Sunday, December 03, 2006

Why Peter Jackson should direct "The Hobbit"

Thank to Bill Ives for pointing me to this New York Times article about Peter Jackson leveraging his fans using the Web in his negotiations with New Line Cinema. Because New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson could not agree on Jackson’s share on “Lord of the Ring” revenues, New Line Cinema intends to dump Peter Jackson as director of LOTR prequel “The Hobbit”. Peter Jackson’s letter on his fan web site theonering.net led to an uproar and letter writing campaign of his fans to New Line Cinema.

The article got me to run a coolhunting query about the strength of Peter Jackson’s position in his negotiations with New Line Cinema as reflected on the Web. The picture below shows what I got.



The first thing we notice is the strong position of theonering.net as the leading player and king maker among LOTR fans. The second is how strong the association between Peter Jackson and “The Hobbit” is, the combined query having by far the highest betweenness, much higher that the single queries for "Peter Jackson film" and "Hobbit movie" alone. Conclusion is that New Line Cinema and Peter Jackson would be well advised to come to agreement in producing “The Hobbit” together. Their upfront marketing capital in form of Web buzz is just immense – Peter Jackson and “The Hobbit” would be unbeatable at the box office together!!!

The picture also tells us (without having asked) that the other hits of New Line Cinema are “Austin Powers” and of Peter Jackson “King Kong”, but they pale in comparison with LOTR and The Hobbit!

A second picture looking at the contents of the most between Web sites about the hobbit reiterates the point: "hobbit" and "jackson" are the most central and connected terms talked about mostly together!

Friday, December 01, 2006

Getting the Wisdom of Crowds Through Computer Games

Thanks to Ken Zolot for pointing me to this post by Henry Jenkins on "Collective Intelligence vs the Wisdom of Crowds". Henry Jenkins rightly differentiates between the wisdom of crowds such as in prediction markets, and a more sophisticated way of working together through collective intelligence such as in Wikipedia, where people instantly get access to and can build upon each other's knowledge. In particular he talks about tapping into the wisdom of crowds through using online computer games to predict and make complex decisions.

I think using multiplayer online computer games to predict and analyze the real world is a great idea. If this idea is taken seriously, developers of such predictive games might find our research results of interest, where we correlated social networking structures of gamers with their success in the game. What we found was that differently from the real world, the most successful gamers were the ones with the highest degree of connectivity, i.e. the most friends, and not the ones with the highest betweenness (betweenness=SNA measure of choosing friends selectively by linking to powerful people). Marius Cramer and Daniel Oster analyzed a community of 382 players in the Oceancontrol multiplayer online computer game over 56 days. The Oceancontrol computer game had been developed by Marius Cramer, giving Marius and Daniel preferred access to all the players. What they found was that what mattered for the success of both individual players as well as for the teams players joined, was simply the amount of messages exchanged. A second result was that players with balanced communication behavior, i.e. sending and receiving similar numbers of messages did better.
Marius and Daniel empirically verified their results by sending a survey to the 100 best players, out of which 47% responded, agreeing on the statement that they believe that communicating a lot will make them better players.
Observing my son playing World of Warcraft confirms this finding. I saw him chatting with almost everybody he encountered in the virtual world of WoW. He explained to me that he needed to find the best players to associate himself with, and the quickest way for him was not to look at the level of the player, but to talk to everybody and quickly evaluate their response. The more you communicate, the better - it does not really matter with whom, at least initially and in the virtual world of computer games!

Monday, November 27, 2006

The creativity of swarms (= crowdsourcing)

I discovered this Wired article about Crowdsourcing in Kai Fischbach’s new blog Open Business Models. It describes how professional photographers selling their pictures on the Web for $150 per shot are put out of business by Web sites like iStockphoto . Millions of amateur photographers are putting up their photos there for $1 per picture.
The same has become true for videos, where companies can get video clips from Web sites like iFilm at a fraction of the price it costs to produce such a video. The other two examples in the article, the innocentive marketplace who is outsourcing chemical and pharmaceutical research to individual researchers, and P&G’s connect&develop program sending out technology entrepreneurs on a global hunt for new product ideas are well-known examples of highly successful collaborative innovation also.

Recently I stumbled into another great example, when I was speaking at the 125 year anniversary of Telekom Austria in Vienna. Besides eating delicious Sacher Torte in the Hotel Sacher, I also learned about individual TV in the Austrian village of Engerwitzdorf. This Telekom Austria project gives real power to the masses – every inhabitant of the village can put up her or his own TV program or movie. There is even a self-selected “council of elders” who makes sure that sex videos don’t make it into the program. The Engerwitzdorf project has now been ongoing for a few years, and has been recognized by different national and international prizes and awards.
There is no stopping the creativity of swarms!!!

Saturday, November 25, 2006

What makes a cool city?

Today’s New York Times has an article on the growing attractiveness of Atlanta, Portland, Oregon, Charlotte, Denver, and Austin for the young and restless generation. With an overall aging population, the group of the 25 to 35 year olds becomes a shrinking minority, courted by cities because studies show that once people are over 35, they are much less likely to move and relocate again.

According to one of the marketers for Atlanta …”had the chamber tried to advertise Atlanta, they might have screwed it up —because they [the youngs] are much more trusting of their own network than they are of any marketing campaign."
In studies, the most attractive factors for such cities were the low cost of living, an airport hub for easy travel, and a diverse and open culture.
But what really makes an open and diverse culture remains a mystery. In surveys the young and restless like downtown living, good public transportation, and lots of entertainment options. The point is, however, that cities that already have a significant share of the young and restless tend to attract more of them. So the question remains: What gets a city over the tipping point, and makes it more attractive than others.
Atlanta might give us one answer, in that it is home to more than 45 universities and colleges in the metro area, as well as to scores of companies in the high-tech and entertainment sector. As we have found in our own research, students at universities fulfill an essential function as what in social network theory is called “gatekeepers” and “bridging structural holes”. What we saw when comparing two networking events organized by the same people in Boston and San Francisco is the crucial roles of graduate students and other academics in being the gatekeepers. The picture below shows the social network constructed at two networking events run in sequence first in Boston, then in San Francisco.



The dark dots are the industry participants, blue dots are academics, the red dots are the people for whom the event was organized, the pink dots are the organizers in San Francisco, and the grey dots are the organizers in Boston. What is striking is the cohesiveness and density of the Boston network. While there are more participants in Boston than there are in San Francisco, the Boston participants form a much denser cluster, connected by the academics (the blue dots). As Malcolm Gladwell wrote in the “Tipping Point”, connectors are the key people to convert cool ideas into trends. As we can clearly see in this picture, academics are the connectors!

So, having a large pool of diverse universities and colleges within local reach seems to be a key ingredient and catalyst for a successful mix. Which of course begs the questions how to get those universities in the first place? Is it geographical location, industrial development, or just luck that contributes to a successful mix? Many more questions to answer!

Monday, November 20, 2006

If US presidential elections were today, Barack Obama would be President . . .

… at least on the Web, and Al Gore would be Vice President. I ran a coolhunting query yesterday Nov 19, 2006 on the Web, checking out the standings of the presidential contenders. The rankings are as follows (see the picture):
1. Barack Obama
2. Al Gore
3. Newt Gingrich
4. John Edwards
5. Rudy Giuliani
6. Mitt Romney
7. John Kerry
8. Hillary Clinton



Coolhunting on the Web can give a skewed picture of the real world, as it basically measures how much somebody is mentioned on the most important Web sites. In this case the most central Web sites (see the picture) were dailykos and ovaloffice2008. Other Web sites linking back to the most important Web sites “vote” for their importance in boosting the standing of Barack Obama and his competitors. In particular, coolhunting does not really care if you get positive or negative mentions, just being talked about on high-profile Web sites helps. This is not so different from real-world marketing, however, where it is said that there is no good or bad advertisement, as long as one is spoken about. What this means, for example, is that Hillary Clinton is not doing a very good job of raising her profile on the Web – we will see what it will do for her two years from now.

How coolhunting works is explained at www.swarmcreativity.net.

Friday, November 17, 2006

MIT i-Teams, a blueprint for COINs

Yesterday I was listening to the project presentations of the MIT I-Teams course, an entrepreneurship class taught by Ken Zolot and sponsored by the Deshpande center. In this class students are exploring the commercial viability and developing go-to-market strategies of innovations made by MIT researchers. In other words they are working together as COINs (Collaborative Innovation Networks). While all of the innovations were undoubtedly of high scientific merit and had commercial potential, I was struck by the differing quality of the presentations. While for some products it was hard to understand what the uniqueness, barrier to entry for competitors, and the market was, others had really well-thought out go-to-market strategies. One of my favorites was the team presenting a new and safer bike helmet. While all the other teams had chosen a speaker to present their go-to-market strategy, this team had chosen to get on stage as a team. It was obvious that some of the presenters had worked on this project for years, so they had very deep knowledge of the product. Also, the team operated as a cohesive unit, with different people presenting different parts of their strategy. I think this proves the well-known insight that each company is only as good as its leadership team – even for a student team. The greatest product idea does not make a great company – or go-to-market strategy in this case. Unfortunately collaboration is not yet taught at our universities as a separate subject. This class is definitively a great step in this direction, teaching students to become better members of COINs.

Friday, October 27, 2006

Decoding Genes of Social Behavior in Honey Bees

Researcher Saurab Sinha at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign is trying to decode the genes governing social behavior in honey bees. Sinha and colleagues are trying to find the social gene which lets bees change roles in the hive based on social pressure.

Adult bees start by working as nurses of young bees, and will turn into foragers for nectar and pollen when they get older. However, if the hive has a need, some young bees will turn into foragers prematurely. The job transition involves changing thousands of genes in the honey bee's brain, turning some genes off, and others on.

Saurab Sinha and colleagues hope to use the bee gene sequences they discovered as a model of socially triggered role changes in human brains.

Thursday, October 26, 2006

Coolhunting for Restaurants in Paris

Recently I was spending a few days in Paris with my children. We were the classical tourists, climbing the Eiffel tower, visiting the chateau de Versailles, and admiring Mona Lisa in the Louvre. We were staying in a middle class hotel in Montmartre. In the evenings, we were coolhunting for good restaurants. To find good value for money, we were applying different strategies. One evening, we were just following the tourist streams. We were ending up on top of Montmartre, near the cathedral of Sacre Coeur. This is the place were all the artists are, selling their paintings, and offering to draw on-the-spot portraits of the tourists. The place is also chock full with tourist restaurants. We ended up in one of them. The food was ok – it is hard to get really bad food in Paris – but the price was not cheap, 70 Euros, for a decent meal for three. The next day we decided to follow the recommendation of our hotel owner, and eat in his favorite. The restaurant Basilic offered excellent food, at a reasonable price, 86 Euros for a meal of three. We ended up sitting besides two Germans, however, who were grumbling the entire evening that they could not get a decent beer at this restaurant. That we understood everything they were saying in German did not make it any better: It seems the restaurant Basilic is recommended to many other tourists. The third evening, we decided to follow our own instincts. We wandered around in Montmartre, peeking at many restaurants. In the end we found one which was quite small, but also quite full, mostly with locals. It turned out this was an excellent choice. We had a great meal in the restaurant “Villa de Poulot”, at a cost of 45 Euros.
Reflecting back, it occurred to me that we had done nothing else but coolhunted for the best restaurant. The first day, when we ended up in a tourist trap, we had followed the marketing hype. The next day, in the excellent but pricey restaurant, we had followed the advice of the expert. But the best experience we got in the third restaurant, when we followed the swarm – the locals and our own instincts – to the little corner restaurant. It pays to listen to the swarm.

Sunday, October 22, 2006

Coolhunting through Starbucks

Today’s New York Times describes how Starbucks branches out from selling Mocha’s, Latte, and Espresso to becoming an arbiter and recommender of other items of good taste. It has successfully sold for quite some time compilations of music Cds. It is now extending this concept to movies and books. So far this seems to work quite well. People who are attracted to Starbuck’s atmosphere fall into a certain category, and branching out from premium-blend coffee to premium-blend entertainment seems to be a natural next step. Starbucks is trying to cater to a core group of customers with average age 42 and average income of $90,000.

Starbucks is now even considering publishing its own books and movies to cater to this audience – socially relevant, and with a human connection. For an artist, selling records at Starbucks can be a real booster. For example, since selling her album “Careless Love” at Starbucks, Madeleine Peyroux’s CD sales have tripled. According to customers, at Starbucks “some people of caring hearts and minds have looked at this and felt it was worthwhile and beneficial and would create a good vibe in the world.”
For Starbucks, it is all about finding those artists who are not yet mainstream, but about to make it, and convey an emotional connection - they are cool!


Starbucks just has to take care not to become premium bland!

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Is the US safer today?

This is big news right now. It is based on a leaked US intelligence report, stating that the US is less safe today than it was before the Iraq war. Of course politicians now rush to contradict or support this claim.
I am currently teaching a course in Helsinki, and even here this is a big topic in the local newspapers, mostly in support of the arguments in the report. I was curious to see what the Web thinks about this claim, so I entered the two statements "the US is safer today" and "the US is more at risk today" into TeCFlow, a software tool that combines search with social network analysis, and did a coolhunting query. If you don't know what I mean by coolhunting, it is explained here.

Here is the picture I got


The picture shows that the statement "the US is safer today" is more central on the Web than the statement "the US is more at risk today", which is not what I would have expected, but perhaps still true? So the Web thinks we are indeed safer that we were before 9/11. The question remains, of course, if we would be even safer if the Iraq war had never been started?

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Ohmy-News - Pioneer of Citizen Journalism

Recently I read an excellent article in the Swiss Newspaper NZZ about Oh Yeon Ho, one of the pioneers of citizen journalism. He founded Ohmy-News as an Internet Journal in South Korea, in competition to the three large, well-established daily newspapers in South Korea.
In the meantime Ohmy-News is a huge power in South Korea's media landscape, with up to 780,000 readers per article. Oh Yeon Ho is leading the largest editorial staff of any newspaper, numbering 44,000 guerrilla reporters. He has no control over his reporters, they all operate in self-organization, and headlines bubble up in swarm creativity. But he still needs the human experts, to check the factual correctness of the submitted articles.
Oh yes, and by the way, with a staff of 80 paid employees, Ohmy-News has also been profitable since 2003, with 80% of revenue coming from ads, and 20% through selling news to other Web sites. Ohmy-News citizen reporters get $3 per published article, while a top story gets $20. Inspite of this relatively low compensation, there is no shortage on submitted articles. This is because this is a great platform for aspiring reporters, an excellent way of spreading one's beliefs, and also a way for authors to get more money, which can be transferred directly from a reader to the author, if the reader likes an article very much.
Another great example of swarm creativity!

Sunday, September 10, 2006

Facebook feeds - How Swarms turn the Power of Swarms on to themselves

Today's NYT talks about how Facebook - the online diary and meeting site for teens and students - had to turn off its feed feature as soon as it was made available.
Like an RSS reader, the new Facebook feature basically allowed a user to be informed about any change that one of the other Facebook users made to her/his home page. While it seems that today's teens have no problems giving up privacy and sharing intimate detail of their private lives online, this one obviously was too much. What the new feature did, was tell every virtual move of the Facebook page owner to anybody subscribed to his/her page.
Well, the good thing is that the new feature proved really usefully in organizing a communal protest against it - it was fully transparent to everybody who joined the campaign against the new feature, this was an avalanche of protest breaking loose in full public view.
Facebook's operators took the criticism very well. Their solution was to give control back to the users, allowing them to opt out alltogether, or to selectively exclude areas of their page from the Facebook feed.

Yet another example that swarms are great in self-policing and self-enforcement of their community's standard, even while the standards are evolving.

Saturday, September 09, 2006

Repairing a car in Ghana - an exercise in Swarm Creativity

During my visit in Ghana we planned a big tour to see more of the country. So it was really unfortunate when the 4 wheel drive vehicle of my friends broke down. The gearshift in our car suddenly stopped working. The only gear still working was the reverse. Fortunately this happened not too far from home, so I drove home backwards!

My friend then called one of her Ghanaian friends for help. About two hours later he came by Trotro, bringing along a mobile car mechanic. Quickly, the mechanic located the broken part, and took it out. Him and the friend of my friend then disappeared by Trotro to a street market, where they got a generic spare part and temporarily fixed our car. The next day, we drove to the used car parts market in Accra, trying to find a replacement part.

For more specialized goods there are various dedicated markets outside the main Makola market, such as a huge market dedicated to only selling used car parts. Booths staffed by independent entrepreneurs display heaps of parts, either sorted by make, or by functional parts. There are booths only selling used parts for Toyotas, Nissans, or Volkswagens, while other booths only sell mufflers, or brake pads. The parts have been salvaged from old cars and car wrecks. There are hundreds of small entrepreneurs, each displaying his wares – used car parts – in little stalls.



At first glance, it might be better for an aspiring vendor of parts to be the only vendor of its kind, getting all the business. But looking more deeply, it makes absolute sense for the vendors to swarm together at one location, such that a mechanic trying to locate a particular part for a repair has a much bigger chance of actually finding the part he is looking for. There are even specialized “finders”, that have memorized the inventory of the different used parts suppliers, who help the prospective buyer of a car part to locate the vendor who might have the particular part for sale – a human sort of search engine. What an amazing example of swarm creativity.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

Accra's Makola Market - another example of self-organzation

While there are supermarkets in Western style in Accra where the tourist or expat from the Northern hemisphere can buy almost everything, this is not where Ghanese people shop for their food and other daily necessities. Rather, they go to the Makola market, which I found yet another amazing example of self-organization and swarm creativity.



The Makola market is not only at the heart of Accra, it literally is THE heart of Accra. Located in the middle of the town, it is the place for 90% of Accra’s inhabitants to buy all their goods for daily life. Other than submarines and aircraft carriers, there is very little that can not be bought at Makola market. There is no central control, each booth is operated by its owner. At the top of the range are the established stores, where a room facing the street has been converted into a market stand. At the other range of the spectrum, little vendors display their wares on a blanket on the sidewalk. Heaps of shoes, staples of fresh and dried fish, life chickens, rows and rows of vegetables, fruit, and other types of food, staples of school books, all sorts of cloths and fabrics, suitcases, and myriads other things form a chaotic composition of colors, smells, and textures, that overwhelms the tourist.
For the expert visitor of the Makola market, though, it is actually quite easy to navigate the market. Each of the different types of goods and groceries occupies a distinct spot within the sprawling expanse. Vendors of vegetables, fruits, meat, or fish, but also of suitcases, clothes, shoes, or school books have their pre-allocated locations. Why is it, for example, that there is an entire road where there is one booth besides the other only selling suitcases?

Saturday, September 02, 2006

The Danger of Trotros

When I was already back in Switzerland, I heard that one of my Ghanaian friends had just had a very bad car accident with a Trotro. While driving with her passenger car to the farm where she was the manager, she had collided with a reckless Trotro driver. While she was only slightly injured, the Trotro had been irreparably damaged, and the entire busload of passengers had been seriously hurt.
I guess this is the the drawback of self-organization, in that each Trotro driver wants to maximize income for himself by driving as rapidly as possible. On the balance between public good and optimizing his own gain, this driver tried to tip the scale too much towards himself, with very bad consequences for himself and his passengers.

Wednesday, August 30, 2006

Trying to install WindowsXP in Ghana - not a swarming experience

One day my Ghanian friend asked me to look at her PC. She wanted to install new language training software, and the PC sound board did not work properly. I noticed that the sound drivers were not correctly installed, and decided to reinstall WindowsXP. At the end of the installation process, Windows asked me for my authorization code. I was working on an 18 month old HP Pavilion that my friend had bought with Windows XP preinstalled when she was still in Switzerland. When I had entered the authorization code, Windows tried to verify it over the Internet. Oops! Out of luck, as my friend did not have an Internet connection at home. Private Internet is still an expensive option in Ghana, at costs of at least about $50 per month, even over a dialup line. I was then offered a list of Microsoft phone numbers to call to verify my authorization code. Unfortunately, both phone numbers given by Microsoft for Ghana did not work. Finally, I ended up calling the Microsoft Hotline in Redmond, over my Swiss cell phone – my US cell phone does not work outside of the US. After a 20-minute session with the automated phone system, I was finally connected to a human being, who after another 15 minutes of explaining, finally verified my Windows XP authorization code, such that I could proceed in my installation.

I am not looking forward to my next cell phone bill, I doubt I can send it to Microsoft!

Tuesday, August 29, 2006

Organizing a Public Transportation System Through Swarm Creativity

On a hot and steamy Thursday morning last July I went with my Ghanaian friend to the “37” Trotro hub in Accra, to learn more about how the Trotro system operates. The Trotro hub is a huge walled-in place of dusty mud, overcrowded with people, little buses, and taxis. Like ants coming and going to their hive on ant roads, hundreds of Trotros enter in a never-ending stream the huge place, while at the exit a similar flow of vans streams out. Inside the place, the little buses seem to cover every inch. What is not taken up by Trotros is plastered with little booths where street vendors sell drinks, dried fruits, pastries, sunglasses, newspapers, mobile phone cards and all the others things travelers might need. Besides the Trotros and the sales booths passengers squeeze by, always ready to jump to the side when a Trotro inches by to its destination, whatever that might be. In a bird’s eye view, the entire station looks like the proverbial anthill, with Trotros, sales booths, and passengers all chaotically intermingled, without a recognizable pattern. But there is a highly efficient system underlying how Trotros operate.



On this steamy Thursday morning I talked with Trotro drivers and passengers, trying to understand how the system works. I got more and more impressed. Sometimes my Ghanian friend had to translate to English, because the drivers only spoke their native Akan language. In the end we were directed to a “bookman”, sitting in a little cabin in a corner of the huge place. The bookman was a slim aged man with wise old eyes. Talking in Akan, he explained the system. As a “bookman” , he is a coordinator of sorts, allocating passengers to Trotros. All Trotros are unionized, which means that each Trotro driver has to choose and join a union. The spots on the “37” station, and on the other five large Trotro stations are shared and managed by the unions. This particular morning the bookman we were talking to was managing the highly lucrative routes to the Tema region, the second largest city in Ghana after Accra and its industrial capital.

Every morning, a Trotro driver checks in with his union “bookman”, paying his daily fee and registering with his license plate number. He is then entered into a list, and is allocated to one of the subdestinations within the Tema region. As there are profitable and less desirable destinations, unions alternate between different spots at the different stations. As our bookman explained to us, his union would only get the Tema spot at station “37” again eight days from now. Tomorrow, he would manage another spot with other destinations at another Trotro station.

At the Tema spot at the “37” station, a wooden sign listing the destination is put on top of the bus and behind the dashboard. At the same time, the driver or his helper are endlessly yelling the destination, because a large number of passengers are not able to read the signs. Once a bus is filled with passengers, the signs are removed and placed inside or on top of the next bus allocated to the same destination by the bookman, while the filled bus inches out of the “37” Trotro station, through a cacophony of yelling and honking bus drivers and street vendors, squeezing by other Trotros, taxis, sales booths, and passengers.

Once on the road, Trotro drivers are feared for their reckless way of driving. As time is money, they do everything they can to get to their destination as quickly as possible, to be able to pick up another load of passengers. If they have dropped off some of their passengers on the way, a naked arm waives out of the passenger side window, indicating to passengers waiting on the street that the Trotro has vacant seats. If they also waive, the Trotro pulls over, and picks them up on the road. This leads to a system – looking highly chaotic from the outside – where the Trotro drivers alternate between driving like madmen and idling along. The reason is that each driver tries to reach his destination as quickly as possible, while at the same time searching for new passengers on the road.

Overall, Trotros are an extremely efficient transportation system covering all of Ghana, entirely based on swarm-creativity and self-organization. For less than the equivalent of a dollar, destinations within Accra can be reached, while tickets to remote towns cost a few dollars. Through their unions, Trotro drivers make sure that every driver gets fair access to passengers and the most lucrative routes. The state interferes very little, its main role is to check and certify road safety of vehicles and driving capabilities of drivers. This means that with no external control, Troto drivers self-organize and collaborate in a highly cost-effective system with every driver being his own entrepreneur, controlling his own destiny

Sunday, August 27, 2006

How a self-organizing Community takes care of palm trees

The husband of my friend, Ghanaian by birth, had recently started an oil palm tree plantation. On about 100 hectares of land he had planted 16,000 palm trees, complemented by a pig barn, a duck pond, and goats and chickens. Of course he could not do all this work by himself, but he needed lots of help. To take care of his farm, he initially hired about 50 workers. The most labor-intensive part was tending to the palm trees. He had recruited a group of about 25 workers from nearby villages to take care of the trees. Their task was to remove the weed around the trees, bring out fertilizer, and chase away pests such as tree-eating insects and rodents. At the last workday of the first month, he paid each worker his agreed on monthly salary, cash in the hand, as is the custom in Ghana. On the next working day, he was in for a really bad surprise. Out of his 25 workers, only 4 showed up. They reported that the others would not want to come. They had currently enough money to get by for another month; some of them might come perhaps in a month or two, when they would need money again.
To overcome this problem, my friend came up with a brilliant idea. Instead of workers, he now hires communities. He does not pay them per day, but for tasks. When I was visiting, he had hired one village to weed 600 palm trees. He had negotiated a price with the elders of the village for this task, now it was up to the villagers to make sure that the work was done. The community needed the money to pay for poles to get electricity to the village. If a lazy villager would not show up for work, the community would force him to pay a fine. During my entire visit at the farm, the community of villagers was hard at work weeding the 600 palm trees, cutting down the weeds with their cutlasses. As my friend told me, he had made similar agreements with other communities to get all of his 16,000 trees weeded.
Relying on self-organizing communities, my friend had overcome the mentality of the peasants, solving his problem of tending to his oil palms not by hiring workers, but by unleashing the power of swarms

Saturday, August 26, 2006

Internet Cafes for Ghanaian Schools

For the last 5 years a group of friends and I have been working on getting computers to schools in Africa. So far we have shipped a few hundred used computers from Switzerland to Kenya and equipped a school in Nigeria. Now we would like to extend our project to Ghana.

The goal of our project is to create learning/innovation communities between Ghanaian middle school students and Western middle school students, age group 14-16 years (at this age the Ghanaians should already master English sufficiently to communicate with their counterparts).

Towards that goal, we are currently working to set up Internet-enabled computer rooms at rural schools, away from Accra. The main problem is to make our project sustainable & maintainable by locals. The idea is to ship a classroom of computers to a school, and identify a local who can operate the computer room as an Internet cafe half the time for profit, and provide it the other half of the time for free to the students.

We just got 20 computers donated in Zurich, now we are looking for a sponsor to get them shipped to Ghana from Switzerland, and also to connect them to the Internet via satellite-broadband. The headmaster of the school in Anloga, at the Ghanaian coast towards Togo is eagerly awaiting the computers.
If you would like to help, or have ideas how to obtain help, we would love to hear from you

Friday, August 25, 2006

Who will be the next US President?

Using our TeCFlow software tool to do coolhunting, I recently checked out the Web buzz on different presidential candidates. The first thing I did was looking at the latest poll results on various US Presidential contenders. Here they are:



As you can see, Hillary Clinton is the clear leader for the Democrats, while Rudi Giuliani and Condolezza Rice are tied for the Republicans.

Using TeCFlow to do coolhunting, and looking at who talks about whom most on the Web, shows another picture:



The most central people (having the largest squares) are Rudi Giuliani, and surprisingly, John Edwards and Al Gore. Hillary keeps very quiet, and is not very central on the Web!
At the same time, we see that two Web sites are clear "kingmakers", one of them - not so surprisingly - Wikipedia, and the other - more surprisingly - is www.ovaloffice2008.com. Links from those Web sites greatly boost the centrality of a candidate. In other words, the more back links from one of those Web sites a candidate gets, the more central she or he becomes.

Swarm Creativity in Ghana

In summer 2006 I was visiting an old friend in Ghana. There I encountered amazing examples of swarm creativity and self-organization entirely outside of the realm of the Internet. It already began when I was picked up at the airport of Accra by my friend and her husband. When we drove back to their house I noticed that the streets were filled with small vans of all types, ages, and makes, starting and stopping at odd locations, and picking up groups of people at every corner of the street. When I asked my friends about these vans, I learned that these minivans, called “Trotros”, were the public transportation system of Accra, providing fast, efficient, and cheap transportation in this city of 2 million inhabitants. The most amazing thing about the Trotros, though, is that each van is owned and managed by its driver, without central coordination.
More on later posts