Behind the Buzzwords

The Next Big Thing - Collaborative Consumption: A Look Into the Sharing Economy

I’ll gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today. Or perhaps I’ll post about the hamburger through a crowd-funding service, raise the money, distribute perks to those who’ve helped me, and pick up my burger later today.

Ideas like these that pool resources (and funds) to support specific efforts are not only possible, they’re thriving. Collaborative funding sites such as KickStarter and IndieGoGo have been fueled by our economy’s need for capital, and present a subset of a growing industry known as ‘‘collaborative consumption.” 

Collaborative consumption is a business model in which goods or services are shared, swapped, or rented over networks.  Websites like Airbnb, a platform for short term home rentals, and OurGoods, a bartering network for the creative community, have changed the way that we look at the traditional e-commerce model. Social innovator and author Rachel Botsman called this phenomenon a “powerful cultural and economic force” in her 2010 TedxSydney talk and in her book, ‘What’s Mine Is Yours: The Rise of Collaborative Consumption.’ These networks view people as creators and sharers, rather than just consumers, and have thrived because of it.

In the US, groups like Collaborative Chats, SharedSquared, and Let’s Collaborate! have formed to support the growing industry, and investors are keenly aware of its potential. Early investors like the Collaborative Fund turned Skillshare and TaskRabbit into standouts, transforming what was once considered just a fad into a viable business model almost overnight.

In 2013, the winners in the sharing economy will emerge, as margins overtake vanity metrics as a measure of success. Companies need to verify that their business models solve user problems, even as they adapt, pivot, and grow throughout the startup process. We see a healthy obsession with testing at companies like Uber, a private car-sharing service that organizes drivers to provide rides in the U.S. Uber filled an initial void but continues to develop and test new models to address user problems. In the past year, Uber has tested taxi hailing applications and car-share services that adapt to the needs and regulations of different cities and populations. It’s clear that the sharing economy has room to grow in the coming years, led by hard-nosed technology companies that focus on testing, validating, and addressing problems uniquely and efficiently resolved by using a sharing model.

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About the Author

Andrew Bennie, Founder, SliceShares

Andrew Bennie is the Founder of SliceShares, a mobile and web application that helps college students share the cost and size of their pizza orders on campus. Andrew is based in New York City and has consulted and worked in the educational technology sector for the past eight years.

SoLoMo: The bus stop App-ified

“SoLoMo” refers to the growing prevalence of localized social interaction between commercial entities and consumers through mobile devices. In a lot of ways, public transportation was the original SoLoMo. By definition, “mass” transit capitalizes on a Social human tendency, expands the concept of Local, and increases the Mobile capabilities of the individual. Of course, this is not how the term is used today in the tech and ad industries. Instead, SoLoMo is the bus stop, app-ified.

Where riders once had to rely on fellow straphangers to determine when the next bus would arrive (“How long have you been waiting?”), any individual with a cell phone can now tap into a wealth of highly contextualized and personalized transit information in seconds.

As transit agencies begin hardwiring their buses and subways to share data with world, social media expands your network of straphangers. The next time you’re heading out to catch the morning bus to work, search Twitter for your transit agency or route. Odds are that if you’re in a metropolitan area, you’ll see you’re not the only person that a) rides a bus and b) has a cell phone. In fact, you may find that your fellow riders themselves provide a vast amount of highly relevant transit information. Information flow is no longer a one-way street, and this trend is at the heart of SoLoMo.

Today, we have the capability to marry top-down information with organic user-generated content, enriching the experience for all parties. We’ve focused on leveraging this opportunity at Roadify, combining “big data” from transit agencies with contextualized on-the-ground reports from transit riders. With a simple design, users have access to information that is clean and efficient – two words you never thought would apply to public transit.  So go ahead, open that text you just got from Starbucks. You know the next bus is exactly 14 minutes away, more than enough time to use the Mocha Frappuccino Monday Special coupon you just received.

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About the Author

Dylan Goelz, Head of Marketing and Design, Roadify

Roadify aggregates real-time, official information about mass transit conditions with commentary from riders and Twitter into a single cloud-based platform. The company provides this information to riders in one tap, on a personalized screen in a mobile application. Publishers, enterprises and other apps can also access this data using Roadify as a single, scalable, dynamic source.  Roadify covers nearly twenty major cities in the US and Canada.

Memory Games

There we sat, my Italian friend and I, at a sidewalk café with a bottle of wine. The label had an odd Italian mask; an escapee from a Salvador Dali painting with poked-out eye sockets and the expression of someone who has just missed the subway. We sat for a long time constructing the narrative of his life, passing his tale back and forth, until the game was broken off by the collective chuckles of others. Two women walked down the middle of the street with an oversized inflatable pool, squeaking in their sweaty arms.

A few years later, I laughed when reacquainted with my friend on an equally steamy summer afternoon. His expression, unchanged, brought back vivid memories of our first meeting.

Play is often associated with competition between friends, when in fact its true merit lies in the players’ recollection of the game and the context surrounding the occasion. A spirit of camaraderie that only exists in the real world, shared in real time. While technology enables you to play with those who are far away, the principles of engagement remain unchanged.

Unfortunately, digital gaming in its current form only takes into account two of our basic senses – sight and sound. No matter how absorbed we are, our other senses like smell, taste, and the most connecting – touch – are completely disengaged, ultimately rendering the time we’ve spent playing transitory.

As innovators, how do we lead the conversation? The real opportunity created by digital gaming is that it enables an experimental habitat to deliver insights into conversation. To create platforms that merely entertain us isn’t good enough. And to assume that we’ll never find a way to create true emotional resonance through digital games flies in the face of human progress. Soon, we will begin to connect the still-elusive components of friendship – generosity, camaraderie, and happenstance – to gaming platforms.

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About the Author

Jared H Weinstein, Tech Startup Founder & Advertising Creative Director

Jared has contributed to campaigns for a wide variety of clients from IBM to Embassy Suites, GlaxoSmithKline, Samsung, JetBlue, Women & Co., and Rudy Giuliani’s Twin Towers Fund. In 2008, he formed THEDANDYGROUP – a collaborative network to develop independent projects. Currently, he’s the founder of KNOWN MERCHANT, a wine-related mobile start up that draws the emotional connection between the label and the time you spend enjoying wine with friends.

Show Me Where it Hurts - The Future of Pain Points


I’m old enough to remember when meeting customer needs profitably was the core principle of marketing-led business. We articulated needs and identified opportunities. But these terms were not sufficient, and particularly urgent and difficult to solve needs became “pain points.”

At the start of its semiotic life, a pain point was a thing – a point at which some problem or inefficiency caused a business to feel the pain. Then it was a moment – when the customer became so exasperated with a situation that they actually acted in response. Most recently, pain point has been used to describe a constraint – a key limiting factor. In some cases, solving a pain point doesn’t fix a problem, but creates a new market entirely.

Pain points used to be identified in order to solve a problem so that a business could take a specific action. Now they are what makes a business take action – faster and faster. We’ve moved to a world of no friction, in which everything is streamlined. It began with simplification of software and web interfaces, hiding less-used functions deep in menus. Now, as a result of the propensity to reduce all processes to two clicks or less, we’re left wondering: “How exactly do I control my privacy settings?”

However, in the developing world, old-fashioned pain points are still the driving force behind disruptive innovations: For example, 50 percent of Kenya’s entire GDP is expected to pass through mobile phone payment platforms over the next twelve months because Kenya lacks the number of banks, landlines, and ATMs necessary to support the current volume of trade using traditional means of commerce. Farmers turn on their water pumps using missed calls and crowdsourced crisis information is collected and sent to thousands with handsets costing 20 dollars or less.

Working with technology in Africa gives new perspective to the concept of pain points. This is a continent where millions are accessing the Internet for the first time - on a small cellphone screen, in 256 colors or in black and white. Pain is relative.

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About the Author

Kevan Christmas

Kevan has built and run Marketing and Communications companies on three
continents marked by innovation and a digital focus. He has spent the last 5 years on the client side working in R&D and mobile - most recently as COO of Africa’s largest mobile social network.

The Long Tail of Healthcare

Across rural Sub-Saharan Africa, community health workers serve as a vital link between households and health systems. Instead of being forced to risk a potentially dangerous journey to a distant clinic, families now have access to a paid professional who can address basic health issues, right in their community. Armed with protocols, rapid diagnostic testing, and a small arsenal of medicine and mobile phones, these local community health workers can make decisions that save lives.

Community health workers have been around for 40 years, effecting change in countries from Brazil to Nigeria. Today, however, the convergence of dispersed management systems, diagnostic and mobile technology, and political leadership is minting a new generation of agile community health networks. Now the same techniques that are making community health workers the heroes of health in the developing world are being adopted by those seeking to prevent and manage chronic disease in places like New York City.

I launched City Health Works! with the support of Columbia Business School and the Earth Institute with the goal of filling the gaps in our increasingly expensive and overburdened health care system by bringing the best aspects of low-resource community health networks to the US. We’re building a peer-to-peer network of community members who use evidence-based lifestyle improvement techniques to change lives for the better. We see community health workers as the first line of defense against a national epidemic of diabetes, depression, and other chronic conditions. City Health Works! also believes that creating new, high-quality jobs in healthcare, based directly in the neighborhoods where people live, work, and play will benefit the public in more ways than one.

As technology improves the ways we monitor our health at home, the long tail of health care delivery will only grow longer. Creating safe and resilient links between health systems and communities is a challenge our approach is built to solve.

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About the Author

Manmeet Kaur
Founder and Executive Director of City Health Works!

Manmeet has worked in New York City to improve the working conditions of home health workers, in India to stabilize the chaotic lives of construction workers, and in South Africa to help HIV-positive workers build a for-profit enterprise. After finishing her MBA at Columbia Business School, she launched City Health Works!, an organization that aims to harness the power of community networks to create jobs and improve health in New York City.

From the Source's Mouth - The Human Side of Crowdsourcing

Who better to capture the essence of crowdsourcing than a cog in the machine itself? We turned to users of Amazon’s Mechanical Turk service to get a snapshot of the human experience behind all the buzz, asking respondents to “tell us about your first crowdsourcing experience.” Here’s what one respondent told us:

Respondent # A2SWU4Z04QF8LV:

The first time I Crowdsourced, I wrote catalog descriptions. I felt a little like Elaine writing for the J. Peterman catalog.  It was fun and intriguing, and, as I’m a teacher, I enjoyed the opportunity to make use of my downtime during the summer. Since last year, I’ve continued to complete HITs (Human Intelligence Tasks) to pay for my Kindle books and my daughter’s Amazon movies. I go through cycles – lots of “turking,” and then droughts of not doing any. No matter the topic, I enjoy the writing and I like the little things that Crowdsource does that make us workers feel like we are a community – appreciated, even if we don’t really know each other at all.

I am intrigued by the Human Intelligence Tasks, as well as the destination of my work. Where are our individual contributions posted, or pieced together?  Who are the people behind the anonymous interface – the people who contract with Crowdsource to gather the bits and pieces that we offer them?

This weekend, I’m planning on taking the top-tier qualification test that Crowdsource offers. I’m excited to have the opportunity to write more in the future – someday, even full-time. Some may feel that the Mechanical Turk system takes advantage of people who will write for next-to-nothing.  I do not have that feeling about Crowdsource at all. I don’t expect to get rich completing these tasks. I value the variety of exercises and wide range of topics that make the experience a worthwhile way to practice my writing.

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About the Author

Amazon Mechanical Turk

Digital automation and computation are certainly the way of the future, but for some tasks, even the most powerful supercomputer can’t match up to the ingenuity and creativity of the human brain. Amazon Mechanical Turk harnesses this intelligence through a dispersed digital platform, connecting businesses and developers to processing power and talent that’s truly human.

For an Open Internet of Things

The age of the Internet of Things (IOT) is upon us. Soon your shoes will be permanently connected to the Internet, recording every move you make, taking precise measurement of your weight, your movement, and your position, and sending it into the cloud.

The advantage of IOT appliances is that they are fairly cheap. They don’t require much processing power; instead, they register data gathered by a sensor, buffer it and rely on cloud computing to analyze it. As a result, IOT devices can be inexpensive and you can easily have many of them. With the resulting flood of data we’ll gain access to over the next decade will come a host of challenges – who owns it? Who can privatize it? Who will profit from it?

A lot of companies will try to consume user-generated data while keeping it closed to the marketplace. As a consumer, you should be wary of those closed services. The way forward is through open data. Data increases in value when it comes from multiple sources; if each provider and consumer of data keeps within their closed silo, innovation is stifled.

At IOTOPE we are building a new platform that empowers the marketplace through open data. IOTOPE allows the user to initiate actions though Near Field Communication (NFC), a form of wireless communication between devices within ten centimeters of one another. The data generated by each user remains open, and added value is derived from the in-house analysis, reporting, and aggregation that IOTOPE provides. Locking down data is not the solution. We believe that monetization and open data can go hand in hand – and both companies and individuals will benefit from the insights and innovation that will result.

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About the Author

Alex Van Boxel, Founder, IOTOPE
@alexvb  @IOTOPE

Alex Van Boxel recently started IOTOPE, an open platform for the Internet of Things. Its first incarnation concentrates on NFC (Near Field Communication), starting where the now-defunct Touchatag service left off.

The Future of Unified Communications

Back in 2009, I had the honor of interviewing Gurdeep Singh Pall, Microsoft’s corporate Vice President for Unified Communications. Gurdeep caused a stir by throwing a desktop phone into a trashbin on stage at VoiceCon, comparing it to the word processors littering landfills across the country. Instead of a traditional phone, he championed the benefits of Microsoft Office Communications Server. He was one of the most vocal and convincing proponents of a unified communications platform over five infrastructures bound together by “copious amounts of duct tape.”

At first I viewed this as a challenge. I wrote countless words about data being stored in peoples’ heads rather than disk drives, and the need to find those heads and access them. I had religion.

Now I’ve lost it. Along with my netbook, desktop phone, PBX system, and big corporate job. As a small business owner I run my business on a combination of laptops, Chromebooks, iPads, iPhones, and Android devices. I cannot live without Skype and this amorphous thing called “The Cloud.”

I have found a new way to work. In real time. Anywhere, anytime, across any device. I don’t need Cisco, IBM or Microsoft to have telepresence and video conferencing. I have it all thanks to hangouts on Google+. I have seen the future of unified communications, and it is marked by three extremely important developments that will grow and impact not just small businesses but the very largest of global enterprises:

1) Unified Communications is dead. It’s just “Communications.” The merging of text, structured and unstructured data, instant messaging, and video is no longer revolutionary – it is simply the way we live, and the way we (expect to) work. We’re going to see more products that reflect this millennial, gamer mindset - not for novelty or luxury, but for productivity.

2) I’m going to use the “c” word, forgive me: The Cloud. Expect to see more software-as-a-service offerings that bring communications from a CapX model to an OpX model. This will free up untold dollars for more strategic uses of IT throughout your business, giving you nimbleness, first-mover advantage, and improved supply chain management.

3) Mobile. The dramatic deskphone trashbin toss? Let’s throw out the rest of wired communications along with that. Apple, Google, and Samsung have changed the way we live and work forever. You’ll see robust UC tools migrate to Chromebooks, tablets, and mobile devices. You’ll even begin to see UC popping up in the biggest mobile app there is: your car.

The biggest computing device around is mobile – your brain.  Expect technology to continue to try and catch up.

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About the Author

Jim Consolantis, Founder and Chief Strategic Officer, MidBeachConsulting

Throughout his career Jim has ridden each successive wave of the technology revolution, from mainframes to PCs; the Internet to e-business; handhelds to mobile devices and The Cloud. A Cannes Lion winner, he’s developed and launched innovative campaigns for clients such as Microsoft, IBM, Motorola and HP, and now helms his own high tech consultancy in the heart of Miami Beach, Florida.