Amazon's Mechanical Turk is a crowd surfing tool to help maximize the liquidity in the work force. If task X will take 1000 hours to complete, using the power of the crowd, you could break this task up and get 100 people working on it, thus completing the task in 10hrs. (Aside: Amazon's service is affectionately named after Wolfgang von Kempelen's 1770 chess-playing machine pictured above)
Unfortunately, most enterprises have become even more guarded about intellectual property leakage that Amazon's service mostly inaccessible to large organizations. Yet, it is in large enterprises that could most benefit from a local Mechanical Turk service:
- To varying degrees all employees have spare cycles that go unused
- In large organizations, department boundaries prevent collaboration and utilizing
- Route tasks are often solved with spending money on consultants or third party services
- New ideas are often stifled because of lack of time/energy to initiate and build momentum
The larger an organization becomes, the more in-efficient it becomes. This is a function of increased bureaucracy, department silos and political relationships. A private Mechanical Turk service would help break down these barriers and leverage the spare brain power and time in the organization without having to worry about intellectual property leakage. A private Mechanical Turk service would befit the enterprise by:
- increasing net productivity
- decrease departmental silos
- foster innovation and skunk-works projects
- increase collaboration and idea sharing
What other ways could the enterprise benefit from having a private mechanical turk?
Isn't it funny that each home owner in north america has somehow been convinced that we need to buy our own lawn mower? I bought mine right after I bought my first house. I checked out all the models. Shopped around for the best price and weighted the choice of gas v. electric v. push mower. In the end, I bought my one. After all, the lawn needed cutting!
But then, as all dutiful home owners do, I stored it in the shed, and pulled it out once a week for 45 minutes. It's kind of silly that I would spend that much money on something but only use it for so little time.
Here's my proposition - buy only one community lawn mower for all the houses on your street. One mower to share. Each person chips in a few dollars for maintenance and (gasp!) gas. When you add it up, that's a lot of money saved and one less thing to clutter your garage.
There are other benefits from sharing a lawn mower too:
- the number of lawn mowing gas engines leaking oil into the ground is reduced
- save space in the shed / garage
- you meet your neighbours
Think of all the other power tools that we could probably share amongst neighbours instead of each person buying their own!
The Pause button is broken. It's broken because you resume exactly where you left off. As more audio and video becomes available via on-demand, the usability of the pause/resume button will become more important and will become a distinguishing feature among players.
For music, where you resume the song is not very critical. However, for longer content, such as video or podcasts, the pause/resume functionality is much more important. When you resume, you often lose key plot points and generally lose time rewinding the content.
Typically, you Pause a video or audio because you are interrupted - you are switching tasks. When you return to your movie, tv show, or podcast, it takes you a few moments to get back into the frame of mind when you left off. This is called the cost of task switching. As a result you often end up having to rewinding the stream a few seconds into the past and then restarting.
Here are 5 ways to enhance the usability of the Play/Pause button:
- Paused Video and Audio content should automatically resume a few moments in the past - not at the pause position.
- The amount of automatic time shifting should be proportional to the length of the content. For example, A short podcast, should backtrack a second or two while a TV show should resume 3-5 seconds in the past. Feature length films might rewind even up to 30 seconds to a minute.
- The nearest a scene change or audio lull should factor into the auto time-shifting calculation.
- If the content is played on a computer, the Pause point should be set to when the mouse starts moving before the paused button is pressed.
- If available, the reflex time should factor into the Pause point. (eg: the time between moving the mouse over the pause button and actually clicking the pause button)
Timezones and Daylight Savings Time are antiquated ideas that need to be replaced. I propose that they be replaced with a new Universal Time that would synchronize the globe
Standard Time was an invention for the emerging global economy. A version 1.0 if you will. Of course it was never implemented with the order that Sr. Sanford Flemming originally envisioned. Standard Time solved these problems:
- each city had a different noon and midnight based on the local view of the sun
- communication and train schedules were complicated and convoluted
Standard Time introduced:
- 24 zones representing 15 degrees of latitude that would use a consistent time
- each zone would be exactly 1 hour different from the next
- colloquialisms such as 'noon' and 'midnight' remained with minor changes
Unfortunately, Standard Time had its own set of problems:
- confusing when a political region is divided into multiple time zones
- scheduling meetings and coordinating events are problematic since Noon is different depending on your local timezone
- Therefore timezones became organized using political boundaries instead of latitude zones causing broad inefficiencies of the use of solar time
Daylight Savings Time was finally enforced after WW2 as an attempt to reduce the use of incandescent light bulbs at night (the primary use of electricity) and ultimately maximize the sunlight for working hours.
However, DST has its own serious drawbacks:
- DST doesn't reduce electricity use but increases electricity consumption
- psychologically, people are more likely to go out in the evening if it is light after work - thus more automotive & gas consumption
- Schools and office buildings use more gas/energy to warm up in the morning because the ambient temperature is lower due to the darkness.
- DST is least efficient for central US states and Canadian provinces and benefit the East and West costs the most.
- In these central states and provinces DST is not observed causing switching costs and potential loss of productivity during the adjustment.
- Each country has its own DST rules
Ultimately DST is an inefficient attempt to recreate the solar efficiencies that local-time once had.
As we move to a more and more globally dependent economy, timezones still introduce complexity and communication hurdles when dealing with different organizational units spanning the globe. Often businesses will adopt a single timezone to communicate companywide (often choosing the timezone of the company headquarters) More importantly, we are looking for ways to optimize our daily routine to minimize utility costs. Heating big office buildings in the dark hours of the morning is less efficient than letting the sun heat them up and
To solve these problems, I propose a new Universal time. We'll call this Version 2.0 for timekeeping in a global environment. Here is what I propose for the New-Universal-Time:
- Globally adopt a single timezone for timekeeping. Ideally this would be UTC, but I'm fine with arbitrarily choosing NST too.
- Each region locally defines how to maximize solar time. For example, in Boston, the local hours of business could be 13:00 to 21:00 while in San Francisco it could be 16:30 to 00:30
Aside from the transition period, this will solve the two major problems: 1) communication consistency and 2) maximize daylight to minimize electricity/gas consumption (and minimize SAD). While each city/state/region will define their own business hours there will be a universal language to communicate the difference.
Now, when someone on the west coast proposes a meeting at 22:00 (middle of the local solar day) the person on the East will say, "sorry I can't make it, I'm putting my kids to bed then."
Of course, I realise that while the benefits might be many, getting wide spread adoption will be next to impossible. It'll likely happen right after the US adopts the metric system.
Let's be honest. The real reason that Neilson Boxes track TV watching patterns is to ultimately report Advertising reach to they people paying for the TV programs - the advertisers. Neilson reports to the stations what shows were watched and when. This data is correlated with the commercials and fancy charts are produced when the station is wooing a new advertising client.
The problem with the internet is, while we know a lot more about advertising impressions, we also know a lot less. When a commercial comes on the TV, consumers watch only the commercial. It's eyeball monopoly. When an ad is placed on a webpage, the ad is competing with the content on the page for attention. Eyes bounce over advertising with great ease.
But what if you could track a person's eye on the webpage? This would be valuable information. It would not only give feedback to the effectiveness of the placement and layout, it would also provide another valuable metric - eyeball attention.
There are two ways to track eyeball movement:
- indirect using the movement of the mouse. People read with their mouse, so just track the movements of the mouse
- Use the computer's built in iSight to track the person's eye movements on the page.
All Mac computers bought over the last few years come pre-equipped with a webcam facing the user. iSight is the colloquial name for this webcam. The webcam is present not just on Macs these days, but also on Dells, Lenovo's and most other home computers.
Why not pay users a small fee to watch them as they surf the net?
Sure it's more intrusive than a Neilson Box, but the information would be immensely valuable. Even today we don't know if the person was actually in the room when the ad played on TV. Tracking eye movement on a webpage (and correlating it to the window position and the contents of the viewport) is a relatively simple computational task. The big challenge will be getting user adoption.
Would you allow a third-party computer program to watch you as you surfed the net?
The truth is that the Zune is not the success Microsoft hoped for. Even now there are rumors that Microsoft will look to shut down the Zune as the company tries to cut costs.
Instead of trying to beat Apple using Apple's trategy, Microsoft could beat Apply by conceding defeat. Instead of trying to build an eco system of proprietary adaptors and peripherals, Microsoft should make the Zune compatible with the ecosystem that Apple has already created. The Zune should be able to plug in and use every iPod enabled product already available.
Even if they have to pay a licensing fee to Apple, Microsoft needs to adopt the adapter standard. This will lower the cost of switching and consumers will be more willing to 'try' the Zune. Microsoft's greatest strength is embracing the existing ecosystem. This is how Microsoft won the first round of the OS wars.
Microsoft's strenth is compatibility, while Apple's strength is usability. Microsoft should bat to their strengths instead of trying to emulate the competition. As I see it, this is the only way that they can win the music player wars.
Microsoft should stop developing Office for Mac and instead ship Office for Windows running on a Virtualized Windows environment on OSX.
Microsoft Office for mac is a paradox for Microsoft:
- Microsoft can't risk losing the income from Office for Mac - It's 10% of Office sales.
- Office for mac makes it easier for PC owners to switch to Mac.
- Microsoft makes money from office, regardless of whether the person is using OSX or Windows.
- Its cross platform support means 2X the cost of development
- Making sure it works consistently between OSX and Windows increases the cost substantially
- Features in Office Mac lag that of Office Windows.
- Feature adoption slows because of the lack of cross platform support - especially in enterprises.
So what should Microsoft do? Microsoft needs to get back into Virtualization.
At the same time that the Mac has risen in popularity, so has Virtualization technology. Virtualization allows you to run a different Operating System inside your primary Operating System. This way you can run Windows in OSX with very little performance loss. VMWare and Parallels are just two of many companies competing in this space. Unfortunately, Microsoft pulled its Virtual PC product for Mac several years ago.
Instead of developing a separate product called Office: Mac, Microsoft should develop one version of Office. The Mac version would simply be Office for Windows running in a virtualized environment of windows.
- single development cycle
- consistent user experience
- additional revenue from selling the virtualization environment as a standalone product
- Office for Mac would mysteriously runs a little slower than the Windows counterpart (because of the virtualization shim).
- The best side-effect? How do you speed up Office for mac - Use Windows.