Tuesday, January 29, 2008

Powerlabs - harnessing our desire to contribute

I've just stumbled into Powerlabs - the community created by Powerset, a Silicon Valley company building a new search engine based on natural language processing. It's worth a look to see how one socially-focused play is working to harness the power of 'we'.

Unlike the keyword tradition, Powerset reads and 'understands' every sentence on a web page and allows you to ask questions in plain old English. They aren't the only ones doing something similar. There is an increasing understanding that keyword alone is not enough (see Google doesn't know what you're looking for) and a move towards social solutions.

It therefore makes perfect sense that Powerset should share what its doing (in the form of ever-updated demos), encourage contributions and feedback and use the wisdom of the crowd to improve its product. Your reward? Er some 'karma'. And you need a bag full of it in order to access some of the newest and grooviest test stuff.

In other words, the pursuit of knowledge about new stuff first - and access to it - would appear to be your only reward.

Pride and standing in this particular community equate to building your reputation. But I think why/how people value this is because they are banking on an emerging value.

Perhaps it is as simple as the hope that by raising their reputation this may result in something like a job offer?

It is intersting that there are clearly large numbers of people who are apparently willing to contribute on this reputation-building basis alone. And in the process they create a great deal of value for Powerset.

But perhaps the emerging value those of us considering balance sheers too often over look is the sheer satisfaction of working collaboratively, the joy of human cooperation - the basic need to work together that's been in us since we first worked together to hunt on the savannah.

Still - at the end of the day - it was always better if we got a share of the meat...


The rate of change is so rapid it's difficult for one person to keep up to speed. Let's pool our thoughts, share our reactions and, who knows, even reach some shared conclusions worth arriving at?