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Does Mobile + Social = Wisdom of Crowds?

by Dave Hannon

May 3, 2011

By Dave Hannon


The wisdom of the crowds.

It’s a term I’ve heard regularly for years now and I’ve never quite been sure what to make of it. I understand the concept—that there is valuable knowledge to gain from larger communities. That makes sense, even more so in the online age. But I was never convinced that 1. the amount of effort required find the wisdom in the crowds is worth the effort because quite frankly 2. I’m not sure “the crowd” is all that wise. Have you seen the Nielsen ratings lately?

But I’ve heard and seen a few examples lately that may have convinced me that there is some real value to this wisdom of the crowds thing, and it’s due in large part to two rapidly developing IT trends. First, the smart phone explosion means that most businesspeople are connected to the Internet 24/7 today. They are able to collect and/or produce “data” everywhere they go which may be valuable to you and which you can now gather and interpret on your own smart phone via the growing number of apps aimed at helping you do that.

And that “data” I refer to may well be coming in the form of social media, the second IT trend that serves as the platform for this wisdom of the crowds. Blog posts, Tweets, Facebook updates from the right sources could provide you with sales leads, customer feedback, or supplier news that your company could benefit from.

Not convinced yet? O kay, I feel you (I read that on a Tweet, so thought it would make me sound like a more reputable source on this topic). So here’s a couple examples of how mobile + social = wisdom. One for your personal life, one for your professional life.

The New York Times recently highlighted an iPhone app called Roadify, which lets drivers in New York City post when they are leaving a parking spot, so other drivers can find one more easily, rather than circling which creates more traffic and pollution. As the Times article points out, Roadify “is the kind of service that gets better as more people sign up, and it has not reached critical mass” yet. But imagine, when it’s an automatic feature installed or activated on all cars so when you’re searching for a parking spot in Brooklyn, you see a bunch of red dots on a map indicating where they are? Powerful, right? And only possible via location-aware mobile technology. (There are a multitude of similar commuter-focused apps popping up, but I felt that was a particularly interesting one).

More applicable to business, however, is the concept of sentiment analysis. Think of this as Googling yourself, but for business. Your company/brand/product is being talked about by a user/customer/expert somewhere on the Internet. What are they saying about you? Maybe they’re making suggestions that could help your product in its next iteration? Maybe they had a negative experience, but rather than report it to your company, they’re posting it on their blog or Twitter feed? This is valuable information and rest assured, the software companies are developing better applica tions to help you sort out the “wisdom” from the less-than-insightful “data.”  SAP StreamWork is an example of this (see “Use SAP StreamWork to Track Sentiment Analysis and Performance Metrics” for more info—registration required).

I know you’ve heard this next phrase a million times, but I’m going to type it anyway (I get paid by the word): we’re only at the tip of the iceberg. Social media and mobile technology really are in their infancy, especially when it comes to business applications. The potential is great and there’s a lot of room for creativity. I’m slowly becoming a convert. I’m gradually starting to believe that out there, among the millions of online users, there is some useful information to help be do my job better. I can feel it.

If I could only pull myself away from Dancing with the Stars long enough to find it.

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