Curated for content, computing, and digital experience professionals

Author: Steve Paxhia (Page 2 of 3)

We Are Smarter Than Me– Report

Last fall, Martin Clifford-CEO of the web community juggernaut, informed me that I was hopelessly out of date regarding the phenomena of web communities and hinted that due to my advanced years I might never comprehend the impact of many-to-many publishing. It’s true that most of my experience is in traditional forms of one-to-many publishing. However, I’ve always loved a good challenge so I began my exploration of the role of communities in the creation of content.. Early in my explorations, I came across the We Are Smarter Than Me project. This project is the joint effort of Pearson Educational Publishing, Wharton, MIT, and Shared Insights. The goal was to form a community that would write a book about how communities could change and enhance the way that companies do business. I tuned into the “Buzz” to get a sense of the passion of the participants And then, I joined the community and contributed a small section on the importance of word-of-mouth in the marketing of services. As the project progressed, I watched its progress and waited eagerly to see what would happen when the many-to-many model was invoked to produce a traditional business book.

To hear first hand accounts of the project, I travelled to the Community 2.0 conference in Las Vegas. Barry Libert of Shared Insights and Tim Moore of Pearson Educational Publishing presented a fascinating progress report and a conversation with co-founder Jon Spector (soon to be CEO of the Conference Board) filled in some additional information.

The participants are to be congratulated for commissioning the project as a pure experiment. As Mr. Moore said, “I just wanted to see what would happen” As one might imagine, the interaction between web communities and large esteemed institutions presented some interesting challenges. Not surprisingly, the first significant issue arose when Pearson faxed their contract to Shared Insights. While the contract was entirely appropriate for traditional author teams, indemnification clauses took on entirely new meaning when the work of hundreds or thousands of author/contributors would be scrutinized. The prolonged wrangling broke the project’s early momentum. It was assumed that the Academic Dream Team of Pearson’s business authors and the faculties of Wharton and MIT would produce numerous thoughtfully written content modules. Surprisingly, none of the authors or profs chose to participate in the project. The project team reverted to Plan B by sending participation invitations to a large list of people affiliated with the sponsoring institutions. The response was enthusiastic and the community began to grow. Current membership is approximately 3500 with 650 individual wiki posts.

As the active participation increased, the project team learned another important lesson. Suddenly the community wanted to take over the project leadership and asked the project team to step aside. Even though the project team knew alot about community dynamics, they weren’t ready for their own community to be so assertive and found it difficult to relinquish control. When they did step back, the community flourished.
How did the book by community turn out? One speaker reported that the journey was more interesting than the destination meaning that the content created was plentiful but uneven in quality and style. To yield an acceptable business book, it would be necessary to hire an accomplished professional author who would also handle the fact checking process.

The open questions and lessons learned from this project.

  1. Why didn’t the authors and professors participate?
    Possible explanations included:
    Generation Gap- Authors and profs didn’t grow up with MySpace or Facebook. Web Communities are foreign to their professional milieu.
    Status Issues- They are used to being the authority and weren’t willing to have their writings publicly challenged. And they have already made their reputation so that they have little status to gain.
    No Financial Benefit- Their time is very valuable and they expect to be paid for their efforts.
    Lack of Passion or Connection with the Project- Community participation is not their avocation nor were they passionate about the topic.
    Those that did participate did so out of a passion for the topic and seemed most motivated by the opportunity to build their reputation within the community. For many members, community participation is one of their hobbies. And they seemed not to desire any remuneration for their contributions.
    Observation- Just like in the early days of the Internet, there is currently more cache attached to eyeballs and recognition than to traditional financial rewards. However, there are significant costs to forming, hosting and moderating communities. And the work of cummunities can be very valuable to companies of all sorts. New business models are emerging that will manage the costs and reflect the value of the contributions.
  2. Given the uneven content and need to bring in a professional author, should anyone even try to write another book by committee?
    It depends on the type of Book!! Wikipedia has demonstrated that this model is very effective in creating a comprehensive reference work. ( I suppose that some purists would argue that Wikipedia isn’t really a book but rather a collection of content modules), For traditional authored book projects, communities might play a valuable role in helping authors research topics that are outside of their primary expertise and in reviewing the authors work for accuracy and clarity.
  3. Will there be instances where community created content modules will compete with traditional published works?
    Given the Google world that we live in, consumers of information often seek a terse answer to a specific question. And there is a definite trend towards the integration of content with the information consumers’ workflows. For these information consumers, A well structured repository of content modules is potentially more valuable than traditional books.
  4. So was the project aiming at the wrong goal?
    Perhaps! Old habits die hard and many people in my generation have books to thank for alot of their professional knowledge. Maybe the goal of the project should have been to develop an outstanding repository of content modules and resources that could become an authorative source of information about communities and their role in changing and enhancing the ways that companies do business. In the long run, the mission critical task is creating outstanding intellectual property. Creating multiple media versions of that IP will allow publishers to reach a wider range of customers.
  5. Will the many-to-many content model put traditional publishers out of business?
    There is much more opportunity than risk for publishers.
    Most of us would agree that we already suffer from information overload. Communities have the potential to raise that overload to an even higher level. Information consumers want to know that the content they are reading is accurate and authoritative. This has been the primary domain of publishers for many years. If publishers find new ways to harness the wisdom of crowds in creating new content and improving existing content, their future is bright. If not, someone else will seize the opportunity. And if they trivialize new methods of content creation as being less pure and authoritative than their time-tested editorial processes, they will face serious consequences. If you’re not convinced, just ask your favorite encyclopedia publisher!!
  6. That is my report on many-to-many versus one-to-many content creation models. Now I’m trying to figure out whether the few-to-few model refers to custom publishing or to an underperforming web community.

Communities – Why Should You Care?

I was pleased to attend the inaugural Community 2.0 conference this week. Sponsored by Shared Insights, it was an impressive gathering. Here are some of the highlights:

– John Hegel, the author of Net Gain (and other best sellers) gave his perspective on what has happened in the 10 years since he first wrote on the importance of communities to companies.

His equation for the benefits of communites is as follows: Shared ideas+shared discussions+shared relationships= shared meaning and shared motivation. This leads to higher customer loyalty and feedback that can help facillitate the development of better products and services in the future.

He feels that companies often lack the skillsets required to support successful communities. The key skills lacking are moderating, archiving, and attracting participants. He feels that companies often are afraid to give up the control of the community to the particpants and that is counterproductive.

Like all business practices, communities should be measured. He recommends calculating ROA- return on attention, ROI- Return on Information, and ROS- Return on Skills as the best measures of the impact of communities on the business in general. Space doesn’t permit complete descriptions of these measures. Mr Hagel’s blog and reading list can be found at

Ben McConnell author of “Church of the Customer” gave a fascinating keynote on the importance of word of mouth in marketing and the importance of communities in generating positive word of mouth. He also reported that only 1 percent of community participants actually contribute entries. However, that can be a large number!! For example, 68,682 individuals contributed to Wikipedia in just one month and 11,420 contributed to Microsofts’s channel nine in a similar time frame. It is amazing how many people are willing to invest their time (while receiving no remuneration) to create information that will be reviewed and scrutinized by many peer reviewers. More examples can be found at

Similar statistics were reported during subsequesnt sessions reports that it has 600 community sites with coverage of over 60,000 topics.
Shawn Gold of MySpace reported some staggering usage figures – They currently have 165 million profiles online that generate 60 Billion pageviews per month. And there are 40,000 videosbeing added to MySpace each day.

The conference finished with a report on the We Are Smarter Than Me project. That will be the subject of another blog entry in the very near future!!

Communities have the potential to help publishers and publishing professionals to create new and different products and to improve the quality of their future products by getting greatly increased customer feedback. Cases and opportunities will be presented at the forthcoming Gilbane Conference in San Francisco from 4/10-4/12.

Blackboard Inc. has launched a new website– It is an excellent web application that helps communities of people share bookmarks on topics of common interest. It is particularly helpful for high school and college students and their teachers and professors to use when doing projects or research. This is a great example of communities adding value to long established processes.

We Are Smarter Than Me

MIT, Wharton, Pearson, and Shared Insights have developed a very interesting project. They have set up a wiki allowing a community of people to write a business book that will be published by Pearson in the fall. The overall premise is that communities can augment or even replace certain traditional business efforts. Marketing has emerged as the leading area for such efforts. I wrote a short section on the power of word of mouth in service marketing. The preliminary results will be shared at the Community 2.0 conference next week in Las Vegas.

Textbook Legislation

This week’s Campus Marketplace has a nice article summarizing new legislation meant to regulate the sale of college textbooks– I’m not sure that the proposed legislation will do much to help students. This legislation could yield a bigger win by providing incentives for the College Publishing industry to focus upon furthering true cross media publishing initiatives and on developing alternate revenue models. The result would be lower priced product suites that would offer more utility and value for students. Of course, the win for publishers would be reduced used books and higher recurring revenues.

Blackwell Publishing Revamps Online Delivery Platform

Oxford, UK , Boston, USA, and Melbourne, Australia —January 12th, 2007—Blackwell Publishing announced its newly redesigned online delivery platform, Blackwell Synergy (
Blackwell Synergy enables its users to search 1 million articles from over 850 leading scholarly journals across the sciences, social sciences, humanities and medicine. The redesign provides easier navigation, faster loading times and improved access to tools for researchers, as well as meeting the latest accessibility standards (ADA section 508 and W3C’s WAI-AA).
The new Blackwell Synergy website retains all the essential benefits that researchers, librarians and authors value and uses the same URL structure. In addition to a new look and feel, features have been repositioned to highlight options more clearly to users and enable them to make best use of the suite of tools available such as most read and most cited articles, citation alerts, download to reference manager software, and the ability to email the article to a friend. Full-text online access to the journals on Blackwell Synergy is available at thousands of institutions worldwide.
Key site features for researchers include:
– clear search and browse functions and ability to search within other databases
– abstracts and sample issues free to all users
– many articles also free after a certain time or as open access through the OnlineOpen initiative
– HTML articles include embedded references, figures and tables
– OnlineEarly and OnlineAccepted articles available online before issue publication
– quick links to the most-downloaded and most-cited articles by journal
– reference links and citing article links allow users to follow the research
– export citations of articles directly into reference management software
– receive e-alerts for tables of contents, topic and author research alerts, citation alerts and OnlineEarly and OnlineAccepted alerts
– all e-alerts available as email or RSS newsfeeds
This release does a nice job of supporting new standards, passing information from articles to content management systems, and support of new RSS protocols. The Online early feature rewards publishers that have solid cross media publishing practices.


We marvelled when we saw the prestigious Encyclopedia Britannica usurped by Microsoft’s Encarta. It was a tribute to the clever utilization of multimedia and excellent marketing that leveraged Microsoft’s position in the software world. Given Microsoft’s incredible resources and market clout, it was assumed that the Encarta franchise would build and thrive to become the most heavily utilized fact resource. Therefore, it was even more shocking when Wikipedia burst onto the scene in 2001. And it’s continued evolution demonstrates that this project is no fluke. There are over 1.5 million articles and there are over 100 international versions. How is this possible? Is it simply because it is a free reference resource? I do not think so. Average consumers seem to have voted for breadth and currency over authority. More importantly, a large group of contributors and reviewers seem to feel a pride of ownership in the work of their collaboration. This phenomena has interesting implications for publishing firms.

Wikimedia now has a number of related projects including Wikibooks and Wikiversity. Wikibooks has generated 23,476 content modules for over 1000 topics in less than three years. Wikiversity is in its formative stages but plans to offer free course materials and may provide a platform for developing research topics into wikimongraphs.

It is sometimes difficult to get past the fact that all Wikimedia content is free to focus upon the powerful authoring metaphor that they have created and proliferated. These very same techniques could be used by commercial and corporate publishers. All School, College, and Professional publishers could use these techniques to refine and improve the quality of their publications. These techniques could enable publishers to keep their intellectual property much more current than is possible with today’s authoring approach. And the collaboration aspect could help learners and professionals grow by exchanging and debating ideas. In the corporate world, we need look no further than the communities established around Microsoft Sharepoint to see how valuable information can be rapidly developed and disseminated. These communities have relieved Microsoft of a tremendous support burden.

The Wiki modules are quite similar to open source code modules… More on this in a subsequent post…. Your comments are encouraged!!

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