by Friday. I&#8217;d love to know if there&#8217;s any topic that is more of an interest. I&#8217;d love to start discussions over these blog posts, as my opinion is always prone to change based on things I learn over time.

Sorry for not posting for a few days, I’m attending a conference that is taking up most of my time and energy. I do however have some basic ideas for blog posts, though they aren’t refined enough yet.

One of the topics is kind of related to the picture here - how to work in the very spread out world of social media - by going over my current networks and demonstrating the status quo I’ve reached, as well as listing some interesting services that “link” social networks I’ve found since begining my “professional” interest in their uses.

Another issue I want to discuss (but haven’t defined enough to write up yet), is my opinion on privacy on the internet, which is quite different than the current trend of critisism on companies - in short, while I do acknowledge that companies are garnering “great power” which will require “great responsibility”, I think we need to be more aware of what kind of information we upload to the web to begin with - you can’t put full blame on a company that displays public profiles for using your public information, if you’re the one puting the information there to begin with,

I hope to write up at least one serious blog post by Friday. I’d love to know if there’s any topic that is more of an interest. I’d love to start discussions over these blog posts, as my opinion is always prone to change based on things I learn over time.

Jan 31

This picture is of a man who just sexually harrassed the woman taking the picture. Rather than just take it, run away, cry to herself or even a friend, she began shouting at the guy in the middle of the street, took out her smartphone, took his picture, uploaded it to facebook and began sharing it. I have no clue who she is, but I&#8217;m sharing it now. The message is spreading!
On the tech-geek side, I just love that people can just do that now - see something they don&#8217;t like in their society and manage to have an impact, even if only through sharing. Who would&#8217;ve heard her story before facebook? This trend is very noticeable in Israel - people posting about misconduct of police officers, personal stories such as these etc&#8217;. As long as people don&#8217;t share automatically and engage with what they see and read, I believe this trend can only be beneficial.
On the personal side - I want to say GOOD FOR HER. I think that for sexual harrassment of any kind not to exist people need to react and bring their harrasers to judgment personally, and not hide behind laws. As inconvenient, hard or even traumatic as it may be, letting it pass will leave a mark for life.

This picture is of a man who just sexually harrassed the woman taking the picture. Rather than just take it, run away, cry to herself or even a friend, she began shouting at the guy in the middle of the street, took out her smartphone, took his picture, uploaded it to facebook and began sharing it. I have no clue who she is, but I’m sharing it now. The message is spreading!

On the tech-geek side, I just love that people can just do that now - see something they don’t like in their society and manage to have an impact, even if only through sharing. Who would’ve heard her story before facebook? This trend is very noticeable in Israel - people posting about misconduct of police officers, personal stories such as these etc’. As long as people don’t share automatically and engage with what they see and read, I believe this trend can only be beneficial.

On the personal side - I want to say GOOD FOR HER. I think that for sexual harrassment of any kind not to exist people need to react and bring their harrasers to judgment personally, and not hide behind laws. As inconvenient, hard or even traumatic as it may be, letting it pass will leave a mark for life.

Jan 29

Crowdsourced Kindness -

It’s such a godamn cute idea, I couldn’t resist posting it. It’s as nice as it is kind of silly :). 

Have a great week or rest of the weekend (depending on where you live)!

An Often Overlooked Difference Between Crowdsourced and Expert Services -

The article I link to discusses Waze, a mobile mapping platform from Israel (respect!) that is growing into the international market these days. What makes waze special is that it bases it’s mapping data on it’s users rather than experts, making the mapping data more dynamic and up to date.

Rather than add to the praise in the article, which you can read for yourself, I want to discuss an interesting fact - waze’s self-mapping is not the feature that was used to market in Israel at first. If you read the article attentivly, you’ll see it hints to that fact as well - “Waze was born in 2006, when founder Ehud Shabtai coded an add-on for a commercial GPS system that let users map the location of speed cameras.” Rather than a self-mapping GPS service - waze was first and foremost a social GPS - allowing for users to report on traffic data and even socialize!

To me, that shows one of the most impressive facts about croudsourced services, in my book at least - the fact that these services evolve and branch out a lot more than their expert equivalents. Wikipedia is an encyclopedia, off course, but can be used, using its interlinking system, as a tool for discovering new music and movies - I used it in that fassion more than once. Facebook is a social website, with content created by users. It’s purpose originally was networking and keeping in touch with friends, but it has now become a platform for broadcasting messages, promoting social awareness, spreading revolution, and even music sharing (my father’s main use for facebook!).

To me that’s the main beauty in social / crowd technologies - the fact that they become a whole new platform for activity, which is often too hard to predict, evolving from little niche’s to full fledged features.