Blogger Chris O'Donnell recently sent me a note about his new gig at Techdirt. He hinted at a new model for corporate intelligence and research, so I prodded him for more info. It turns out that Techdirt has found a nice way to bypass the "wisdom of crowds" and find the "gems in the crowd" – those few people who have real expertise and can provide excellent answers to a topic.
The idea is the Techdirt Insight Community, a place where companies can post questions and bloggers can answer them. Here's what the site says about it:
Companies can use the Techdirt Insight Community to get a confidential instant focus group of experts, who can give feedback, test ideas, review products, make strategy suggestions, help with purchasing decisions or any number of other services that require a dedicated group of experts. Also, Techdirt's in-house analyst team regularly engages expert bloggers for their thoughts on how major current events impact Techdirt customers.
The best thing is that you can actually make some decent money at this. The catch is that you have to provide good answers. For example. I logged in yesterday and found a question about wireless technologies that offered $100 to the top three answers. You wouldn't know it from this blog, but I actually know quite a bit about Bluetooth, Ultrawideband, and wireless in general, and $100 was enough to tempt me to write an answer. That's what I like about the model – it's self-selective because it only rewards the best answers so the bloggers have to be confident that they can write a good answer or it's a waste of time.
One of the major problems with all this stuff about edge competencies and the denigration of core strategies as a result of web 2.0 is that it ignores the marginal value of time to the contributor. Most people that are highly successful and worth a lot of money per hour aren't sitting around contributing to Digg and YouTube. They have better things to do. Most successful people already make good money, and if you promise them a few extra dollars for a few minutes of work, it's not worth it. If you make 100K a year, do you want to make $5 for contributing to a project? No. Even if it is something you care about, there are still only so many hours in a day. You can't contribute to everything. Techdirt has a model that encourages participation even for busy people.
Let me try to make it simpler to understand. If you make $50/hr at your regular job, and you already work 50 hours per week, the pain caused by working that 51st hour can't be erased with $15. You are only willing to tie up another hour of your life for something that you believe in very strongly, or something that pays you enough money to compensate for the pain of working that 51st hour. The problem with "the edge" is that successful people are already tapped out, so the edge is filled with a few talented people who are very passionate about your company/cause, and lots of mediocre people who have a lower value on their time. Techdirt has found a way to raise that bar by offering a larger reward for valuable contributors. At the same time, they have offloaded the risk of participation to the answerer, who may or may not get paid.
It's a cool idea, and embraces some of the concepts from the Askspace project that some of you will remember. I think this idea has a good future, and if you blog, I encourage you to sign up and give it a shot.