Thursday, February 26, 2009
Monday, February 9, 2009
Super Bowl Ads and the Rise of the Prize EconomySteve Lohr
Mark Walsh, chief executive of the start-up Genius Rocket, loved this year’s Super Bowl — not so much the game, but the hit Doritos ad, the $1 million prize it won for the two brothers from Indiana and what their triumph represents. “The match lit the fuse with that Doritos ad,” Mr. Walsh said.
Mr. Walsh is truly an Internet commerce veteran. His online credentials go back more than two decades to Compucard and then through General Electric’s GEnie, America Online and VerticalNet.
His current venture, Genius Rocket, runs an online marketplace where people compete to get paid for their work, ranging from 90-second video ads for the Web to product logos and book covers.
Genius Rocket had nothing to do with the Doritos Super Bowl ad contest. But the site aims to be the kind of place where people like Joe and Dave Herbert, whose “Free Doritos” spot won the competition, can find customers for their creative work.
The buyers, mainly consumer marketers, issue a request for work, describing what they want. Then, far-flung creators submit their work and the buying company picks one or a few winners. The prizes typically range from $5,000 to $500, Mr. Walsh said.
By now, Genius Rocket, founded in 2007, has 8,000 registered “creative collaborators,” as Mr. Walsh calls the prize contest entrants, spread across 100 nations. To date, Genius Rocket has conducted contests for 50 projects for 40 companies.
His stable of enterprising amateurs and freelancers possess “incredible talent,” Mr. Walsh said, and they can do advertising and marketing projects for a tenth the cost of traditional ad agencies.
Genius Rocket is another proof point in a larger trend that may just be getting underway — the rise of the prize economy. It is already well established in science, as a more efficient way of eliciting breakthroughs than traditional federal funding or grant-making.
The Pentagon’s DARPA research agency awarded $1 million in 2007 to the winner of its Urban Challenge for the best and fastest unmanned vehicle. The X Prize Foundation is offering multimillion-dollar prizes for path-breaking advances in genomics, alternative-energy cars and private space exploration.
Economists have suggested federally sponsored prizes as the most promising path to deliver breakthrough technologies to combat climate change, and the Obama science team likes the prize model.
In big science, the prize model has great appeal. The participants in those contests are mainly tenured professors and graduate students supported by scholarship funding — categories of laborers utterly insulated from the rigors of the market economy.
If the prize model of buying work takes off, it would mean a huge transfer in the balance of power to the buyers — corporations — and from most workers. Maybe that’s inevitable, efficient and another byproduct of the Internet (which greatly reduces the transaction costs of running contests as Genius Rocket does). “The Internet disintermediates everything it hits,” Mr. Walsh observed.
Still, Mr. Walsh is no Dickensian capitalist. He is a lifelong liberal who handed out bumper stickers for Hubert Humphrey as a kid, served as a technology adviser for the Democratic National Committee, and was a former chief executive of liberal radio network Air America (where he still sits on the board). He is a big Obama backer. Another Genius Rocket founder is Joe Trippi, the grassroots strategist and Internet mastermind behind former Vermont Gov. Howard Dean’s 2004 presidential campaign.
“Like you, I am concerned about how we all make a buck in this world,” Mr. Walsh said. “But the free-agent nation is going to happen.”
Wednesday, February 4, 2009
By MICHAEL LIEDTKE - 29 minutes ago
SAN FRANCISCO (AP) - With an upgrade to its mobile maps, Google Inc. hopes to prove it can track people on the go as effectively as it searches for information on the Internet.
The new software released Wednesday will enable people with mobile phones and other wireless devices to automatically share their whereabouts with family and friends.
The feature, dubbed "Latitude," expands upon a tool introduced in 2007 to allow mobile phone users to check their own location on a Google map with the press of a button.
"This adds a social flavor to Google maps and makes it more fun," said Steve Lee, a Google product manager.
It could also raise privacy concerns, but Google is doing its best to avoid a backlash by requiring each user to manually turn on the tracking software and making it easy to turn off or limit access to the service.
Google also is promising not to retain any information about its users' movements. Only the last location picked up by the tracking service will be stored on Google's computers, Lee said.
The software plots a user's location - marked by a personal picture on Google's map - by relying on cell phone towers, global positioning systems or a Wi-Fi connection to deduce their location. The system can follow people's travels in the United States and 26 other countries.
It's left up to each user to decide who can monitor their location.
The social mapping approach is similar to a service already offered by Loopt Inc., a 3-year-old company located near Google's Mountain View headquarters.
Loopt's service is compatible with more than 100 types of mobile phones.
To start out, Google Latitude will work on Research In Motion Ltd.'s BlackBerry and devices running on Symbian software or Microsoft Corp.'s Windows Mobile. It will also operate on some T-Mobile phones running on Google's Android software and eventually will work on Apple Inc.'s iPhone and iTouch.
To widen the software's appeal, Google is offering a version that can be installed on personal computers as well.
The PC access is designed for people who don't have a mobile phone but still may want to keep tabs on their children or someone else special, Lee said. People using the PC version can also be watched if they are connected to the Internet through Wi-Fi.
Google can plot a person's location within a few yards if it's using GPS, or might be off by several miles if it's relying on transmission from cell phone towers. People who don't want to be precise about their whereabouts can choose to display just the city instead of a specific neighborhood.
There are no current plans to sell any advertising alongside Google's tracking service, although analysts believe knowing a person's location eventually will unleash new marketing opportunities. Google has been investing heavily in the mobile market during the past two years in an attempt to make its services more useful to people when they're away from their office or home computers.