Recently, I picked up a book by Clay Shirky (here is a link to his blog:http://www.shirky.com/weblog/) called Cognitive Surplus, where he highlights some of his favorite examples of crowd sourcing one of which is called Ushahidi which takes volunteer information from communities and maps it for the value it provides to local communities. It is called crisis mapping.
Another of his example of his is "lol cats" and in comparing these he is able to draw interesting points about the changing media landscape and peoples behavior in it. Shirky says the changing media landscape is allowing people to create and share more while consuming. Creating and sharing is natural for us humans because we have language. Still we are witnessing a very different behavior than the old way of consuming, which was passively. As Shirky asserts, there is a cognitive surplus in the masses of people consuming passivity. He says that is all changing because of social media. So what will this surplus do besides "lol cats" and Ushidishi?
It is a rich topic and I am not done with his book but I have I can't wait to sit down and read some more as he does talks about the behavioral science of motivation as well.
This is the thing, I have this idea for a start up; a research institute that gathers community intelligence; comm recon, if you will. It researches consumer markets not as passive data profiles but as engaged citizens having conversations. It then feeds the information to local retailers and producers so that they can join the conversation.
This is in away an alternative to advertising because adverts are projections to consumers that can be ignored or consumed passively as a commercial on TV. The research this group does will work like a like a canvasing organization seeks signatures but it will use surveys and mobile connectivity to aggregate the data it gathers and produce mines of market intelligence.
See I believe that markets can influence business-as-usual bottom-line-sensitive business decisions democratically. Markets may have even more capacity for democracy then political systems do , but that is another topic. Right now businesses will do anything to protect the bottom line from environmental atrocities (Oil spills, Nuclear core meltdowns) to questionable practices like trying to control their consumer though contracts (mobile communications model); to spend gads of money [blindly and expensively] on PR and brand management strategies that attempt to renew their surface image in the face of a market disgrace (for-profit education model).
These are all competitive strategies and often the leaders in these organization think they need to have the answer to secure profits but the social nature of humans actively creating and sharing (the birthright of our language-having species) is generating a different business environment one that requires sophistication, not control.
The new research institute will provide data for businesses and non-profits that understand and embrace collaborative strategies and community engagement on a practical and substantive level. It will invite market and executive conversation. Markets will be the change they want to see, they will become more self-organizing and our entrepreneurial culture will have plenty of intelligence to respond, even if the big business isn't willing to engage.
It is said that the US is the largest marketplace in the world. That may be true, and it may or may not be faltering now but either way, it is time for the market place of consumers to become a community of citizens again. Organizing for the collective good, and to do so in a more sophisticated way. I think I'd call the research coalition PUSH.