Yes, I am currently Director of Research at Focus, proud owners and nurturers of Focus.com, so I'm biased. But any industry analyst, observer or pundit who says they aren't biased is lying. And any who will let their biases alone direct their analyses, observations or punditry aren't very good at what they do and should consider other endeavors. And no, Focus management did not see or know about what I've written here before I wrote or posted it. End of disclaimer. Now, for what would have been my inaugural marketing blog entry, had "Antennagate" not intervened and proven irresistible to me.)
I'm a big fan of Salesforce.com, the pioneering provider of software as a service (SaaS) and cloud computing solutions for business, and of the company's innovative corporate philanthropy. I'm also a big fan of fellow M.I.T. alumnus Peter Coffee, Director of Platform Research at Salesforce.com and one of the software industry's most intellectually interesting and erudite spokespeople.
As evidence, I offer the recent Salesforce.com blog entry from Peter, "The Gold in the Crowd in the Cloud." It's a cogent, interesting discussion of crowdsourcing -- using the Web and social media to throw many otherwise disconnected brains and hearts at the same challqenge or opportunity -- by Salesforce.com and more broadly. It resonated with me not only because of the intersection of good marketing, social good and modern technologies represented by Salesforce.com's specific efforts discussed in Peter's blog (which of course you should check on and support). I was also engaged by Peter's thoughts on crowdsourcing because I believe Focus.com to be a prime example of crowdsourcing done really well.
At Focus.com, anyone can ask or answer a question about almost any aspect of running a business, from human resource (HR) management to information technology (IT). Anyone can contribute content about a business-related subject in which the contributor has expertise, experience and/or strong opinions. And anyone can post comments on anything they see at the site. Content therefore tracks closely with the key concerns of the core Focus.com audience, business decision makers.
Focus oversees and pays for creation of some core content deliverables, which like community-contributed content are available at no cost to whomever can use them. The Focus team also reviews all contributions and Q&A threads, to categorize them and to weed out profanity, irrelevancy and attempts at spam or hacking. Otherwise, though, it's crowdsourcing designed to provide, as the Focus tagline says, "business expertise for everyone," not just companies that can afford expensive market analyses or consulting.
And Focus monitors contributions closely, inviting frequent and well received contributors to become Focus Experts and Advisers. These people are selectively offered opportunities to contribute richer content and to participate in Focus events such as our recent complimentary and wildly successful Focus Interactive Summit, "Mastering Lead Management" (available on demand here; registration required. An open, crowdsourced, largely self-governing meritocracy.
(In case you were wondering, Focus also interviews many of the people who download content from Focus.com about what they've done or are planing to do with the information, when they did it or are planning to do it, and what experiences they've had or are expecting with specific solutions and vendors. Those interviews result in high-quality marketing leads Focus sells to solution providers, to fund the free content and community at Focus.com. A business model so cool, it made me want to join the company a bit more than a year ago now.)
The old ways of obtaining expertise to aid critical business decisions relied largely upon expensive and unwieldy market or industry analyses and reports or expensive and complex consulting engagements, both of which I've done a lot during the past 30-plus years. That business model is unsustainable. It's too expensive and too detached from real life and real time. Crowdsourcing, when directed, managed and supported well, democratizes expertise and makes it affordable and almost immediately available. It also makes the exchange of information and value more conversational and centered around the needs and goals of users and buyers, a win for everyone in the value chain.
Don't just take my admittedly biased word for any of this, though. If you find independent endorsements compelling, "Media Business" Magazine just named Focus.com a Top 10 business Web site and the sole winner in its "launch" category. (Read all about it here.) But what you should really do is visit Focus.com and spend some time poking around. You don't even have to register to do that, and I think even a cursory perusal will give you a tantalizing and credible glimpse into some of what crowdsourcing is doing to transform "the wisdom of crowds" into tangible, measurable, meaningful benefits, in business and in the world at large.
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