frank's blog

Amazon Signing Authors Directly – Cutting Out The Publisher

Posted in internet, Media by aldorf on October 17, 2011

After years of turning the traditional brick-and-mortar bookstore business on its head, online retail giantAmazon is now taking aim at the publishing business by getting writers to ditch their publishers in favor of Amazon.

The company is scheduled to publish 122 books this fall in print and e-book form, according to a report from the New York Times. The move puts Amazon in more direct competition with some of its largest suppliers, like Penguin, Random House and MacMillan. Read full story here.

“Storify” Your Social Media Life – Now In Public Beta

Posted in internet, Media, pioneers by aldorf on April 26, 2011
Image representing Storify as depicted in Crun...

Image via CrunchBase,  a company building tools to help journalists, bloggers and experts curate the real-time Web.

Storify stories have been viewed more than 13 million times on their site and across the Web since private beta launch in September 2010. They had 4.2 million views just in March.
Private beta users have created more than 21,000 stories. Storify stories have been embedded on more than 5,000 sites — including some of the most-read destinations on the Web like The New York TimesThe Wall Street JournalThe Washington PostLos Angeles Times, The Guardian, BBC, NPR, PBS, CBC and many other blogs and sites.

48 Ways to Crowdsource Everything

Posted in design, innovation, internet, pioneers, web, your take on... by aldorf on April 26, 2011

Crowdsourcing, which involves a community of anonymous people completing a given task, has become an attractive labor model. Everyone’s

seeking it out, from solopreneurs needing transcriptions to Fortune 500 companies looking for answers to complex scientific problems. Here

are 48 ways to crowdsource just about everything you can think of.


1. While hotels offer predictable accommodations and quality, sometimes you need something different. Like an entire oceanview flat, or an

ultrabudget basement room in the heart of a city’s university area. Sites like AirBnB and VRBO let you search rooms, apartments and houses

listed for (nightly) rent by their owners. When you book through the site, the owner gets everything but the small cut taken by the booking site.

Ideally, you get the kind of different vacation or business travel accommodations that you’re looking for.


2. TunedIT specializes in crowdsourcing data mining and data-driven algorithms. They pose both industrial and scientific challenges, with

student contests to boot. The best algorithm wins the payout.


3. In his book “The Smart Swarm,” author Peter Miller relays the fact that the most effective kind of swarm involves smart people who

specialize in a variety of tasks. Atizo, a crowdsourced brainstorming site, harnesses this idea. From naming a unique company to marketing

ideas to product concepts, this Swiss site lets you collect hundreds of ideas from people across disciplines. Its innovative payment system is

based on points, which brainstormers can accrue in a variety of ways.

4. If you want to focus on the kinds of fresh ideas that young people provide, Brainrack is an idea and solution site with an army of students

brainstorming behind it. Prize money gets divvied up between the best 15 ideas. Kluster is another brainstorming site to check out.

5. There’s also a DIY option in this space. If you want ideas for new products or services, or even how you conduct business, take an example

from Dell. The computer giant’s IdeaStorm website lets consumers submit their ideas for new Dell products and services, as well as anything

else that strikes users’ fancies. Dell doesn’t define the topics, leaving its users creative space. Of the 15,000 or so ideas it has received to date,

the company has used more than 400. If you’re a smaller operation, you can do something similar through a Twitter list or a Facebook group

(or your fan page) devoted to the topic.

Broadway Plays

6. Ken Davenport is producing the musical Godspell this year exclusively with crowdsourced funding. One share of the musical costs $100,

and investors have to buy a minimum of ten shares. This entry ticket pales in comparison to the usual Broadway investor minimum of $25,000.

Godspell needs a total budget of $5 million, relatively meager compared to other plays. Davenport, who had to pass a finance exam in order to

sell the shares of his play in the first place, runs a site called The People of Godspell to continue the effort.

Business Innovation

7. Innovation Exchange, like many crowdsourcers, runs contests that award winners with a cash prize. They focus on the business side of

innovation, such as products, services, and processes. Companies submit problems to the site, then facilitators pull together teams from diverse

backgrounds to tackle them. Challenges range from marketing ideas and ad campaigns to better packaging and transport. (Though the site

doesn’t advertise its challenges as being technical, some of the challenges do require a technical background.)

Cancer Treatment

8. Cancer Commons’ goal is to provide patients with the best cancer treatment possible through crowdsourced information. Doctors, scientists

and patients contribute to the effort by sharing treatment results (based on the tumor’s genomic subtype) and using that knowledge to figure

out how to best treat the next person. The website also aims to outsmart the shortfalls of Big Pharma’s randomized clinical trials by gathering

volumes of specific information.


9. These guys have quite the niche. Colnect is a crowdsourced collectibles catalogue on which collectors display hundreds of thousands of

stamps, coasters, phone cards, and other things they’d gathered. Call it the crowdsourced anti-print catalogue. Users have both wish lists and

swap lists, so people in this little industry can fine-tune their collections.

Data Entry and Digitizing

10. Microtask crowdsources your data entry and digitizing of handwritten forms to a mixture of people and machines. Instead of being able to

select their assignments, human Microtaskers work through a queue of seconds-long tasks for as long as they’re available to do them. This is

what the New York Times calls an “online assembly line.” Companies use these information factory workers full-time; Microtask’s software

facilitates the process and guarantees results.


11. “If you don’t give back nobody will like you” is Crowdrise’s motto. While certain politicians and beloved-by-investor corporations

continually prove this statement wrong, there’s something to it, and Crowdrise knows that. Basically, you create a profile, put up your cause

(or join someone else’s), message via existing social media sources, and network. Eventually, unless everyone still hates you, you’ll get the

money you need.

Finding a Mortgage

12. You know those automated mortgage comparison sites? SmartHippo isn’t too different, except that it’s powered by a human community,

which gives you a more personal touch—and potentially more accurate information—during your mortgage hunt.

Forecasting and Data Prediction

13. If you have reams of data and want trained eyes to tell you more about it, hit up the statistical analysis crowdsourcer Kaggle. There, teams

of data scientists can predict everything from the speed of freeway traffic at a certain time of day to the ratio of people who will default on

their bank loans. The team with the best data prediction model wins your prize.

Graphic Design

14. Your website design, logos, business cards, pamphlets, and more can all be crowdsourced now. 99Designs is a contest site where you

submit your concept and let a pool of more than 100,000 designers compete for your prize. At the end, you get the design and the copyright.

ReDesignMe is another website to check out in this space.

CrowdSpring is a similar website that specializes in small business graphic design. It also offers a host of writing services, from opinion

articles to company naming. It also operates on a prize-based model. Squadhelp is another site that crowdsources web design and marketing,

also with a focus on small businesses.

15. Minted is more of a niche crowdsourcer. It only crowdsources paper designs, especially cards, announcements, wedding invites, and other

kinds of stationary. Their open design competitions are, unlike many other crowdsourcing sites, democratic: Users vote the best designs to the



16. Tapping your Twitter followers will help you gain real-time input on your products, services, and anything else you need to know.

Depending on how much feedback you want, and how detailed you want it to be, you may want to offer an incentive such as a prize. You can

also join or create Twitter lists for ongoing collaboration and discussion. Using Twitter doesn’t require an intermediary, it’s fast, and it

harnesses people you’re already familiar with.

17. Facebook is another way of doing just that. Through a private group or by using your fan page, you can collect rapid-fire feedback for your

company. As with Twitter, offering a prize will often get you more responses. You can also use the site for ongoing collaboration.

Innovation (B2B)

18. Some big corporations have set up proprietary networks to crowdsource their innovation. For example, P&G Connect + Develop, Procter

& Gamble’s invite-only open innovation website, lets companies work with the consumer products giant on its innovation. Only select

companies can participate, and ideas aren’t visible to everyone. While P&G has the heft and leverage to pull off this kind of proprietary

network, if you’re a small business owner, you can also crowdsource innovation through private groups on Facebook.


19. EquitySplash says it’s “crowdsourcing Wall Street” by letting users invest in a fund (their ownership is proportional to their investment),

then having them buy and trade individual picks via a proprietary platform. The outcome of each trade gets spread around the fund. It sounds

fun, unless you’re the one making all the bad trades.

20. Through StockTwits, you can network with a huge community of traders around the world, riding their coattails, adding to the info pool, or

being a revered lead-dog trader yourself. It doesn’t just run through Twitter, either—you can get tools, widgets, data feeds, and more off their


Lawn Mowing

21. Who said you couldn’t crowdsource cutting grass? Put in an order on Lawn Mowing Online, and someone from your area will come over

and cut your grass the next day, for $19 and up. Anyone with a lawnmower, digital camera and computer can compete for a gig on this site.

As a result, moonlighters and professionals are available at a moment’s notice, all from one central website.


22. If the bank won’t lend you money, or if you’re looking to make a better interest rate than the measly one banks are currently offer, peer-topeer

lenders like Prosper offer alternatives. Find real people to lend to or from. With more than 1 million users and $227 million lended,

Prosper is money.

Marketing Research

23. If you need to build and organize a client database, run marketing surveys, or even just sort your existing information, the dutiful

Clickworkers will hand it over with characteristic German efficiency. They also crowdsource things like writing instruction manuals and


Mobile Testing

24. If you’re developing anything on a mobile platform, Mob4Hire can basically crowdsource the entire development process you, using a

swarm of more than 45,000 testers on more than 300 carriers around the world. They give you feedback in every stage of the development

cycle, helping you bring your product to market quickly and efficiently.


25. When millions of users share their playlists, streaming individual songs to other users who want to listen to them real-time, you have one

massive crowdsourced music system. That system’s name is Spotify, and its technology lets users listen to just about any song they want to—

with the exception of a few with licensing issues, like Oasis in the UK—on demand and for free.

26. If you want to crowdsource your music making, MusikPitch lets you tap the swarm for custom songs, compositions, jingles, background

music—you name it. is the first site for crowdsourcing custom songs and music compositions. You name the kind of music you want and what

you’re willing to pay, then sic the crowd on the task. The winner gets your prize.

Patent Research

27. This task can be a horribly time-consuming pain, and Article One Partners has the panacea. Their network of more than 1 million patent

researchers works on whatever patents or patent issues you need dug up. You can communicate with them to make sure you get the right

results. As with many crowdsourcing sites, the best or most extensive research, as determined by you, wins your monetary prize.


28. You have the means. You have an idea of the societal problem you want to address. But you’re not sure how to put your funds or available

grants to best use. Enter Philoptima, which crowdsources the design and implementation of nonprofit programs for people who have money,

but need good solutions. Whoever finds the winning solution gets the cash prize.


29. In the traditional stock photo industry, photographers would license their images to established companies, like Getty Images, and receive

fees whenever someone bought those photos. As a result, photographers could establish a passive income stream–say, $50 every time someone

bought a photo. iStockPhoto disrupted this system by letting amateur photographers, generally more concerned with getting their names out

than making money, sell their photos for $1 a pop. Legions of amateurs filled the site with cheap and, with numbers on their side, many highquality

photos. This changed the stock photo industry forever. Getty ended up buying it.

30. Yahoo-owned Flickr hosts hundreds of thousands of users who display their photography on the site. Many of these users let you use the

photo for free—with credit—via specific Creative Commons licenses. All you have to do is find the picture and credit it appropriately. Many

such Flickr users have excellent photographs, meaning that companies seeking to crowdsource that function have good prospects here.

Preventing Poverty

31. Yes, even the act of preventing downward mobility has been crowdsourced. The Modest Needs foundation has people with serious

financial emergencies write about their issues online. Readers then donate whatever amount of money they can afford until the person’s

“modest need” is met. The organization performs due diligence on the people in need, making the website legit and free of scammers.

Project Management

32. Smartsheet is a project collaboration tool with integrated crowdsourced labor. You use their software to collaborate with your remote team

on the project, and plug in labor wherever in the process you need it. The software has HR, IT, marketing, and product management features

integrated, kind of a one-stop shop for both collaboration and labor.

Protests and Causes

33. Got cause? CrowdVoice can help. By tracking protests around the world, it gives you a central place to find cutting-edge information about

your cause and what people are doing about it. CrowdVoice collates news, video, and social media information, so it saves you time and effort

in finding the crucial updates you need.


34. Help a Reporter Out (HARO) matches up experts and businesspeople with reporters to create a symbiotic source/PR relationship. You scan

your daily HAROs and see if there’s something you can comment on; reporter publishes or airs a story with your commentary in it. Bingo—

instant PR, without the legwork.

Quality Assurance (QA)

35. uTest offers on-demand, crowdsourced mobile, web, gaming, and desktop application testing. They offer usability, functional and load

testing, by nearly 38,000 testers in more than 170 countries. They offer custom quotes in advance, too, so you know exactly what you’re

getting into.

Scientific or Technical Problems

36. Familiar with RNA sequencing, chemical derivatives, or GUIs? Then you might be the kind of user that InnoCentive seeks out to solve

companies’ pressing technical problems. Geared at braniacs, and offering handsome prizes for the winning idea, InnoCentive lets companies

tap a global community of more than 200,000 users to solve the problems they can’t figure out internally. Those users, in turn, attempt to

tackle the problem for a prize. Companies select their winners—and gain a whole bunch of alternative solutions from non-winners in the


37. Like InnoCentive, Idea Connection taps the brains of engineers, scientists and other tech-oriented people to solve difficult problems.

Unlike InnoCentive, however, Idea Connection is facilitated, and keeps much of its information confidential. Companies come to the service

with their challenges, and Idea Connection acts as a middleman, seeking out input from users via collaborative intranets. Companies can

customize how much input they get and how much they pay; Idea Connection takes care of the rest. With that level of service, one wonder

about the size of the cut that Idea Connection takes vis-à-vis other crowdsourcing helpers.

38. There are more companies in this space. Consultant Nine Sigma also provides a high level of service, helping companies customize the

kinds of structures they need to support open innovation, as well as facilitating open innovation processes. Hypios is another company that

provides a platform to outsource your R&D.

Tedious Tasks

39. If your business involves QAing software or content, or perhaps transcribing, finding things online, tagging, or any of the other

miscellaneous tasks that come up in your business, there are a couple places that can help out.

40. Mechanical Turk, powered by, lets you splice up your task into minute pieces, enabling you to crowdsource those slices of

the project to hundreds of people at the same time. As a result, you’ll get your entire project done faster, because loads of Mechanical Turk

providers finish their own slices in the time span you allot. You can get a project that would have taken days done in hours or even minutes

this way.

41. CrowdFlower, formerly known as Dolores Labs, is a similar service. It harnesses its millions of users to take on parsed sections of bigger

projects, many of the same nature as Mechanical Turk’s. Indeed, CrowdFlower sources people through Mechanical Turk (and several other

places). They can also help with custom projects for small businesses, as well as enterprise-level crowdsourcing projects.


42. Starting at 5 cents per word, you can have your content translated by a crowd of 1,200 translators around the world on MyGengo. The

Japanese company offers translation in 11 languages. The site’s simple, intuitive interface and pay model make human translation almost as

easy as plugging something into a machine translator—but with more accuracy, of course.


43. Zipcar is pretty well-known as an easy way to rent a car by the hour, but there are other services that make sense. Car2Go is Austin’s

answer to Zipcar; RelayRides takes the community aspect one step further by letting you rent from independent car owners, by the hour or by

the day. They’re only in Boston and San Francisco so far, but will hopefully spread to new cities soon.


44. Poptent crowdsources commercials, virals, how-tos and all of the other video needs today’s companies have. Basically a social network for

people who make videos, Poptent gathers assignments by mostly Fortune 500 hundred companies, lists them on its site, and Poptent members

create videos with the given content and creative brief. After users finish the assignments, the company picks their favorite and pays.

45. Tongal’s tagline is “where the best ideas meet the best filmmakers,” and that pretty much sums up the collaborative videomaking contest

website. If you want an ad, you put up your project and prize, and let the masses compete. Users can also be paid based on the number of

times people download their videos, so all is not lost, even if a user loses a contest.

Waste Disposal

46. If you have something you want to get rid of, chances are someone in TerraCycle’s crowd is willing to do it for you. They specialize in

both recyclables and “upcyclables,” things that you don’t want, but someone else can use. eCycler is another crowdsourcer that focuses solely

on recyclables; Freecycle, on the other hand, is the ideal place to dispose of and pick up things to upcycle.


47. If you need a press release in an hour, content on the quick, translation, or proofreading/editing, has officially parsed the single

human being formerly known as the writer into an anonymous online crowd of college students, stay-at-home parents, unemployed people,

and anyone else seeking a quick job fix. It’s quick, because guarantees a 24-hour turnaround time; the proofreaders and other service

providers are sourced through sister site They attract these users in part through quick assignments and guaranteed next-day

pay. Sadly, automates the personal communication that generally makes writers more effective to a client, and it doesn’t let you use the

same writer twice.

48. takes an interesting slant on niche writing. For $25, you can get a letter—any letter—written in 24 hours. We’re talking

letters of acceptance, resignation, hypothecation, rejection, and anything else you can dream up. In a nod to the former glory days of copyright,

LetterRep pays writers again if existing letters get purchased more than once. (via Business Pundit)

Fashism – Get Fashion Feedback Before Making a Purchase.

Posted in ideas, pioneers by aldorf on November 22, 2010
Ashton Kutcher 2008-09-09

Image via Wikipedia

Shopping startup Fashism

The beta version looks really crappy but this New York start-up has just announced that it raised an angle round of funding led by A Grade Investments. The fund was created by actor/entrepreneur/professional Ashton Kutcher.

The New York startup offers a way to get fashion feedback before making a purchase. For example, if you’re not sure whether a jacket is a good buy, you can try it on, take a photo, ask how it looks on how, then read comments from other Fashism users. Fashism says its site has more than 40,000 registered users on its site, while its iPhone application has been downloaded 50,000 times.


To Cool For School – Imagination Playground

Posted in architecture, ideas by aldorf on July 29, 2010

What a great project by David Rockwell (CEO Rockwell Group) and KaBoom an organization with the powerful vision to “provide a place to play within walking distance of every child in America”. Rockwell came up with this portable, all in a box, playground approach which brings Darell Hammond and his organization a lot closer to reach their goal.Anywhere, anytime. It’s activating and collaborative. Kid’s building their own playgrounds. All out of sand, water, loose parts and imagination. A place “where creativity can run wild” (New York Times). Kudos to David Rockwell for this child-centric, innovative playground concept.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

A Pretty Good Day For Trees: E-Books Selling Faster Than Hardcovers At Amazon

Posted in Media, web by aldorf on July 27, 2010

(photo via

In fact, e-books took the lead three month ago, since which time Amazon says it’s sold 143 Kindle books for every 100 hardcover books. What’s more, leaving their physical counterparts in the proverbial dust, e-books have outsold hardcovers at a rate of 180-to-100 over the last four weeks. (via mediapost)

The news marked “a day for the history books — if those will even exist in the future,” quipped The New York Times.

Posted in blog, ideas, web by aldorf on December 24, 2009

VentureBeat’s mission is to provide news about innovation for forward-thinking executives.
In 2008, the New York Times called VentureBeat one of the “best blogs on the Web,” and now the NYT runs VentureBeat’s articles on its web site. In March 2009, VentureBeat signed a partnership agreement with IDG to produce DEMO, the leading conference for launching emerging technology products.
Founder Matt Marshall was a correspondent for the Wall Street Journal in Bonn, Germany from 1995 through 1998. In 1999 he wrote a book while in Germany, “The Bank: the Birth of Europe’s Central Bank and the Rebirth of European Power” (Random House, 1999)

It’s Berlin Again

Posted in architecture by aldorf on December 7, 2009

A renovated gas station is the new home to Juerg Judin in the city’s Schoeneberg district. Here is an article from last weeks NYT.

Data Visualization_Part I

Posted in blog, illustration by aldorf on September 16, 2009

DataVisualization_1One of my favorite things on NYT blogs to read is “Abstract City” by Christoph Niemann. He is an excellent, keen observer of human nature and a great Illustrator. Data Visualization more old school but with a twist, if you know what I mean.

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