Yancey Strickler, co-founder of Kickstarter, dropped us a line about the systems in place to “hide” failed projects. He told us that Kickstarter does indeed hide many projects from search robots, but it’s for a good cause.
“The original poster was correct in noting that we don’t have a browse area for projects whose funding was unsuccessful,” he wrote. “This isn’t to ‘hide failure,’ as the original post said, it’s because it would be a poor user experience (there’s no action that anyone could take) and it would expose the creators of unsuccessfully funded projects to unnecessary criticism from the web (those projects would be prime for trolling).”
“Most unsuccessfully funded projects come up short because of a lack of interest in the project or because their creators didn’t promote it enough, not because of the Kickstarter page itself. Success on Kickstarter comes down to making a video, pricing things reasonably, and telling people about the project.”
In fact, project creators asked that Kickstarter projects be de-indexed for a reason: they ranked high in search results and, if Google crawled them, the resulting failures would percolate towards the top. “Because Kickstarter projects index very highly in search, creators were seeing their unsuccessfully funded projects ranking extremely high — in some cases as the #1 result — for their name. That obviously sucked, so we made the decision to de-index them.”
The company has added a FAQ to address the problem here.
As we said before, this isn’t a marketplace, it’s a dog show. You don’t want the ugly mutts hanging around when there are plenty of great specimens to peruse. This is crowdsourcing perfected, in a way, and if there’s one thing we know about crowds it’s that they’re easily swayed, fickle, and rarely kind.
Crowdsourcing and crowdfunding have been two of the biggest trends to effect how businesses — especially small businesses and sole traders — raise money, with sites like Kickstarter.com and in the UK Funding Circle attracting a attention for being a great way of getting backing for projects or business ideas bypassing the traditional and expensive world of bank loans in the process.
Now a site is launching that gives this model an additional twist: AskYourUsers.com is a simple service that helps you find people for microconsulting projects lasting no more than 15 minutes — and it uses your LinkedIn network to help you find them.
From the demo that I have seen, the service is basically that simple, but it works very smoothly, and definitely solves a need — one that Amelia Dunne and her co-founder, Chris Bumgardner, essentially stumbled on unintentionally:
The two had been working together on startup ideas for the last four years and finally both left their day jobs to concentrate on startups full-time:
“But after a month of development, we were still trying to validate the idea in order to feel comfortable spending our time and money building the prototype,” she says. “The validation process was time consuming, expensive and we weren’t finding the right people to talk with or getting objective feedback. AskYourUsers.com is the tool we wished we could use – but it didn’t exist. We determined that the value in it made AskYourUsers.com worth developing even if only for our own use. Quickly, it made clear business sense as well. We were surprised to learn how inefficiently other startups were conducting their market research, holding focus groups and learning about their customers’ needs/interests.”
This included businesses engaging in the lengthy and costly process of conducting in-person focus groups; businesses using Craigslist posts to recruit people that could provide feedback; using Surveymonkey to filter down the respondents, and choose which ones to interview. Then the time spent analyzing the results was another issue. “We knew the process could be easier than what we (and other start-ups) were experiencing,” she says.
The solution is a simple web interface that lets you set questions, decide on tasks (user testing, feedback on a feature and so on), how many people you would like to target and even some demographical information. Then you pay $22 per “consultant”. On the consulting end, would-be helpers set an hourly rate of between $20-40, with each job paying out a minimum of $7.50. The site advises that if you charge $40 or more you may not get as many jobs.
Then AskYourUsers does the rest.
Dunne says that she believes this might be the first to use LinkedIn to help find people. It’s an interesting way of using the enterprise-focused social network not just for networking, but for actually making a bit of money. LinkedIn, however, is just the beginning, she says. The plan is to integrate Facebook Connect soon, in addition to other new services that it plans to roll out in the coming quarter.
As for funding, the company is taking the less networked route for now: totally self-funded. “We have not yet explored additional funding or spoken to any potential backers, but we intend to begin looking for angel funding soon after this beta launch,” Dunne says.
The plan is to kick off now with a closed beta for the next two months. Dunne says the company already has some startups waiting to be its first customers at launch.
And for those readers who would like to try this out early with their own microconsulting request, we have a code. The first 1,000 users to go to the site and enter 66214506-5229-48d6-be5f-6eff5a164b68 can do so for free. I’m sure they’d love your feedback.
Oh and P.S. That startup they were working on? A mobile app for real time promotions where the merchants offer things for free (overstock, giveaways, inexpensive products). One to look out for in the future I guess.
Who needs governments? The ongoing trend toward mobile, social and crowdsourcing apps have led to a wealth of new community-based resources that support or supplant traditional civic and government services. Think Kickstarter instead of the NEA or Canada Council. Or consider the new Circle of 6 app, which is intended to help prevent violence before it happens, by letting users reach out to friends when dicey situations arise, instead of calling 911 after they get out of hand.
Circle of 6 is the brainchild of health educator Deb Levine and anti-violence activist Nancy Schwartzman, who have found that it’s often easier for people to reach out for help via a screen, and that it’s important for groups of friends to offer concrete strategies for supporting each other. It’s already won the White House’s Apps Against Abuse challenge, and racked up tens of thousands of iPhone downloads. “We are working to get the app in the hands of Android users as soon as possible,” says lead developer Christine Corbett Moran (an astrophysicist with a double-major Physics/CS degree from MIT, who develops apps in her copious spare time.)
Apps like Circle of 6 are the thin edge of a really interesting wedge. In the rich world, apps that obviate or replace the need to call in the authorities are merely useful; but in the developing world, where competent authorities are much poorer and more thinly stretched, such services are far more disruptive. Community-sourcing apps won’t replace government services that already exist, at least not anytime soon. But where those don’t exist at all, these new services can be downright revolutionary.
Some concrete examples: I Paid A Bribe (which I’ve written about before) helps Indian communities fight the scourge of corruption. Ushahidi maps crises where governments are too poor or paralyzed to do so themselves. A few years ago I helped build the EpiCollect app for Imperial College London, which anyone can use to collect, store, and map their own data; veterinarians used it to track the spread of diseases in East Africa. Ulwazi collects “community memories” — ie cultural knowledge — in South Africa. Esoko helps African agribusiness entrepeneurs share and gather data that is tracked by government statisticians in the First World, but not necessarily by theirs.
As smartphones continue their relentless conquest of the planet — in particular, as the price of a decent Android phone drops below $100, and more than 50% of the poor world has access to one, a mark that I expect will be passed in the next few years — these kinds of community-sourcing apps will grow ever more important. In the same way that the developing world bypassed wired phones and jumped straight into mobile, they may bypass certain forms of top-down hierarchical government services in favor of crowdsourced resources and resilient communities. (More on that last concept in my forthcoming interview with John Robb.) That’s going to have some very interesting ramifications … and I predict that some startups that target this shift ahead of the curve will ultimately make a killing.
Image: Circle of 6 app
Crowdsourced news platform NewsiT.net just announced that it has raised $500,000 in seed funding. And, timed to match the beginning of South by Southwest, it’s also launching its iPhone app.
The company was founded by longtime journalist Melinda Wittstock, who has worked for the Times of London, BBC Television, the Guardian, the Observer, ABC News, National Public Radio, and MSNBC/CNBC. Wittstock says she wanted to reinvent the newsgathering and publishing model after attending “too many conferences with a lot of moaning and not a lot of solutions.”
This is hardly the first experiment with crowdsourced journalism. (Here’s a story that combines two examples — last fall, Spot.us, which uses crowdfunding to support investigative journalism, was acquired by American Public Media’s Public Insight Network, which helps newsrooms collect crowdsourced data.) But Wittstock says NewsiT was built around an important insight: “Every other user-generated content type play that we’ve seen over time expects regular folks to be journalists — and we don’t.”
So the startup doesn’t expect any of its members to create a complete news report on their own. Instead, it breaks a story up into manageable tasks, then assigns multiple members to each task. Members are rewarded with points and badges for both contributing and reading.
For example, the site is currently working on a story about the effect of digital media on politics. To participate, members can answer some basic questions, like whether they trust mainstream media or friends and social networks more as a source of political information. Or they can get more involved, by actually interviewing a panelist at SXSW about their opinions.
Eventually, someone from the NewsiT editorial team will take on those contributions and combine them into a polished article. Wittstock says NewsiT is also developing algorithms to help it find the patterns in user submissions, identifying answers that might be inaccurate — or perhaps a big scoop.
Naturally, the iPhone app creates new opportunities for gathering news while users are away from their desks. As the example above suggests, NewsiT will be taking advantage of its new mobility by creating a number SXSW-specific tasks.
And while Wittstock is looking into licensing the company’s technology to others, she doesn’t just want to be a technology provider to other organizations. NewsiT is a site for news gathering and news consumption, and it offers rewards for both. (That applies to the app, too.)
Investors include Sandra D. Kresch, president of PSD International and managing director of Golden Seeds, and P. Chrisman Iribe, CFO of Scaleform Corporation and former president and COO of PG&E.
OpenLabel, a startup that wants to augment everyday products’ barcodes with crowd-sourced information that helps you decide whether to buy, has raised $80,000 in seed funding in a round led by Peter Kirwan, also an investor in IFTTT. Also participating in the round were Tim Drees and Doug Taylor. According to OpenLabel co-founder Scott Kennedy, this $80K is just the first part of a larger $300,000 seed round, which the company expects to close prior to the April launch of the mobile application.
The app, previously in stealth mode, can best be thought of as a Twitter-like platform for sharing information around products. Unlike other barcode scanning applications like RedLaser or ShopSavvy, OpenLabel isn’t about delivering pricing information or product reviews, it’s about giving consumers the ability to share other information.
“We’re about everything but price,” says Kennedy, “we’re about actual information.”
For example, users could add notes about the manufacturer’s use of child labor, sweat shops, animal testing, toxic chemicals, and more, and then give the product a thumbs-down. While those types of things sound like they may give OpenLabel somewhat of an activist slant, there are other types of things that could be shared, too, like the company’s political leaning and donations, its support for or stance against particular political or rights issues, like SOPA or employees benefits for same-sex couples. OpenLabel could also be used to share information about whether the product was recalled or had child safety issues, contained allergens like gluten, or whether it was derived from GMOs.
However, the process of accessing this information wouldn’t be different than when you use a barcode scanning application. You would launch the app, scan the product’s barcode and then read the resulting comments or leave one of your own. All comments have to be accompanied by a buy/avoid selection, as well.
The Twitter model comes into play because users can choose to follow others also on the platform. So, for example, if animal rights was your hot button issue, you could follow PETA’s account or that of another animal rights supporter. (This is just an example – PETA has not stated it’s involved here).
OpenLabel doesn’t police the crowdsourced commentary beyond controlling for spam and profanity, but instead uses Reddit-like up and down vote buttons to help surface the best reasons to either buy or avoid the product in question.
The idea for a crowdsourced “Internet of Things” type product has been tried before, perhaps most notably with Stickybits, before its creator Billy Chasen pivoted to build Turntable.fm. Says Kennedy, things like Stickybits (“they abandoned it too early”) and similar efforts failed due to timing, passion or both. However with his non-profit background and interest in transparency, OpenLabel is a project that’s right in Kennedy’s wheelhouse.
That said, the focus here is on building a for-profit platform that attracts the interest of brands, something that Kennedy says will come naturally.
“Once we get everyone out there scanning items and exchanging data about those items, the brands are going to want to be there. Mostly for damage control, at first, but also because you’re putting a sponsored message into someone’s hand at this really critical point.”
Besides Kennedy, who was the founder of Axcelis and BitStar, OpenLabel’s other co-founder is David Ng, the lead mobile developer from TomTom. In addition, the startup has lined up an advisory board that includes a wide range of folks from NASA Ph.D.’s to retail CEO’s, plus Tapulous co-founder Mike Lee, MacBrain creator Matt Jensen, Green Drinks NYC founder Margaret Lydecker, and others.
The application will launch first on the iPhone, but will also be available on Android. In its ramp up to public launch, OpenLabel is staying in a private beta, where only those interested in contributing to building the crowdsourced database are participating.
TechCrunch readers who want to join in, however, can get access by signing up here and entering “TC” in front of your email address.
@WalmartLabs, the digital technology division of the world’s largest retailer, is launching a contest today which uses crowdsourcing techniques to determine which items the company should stock in its stores and on its website. The contest, called Get on the Shelf, will be heavily promoted by all of Walmart’s social media presences, including Facebook, Google+ and, most importantly, Twitter.
The effort is meant to be just a “fun experiment,” but for companies itching to get their products placed on Walmart’s shelves – real or virtual – something like this could be their big break. Previously, getting products into a retail store has been at the sole discretion of the store’s buyer. This contest will eliminate that barrier by giving anyone and everyone a chance to have their products chosen through an online selection process.
For consumers, the idea is to vote on the products you would want to see sold at Walmart via the Get on the Shelf URL, which features videos of the contest applicants’ inventions. Any product in any category currently covered by Walmart is eligible. There’s also, of course, a bunch of fine print. The contest debuted a sneak peak a few weeks ago, and now already has over 60 entries, including a new hot sauce, games, an iPad pillow, pet items and more.
Videos submissions are open until Feb. 22, then the first round of voting will be March 7-April 4. Finalist voting will be April 11-April 24. From the three top contestants, a grand prize winner will be chosen. (The contest is U.S.-only.)
This sort of crowdsourced buying experiment is possible because of @WalmartLabs, which operates something like a startup within the much larger organization that is Walmart. The division is also now home to a number of acquired startups itself, including Kosmix, OneRiot, Grabble and most recently, Small Society. Over the holidays, @WalmartLabs launched the “Shopycat” Facebook app, one of the first consumer-facing product launches from the group.