Saturday, March 13, 2010

Leftover Links

Joe, Tim, and Riley are in Austin now. Andrea arrives this evening, and I arrive tomorrow... We're excited for our panel. Remember: Monday, March 15, at 11 am. In 10AB. Join us!


Foldit — a massively multiplayer game/competition designed to reveal the shortcuts nature uses to weave a tangle of amino acids into a protein. Players use the cursor to grab, bend, pull, and wiggle the chain of amino acids anywhere along its length, folding the protein into its optimum shape. The only rules are based on physics — opposite charges attract, atomic bonds have limited angles of rotation, and the parts of the molecule that stick to water tend to point outward. The closer your model's properties adhere to those rules, the more points you get. Competing against the world's best biochemists in 2008's Community-Wide Experiment on the Critical Assessment of Techniques for Protein Structure Prediction (CASP), a band of gamer nonscientists who'd used Foldit won. [from Wired]

SETI@home — the screensaver that taps spare home computer cycles to sort through radio signals from space

Rosetta@home — farms out computation to volunteered PCs.

Star Wars Uncut — Star Wars A New Hope recreated by 450+ people.

Newgrounds — the large Flash games and animation site that spawned Alien Hominid, has been accepting user-produced submissions since 1999. Amy Bruckman and Kurt Luther are studying groups who make animations collaboratively on Newgrounds. They've found that the social organization of a collaborative project like this depends on the narrative structure of the animation. Making a more traditional story with a script written in advance has different constraints than a 'collection' where lots of pieces are assembled that can later be assembled in many orders by the project leader (for example, the animation 'When Farm Animals Attack'). Another mode is a 'continuation,' where each person adds to the end, and then passes it on to the next animator. These projects can be worked on by small to medium-sized groups (up to ~50 people). Star Wars Uncut is unusual in including nearly 500 people. Bruckman notes: "Part of what makes this kind of creative production different from an open source or wiki model is that an animation generally has *one release*. You don't show it publicly til you're done. Open source benefits from the 'release early, release often' model that lets more and more people contribute over time. Like open source software, these projects tend to have a central leader. There's a tremendous burden on that leader, and projects succeed or fail generally depending on how well the leader does his/her job, and how much time he/she can devote to the project."

Nick Carr says: "It's telling that, when we discuss this phenomenon, we still almost always trot out the same two examples that we would have trotted out five years ago: Wikipedia and open-source software. I think what we're discovering is that big online groups are very good at performing time-consuming, fairly routinized tasks that can be broken up into many discrete units of work and hence sped up by having lots of people with diverse talents and perspectives working on them in parallel without much coordination. Ferreting out bugs in a complex computer program and finding and paraphrasing information on discrete encyclopedia topics both, not surprisingly, fall into this category of work. But if you're looking for the new, the creative, the moment of blazing insight, you're still going to have to look not to a crowd but to an individual human mind."

Richard Hackman, social psychologist at Harvard who studies teams, notes in Leading Teams, that there are almost no forms of writing that benefit from collaboration (reference works, of course, being the notable exception.)

Nick Carr: "I think one of the reasons we're having trouble discussing the way brilliant new ideas emerge from "networked 'mass' groups" is because that phenomenon doesn't happen. The ideas for Wikipedia and Linux, to take, once again, the obvious examples, came from individuals, not from the groups that subsequently formed to bring the ideas to fruition. As Eric Raymond, the author of "The Cathedral and the Bazaar," once wrote in an email to me, "The individual wizard is where successful bazaar projects generally start." The Net can provide a powerful means of discovering the wizards (such as we saw in the competition for the Netflix Prize), and it can provide an effective means of coordinating and assembling the contributions of a "'mass' group," but the hope that great original concepts would naturally "emerge" from the interactions of a vast Net-connected group hasn't really panned out. I would argue that Internet crowds aren't all that interesting as a means of production (though, because they're often used as giant pools of free labor, they can certainly be economically disruptive in that role). What makes Internet crowds interesting is their social dynamics and the social forms that arise from those dynamics."

Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Is it Bullshit?

Jeff Jarvis, author of What Would Google Do?, has a passionate post up on his blog BuzzMachine where he discusses the need to move to a more collaborative learning experience. He's also pushing for less standardized tests in the educational system and more evaluation based on independent thinking.

He was a speaker at TEDxNYed, an independently organized TED event focused on "the role of new media and technology in shaping the future of education." He used that opportunity to rail against the one-sidedness of educators talking at students, rather than with them.

"There’s another model for an alternative to the lecture and it’s Dave Winer’s view of the unconference. At the first Bloggercon, Dave had me running a panel on politics and when I said something about “my panel,” he jumped down my throat, as only Dave can. “There is no panel,” he decreed. “The room is the panel.” Ding. It was in the moment that I learned to moderate events, including those in my classroom, by drawing out the conversation and knowledge of the wise crowd in the room."

It's worth a read. I happen to think that many TED talks have a lot more going on than people telling me facts, but rather telling me stories, explaining how their brand of thinking is beneficial to their given field because they have thought outside of the norm. I do agree with some of his points on education, but see a distinction between institutional learning and TED talks. At the very least, this is some food for thought as we here at Indirect Collaboration make our final preparations for our SXSW panel next week.

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Q&A with Cecilia Weckstrom of The LEGO Group

Cecilia Weckstrom is an innovation and consumer experience specialist at The LEGO Group. She heads up the Consumer Insight & Experience Innovation team there. Indirect Collaboration's Tim Lillis interviewed Cecilia about incorporating customer insight into the product design process.

So, you're in charge of the Consumer Insight & Experience Innovation function at the LEGO Group. What does that mean?

I oversee all the work on gathering insights from our 1:1 connections with consumers all over the world and based on this insight and on co-creation with consumers we improve existing LEGO experiences and define new ones of what LEGO could be in the future. We want to be driven by those who love LEGO for what LEGO is and thus, knowing what is important to all these people is important and the only way we can remain sustainably successful as a company.

Lillis: What are some of the successful and unsuccessful ideas generated by this group?

Weckstrom: Mostly in my experience it is not a matter of unsuccessful or not – more about timing. We have a few examples where we were far ahead of the market (LEGO Studios for instance) where the idea was great, but ahead of its time so wasn’t as successful as it could have been had we launched it a little later. Timing is not just in terms of timing in the market-place, it is also about the rest of the company. The successful ideas are ones that become platforms for value creation, and ultimately not just within the company but including the community too.

Lillis: Is the Design By Me program related?


Lillis: Are the kits generated as part of Design By Me available to customers besides the one who designed them?

Weckstrom: Yes, but at the discretion of the designer. E.g. you have to choose that option when you upload your design.

Lillis: There is such a robust worldwide community of LEGO builders, has this community unofficially steered product design at the LEGO Group? That is, not through your official programs, but through the company's observations of LEGO culture.

Weckstrom: Absolutely – LEGO is a movement driven by the passion, urgency and creativity of an ever-expanding community. We are part of this ecosystem and are just as influenced by it as the community is by what we do.

Lillis: What are some of the most surprising uses of LEGO bricks that you've come across?

There’s more every day. Latest one is this Lego Cubestormer robot that solves Rubik's Cube in sub-12 second. Robots born with the sole purpose of solving the Rubik's Cube are nothing new, but we're pretty sure we haven't seen one crack the code.

So much of what people do with LEGO Bricks is determined by the imagination of the end user. Is there a balance to be struck between designing pieces with very specific (or branded) functions versus pieces that can be used more universally?

Weckstrom: We prefer designing universal elements ahead of specific elements. In fact, when you as a LEGO designer (I was one when I first started out working for the company) come up with a new piece, you have to ‘justify’ it’s existence to the element committee, a group of LEGO ‘Yodas’ as I like to call them (no they are not small and green with big ears, but very wise and care deeply about the LEGO System) – their combined LEGO experience is more than a 100 years and they are guardians of the system. The more uses that can be found for a LEGO element you have designed, the more likely it will pass the scrutiny of these experts. After all, the LEGO idea is one of a platform for endless ideas.

Lillis: This may be out of your department, but can you speak a bit to the process and challenges inherent in using a licensed property as the basis for a LEGO kit?

Weckstrom: This really is the expertise of our licensing department and some of our designers. Broadly speaking we will carefully assess whether an IP has a close fit with our company values and work very closely with the IP owner to ensure that we live up to the demands of the license owner and vice versa – that the product will embody the inspiration to build many more ideas than what simply comes in the box.

Lillis: Typically in the product design process, there are models and prototypes, testing, evaluation and design iterations. How does this mesh with your customer co-creation programs?

Weckstrom: There are different ways of doing co-creation – one is simply coming up with ideas and defining what would make a difference to people. That is more about identifying unmet needs and understanding which ideas resonate with people. Going all the way to co-creating a specific product is something we do with some of our Adult Fans of LEGO, who are experts in their domains, for instance Mindstorms - we work in-depth with them and they are part of every step of the design process.

Lillis: In what ways have you used technology in new ways to include the customer in the design process?

We use online panels and forums, but they are really the infrastructure to a much more important thing: meeting face-to-face. In our experience no technology can replace the value of human interaction and for co-creation to really work, you have to start by building relationships and trust with people. That makes communication easier and also makes people feel part of the project team in a completely different way. We all crave the human touch after all.

Lillis: Have you seen evidence that customer-created kits fill a void in your product line? Or do many remain niche products?

Weckstrom: LEGO Architecture is a great example of how a fan-created enterprise on the LEGO platform has come in to completely revolutionalise the souvenir industry and also to become a great product appealing to a different audience that we would normally do. Adam Reed Tucker has designed all the sets, and we are now his supply chain – producing the bricks for him that he then distributes all over the place. A very exciting joint venture.