Monday, November 30, 2009

Time to consider crowdsourcing

We all know about outsourcing, the ability to farm out work to people, often overseas, that will work for less, and sometimes for a lot less. But a not-so-new trend is changing the way that outsourcing happens, called crowdsourcing.

The idea is to take a job and divide it into small enough pieces that someone can do it quickly in their spare time. Think about transcribing an audio recording. Or Photoshopping a series of photographs. The difference between regular outsourcing and crowdsourcing is that you don't necessarily know your contractors, and they mostly are here in the good ole U S of A. Think of it as stimulus package for our troubled times, but based entirely on the private sector.

The idea isn't all that new, but is catching on due to some important trends. First off, there is a critical mass of people who are willing to do the work, and probably more people are going to be interested because of high unemployment over the past year. Second, the Internet-based tools that are used to farm out jobs and track completions and manage the crowds is getting better all the time. Broadband penetration helps: now most people don't do dial-up, which is great if you are going to be online for hours at a time working the crowd-based tasks. Finally, many crowds have developed a solid track record, so it is more compelling for project managers looking for workers.

As a result, crowdsourcing is big business. There are several dozen firms that help organize the crowds of people that offer up their services, and some of them are making millions of dollars a year in fees that they collect from being brokers between buyer and provider. Amazon's Mechanical Turk and are two of the more well-known ones, and if you want to find out others I suggest you first listen to my podcast with my partner Paul Gillin and Brent Frei, the author of one of the first industry reports on crowdsourcing. You can find the links to his report and our podcast if you go to:

Frei runs a company that provides crowdsourcing, so it isn't too difficult to see his self-interest. But the report opened my eyes to see the power and the promise behind the idea. For example, you can leverage your own billable time by farming out tedious tasks to someone else that would gladly do it for a lot less than your rates. Or compiling a list of vendors by doing online research of their Web sites. With a $10/hour intern, this project would have taken 12 hours or $120 to complete the task. By divvying it up among a crowd, Frei was able to get it done for about $18 total.

Now, I know what you are going to say. How can you ensure quality of the crowd-based researchers? What about the time and cost to manage them? There are ways to build in redundancy and have the results cross-checked, and with the right kind of project management, you can piece things apart in such a way that makes sense for your crowd.

Paul and I have been doing our MediaBlather podcasts for several years, and always on the lookout for someone interesting to interview, particularly on social media and new marketing tools. If you are interested in being on our show, let us know.

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

How to make LinkedIn even better

LinkedIn has been busy in the past week, sprucing up their default members' home page, linking with Twitter, and putting together a very belated effort at opening their service to programmers.

I like LinkedIn. I am spending more of my time using it to promote myself, to connect to people that I know, and to build up value for my community and myself. With the help of the local chamber of commerce, I now manage a group called the St. Louis Job Angels, where we have listed more than 80 different jobs over the past couple of months and more than 500 job seekers and recruiters have signed up to share tips and support each other's efforts. So as a long-time frequent user, I offer some advice of where they should be going in 2010 – not that anyone will listen to my humble suggestions.

First off, they need to be more open. The add-on applications were a good first step (you can link up to your Wordpress and TypePad blog entries, publish your slide decks via Slideshare, and others). And the developer network ( is a good second step, but I want more. I would like to use my LinkedIn connections as my main contact manager, but until I can gain more control over this information it isn't as useful as it could be. Why do I need to publish these Web Informant newsletters to a separate email listserv that I have to maintain with your current email addresses? Probably most of you subscribers also take the time and energy to maintain your current email address in LinkedIn, so why duplicate that effort? Well, because it is too hard to still setup groups and email selected contacts inside of LinkedIn.

Second, I want to be able to freely export my connections without having to resort to a third-party service. Right now, OpenXchange ( is the only way that I can extract my contacts. Yes, I can synch up my address books on any number of services (one that I have mentioned in the past is Glide, -- but these are strictly a one-way operation, pouring data into LinkedIn. I don't like using services that I can't extract my data easily.

Third, scrap InMail. We don't need another communication substitute for email or IM. Ditto for the LinkedIn toolbars for Outlook and the Web. My browser window is small enough without any more clutter.

Fourth, give me better and more discrete publishing tools for my groups, similar to the way the free Yahoo or Google Groups services operate. Right now, I can send messages to everyone, but only as the group manager. My group can't easily communicate amongst themselves, without my intervention. Subgroups are a nightmare to deal with. There is no easy way to remind people that I have invited to the group (but haven't accepted the invite). Can I get a URL that points directly to my group? Not easily. And so on. Any quick look at what Yahoo has been doing since they bought eGroups nearly ten years ago would show the way towards a truly useful service.

None of these suggestions would be difficult, or even time consuming to implement. And I am sure that there are plenty of other things that they have on their radar. Feel free to share your own on my blog too.

Friday, November 20, 2009

ITExpertVoice screencast: Using Windows 7 Applocker

My latest video screencast review for the Dell sponsored site ITExpertVoice has been posted, on using Windows 7 new whitelisting feature called Applocker. You can watch it here:

Monday, November 16, 2009

The evolution of Web-based enterprise video

This week Brightcove begins a new lower-priced video service called Express that starts at $100 a month and offers some impressive features. I'm glad to see them in this space, which is still very much in the pre-Guttenberg publishing era. I thought I would take this moment to talk about some of the issues involved in publishing Web videos for corporate uses, putting aside all the tectonic shifts that are happening in the Web entertainment arena for another essay.

To put things in perspective, realize that it took only a few years for the Web to evolve from its first crude text-only efforts to a full graphical experience. Yet it has taken more than a decade to get videos inside the browser page. And while there are dozens of video streaming service providers, including Brightcove, Wistia, Fliqz and Kaltura, that offer ways of delivering videos, none of them are as easy to use as they could be, and almost none of them offer one-stop solutions for publishers.

In the last year I have spent a lot of time with video publishing as a result of my five-minute screencast videos, where I write, review, narrate and produce everything about a particular product. The product's vendor sponsors each video that appears on my site along with 20 other places around the Internet.

Just take a look at the most popular Web content creation tool of the moment, Wordpress, as a good case in point. If you create your own blog and host it using, you can purchase a "space upgrade" for $20 a year and start uploading video content. But if you decide that you want more control over your page design and host your blog on your own Web server, this space upgrade option isn't available and you have to dive into the nasty world of third-party video player plug-ins. Even though you are still using Wordpress software. It is these sorts of gotchas that can drive you crazy, or keep me fully employed explaining them.

All of these video services operate in some broad basic ways. After you prepare your video, you upload it to their server and then annotate it with any supporting text, keywords, and other information. You are then given a bunch of HTML code to embed the video player into your Web page. When you view the page, you see a player that you can click on and control the video playback, just as you would come to expect from YouTube et al. The special embed code contains tracking information that the service collects and then offers reports so you can see who watched what videos.

The service that I use at the moment is Their most basic plan starts at less than $40 a month, and offers some very sophisticated tracking and embedding features. Their video player is very clean and crisp, and I haven't had too many reports about playback quality issues from my site. I recommend that you start with them and see if they meet your needs, and if not then you might want to ask the following questions:

First, do you need a branded player for your videos? Meaning that you have your logo somewhere on the first or end screen, or underneath the video image. For some people, this is important. Some services offer a single player, like Wistia, while others, such as Brightcove, give you more stylistic choices.

Second, do you need control over the ultimate size of the video image on your Web site? The various hosting services either offer this explicitly, or else (like the basic plan from leave it up to you to edit their embed codes that they provide for you to copy and paste into your Web page. If you have to manually edit the code, you want to maintain the aspect ration (horizontal to vertical) so your video displays correctly. (It helps if you produce your video for the ultimate intended size that it will appear on your Web site, too.)

Third, how big of an audience do you expect for your videos? Given that these are targeted at potential customers and not people looking for the latest skateboarding cats or guys gone wild, you should set expectations accordingly: several thousand views over a period of a few months is a good audience. Some of the services, like Wistia, charge by playbacks per month. Brightcove charges on the number of individual videos and on your bitstream consumption, which is harder to estimate. Kaltura offers a free Wordpress plug-in for hosting up to 10 GB of monthly video data.

Fourth, what kinds of reports and features are available from your service provider? With some services like Fliqz and Brightcove, their more expensive plans give you more features and choices.

Finally, what else is or isn't included in the service? One of the things that I like about Wistia is the ability to share the video project with a number of collaborators, such as my clients, who can view the video directly, without my having to email them a huge attachment.

As you can see, there is a still a lot to deal with when it comes to Web videos. If you have another site that you would like to recommend, please let me know on my Strominator blog. And if you are a subscriber of Sam Whitmore's Media Survey, you can listen to me and Sam talk about some of these video hosting and production issues on a Webinar that we will host this coming Thursday afternoon. For those of you that aren’t subscribers, I will post my Powerpoint slides on my account afterwards.

Friday, November 13, 2009

Windows 7 LIbraries and Backup Features How-to

My latest screencast video on how to use Windows 7 libraries and built-in backup features has been posted to IT Expert Voice here;

About Me

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David Strom has looked at hundreds of computer products over a more than 20 year career in IT and computer journalism. He was the founding editor-in-chief of Network Computing magazine, and now writes for Baseline, Information Security, Tom's Hardware, and the New York Times.