We are all overwhelmed with content on a daily basis. Our feeds blink in and out of our peripheral vision, our 7 communication streams ping and honk and shout for attention, our searches result in 600,000,000 results. How we prioritize this information stream and glean insight and relevance from the flood is an ongoing evolving process. The wisdom of the crowd is here to help.

“Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” the popular television game show originally hosted by Regis Philbin, enables a contestant to compete for one million dollars by answering a series of questions. The format of the show is based more on suspense than speed. The trivia gets progressively more complex and the cash prize increases with each question. As the questions get tougher, contestants can use “lifelines” for help:

  • Phone-A-Friend: Submit the question to a friend with topical expertise. Typically, this person is a trivia expert or someone well versed in web search.
  • Ask the Audience: Pose the question to the audience. The in-studio audience is given the opportunity to assist the contestant by voting on the available choices.
  • Fifty-Fifty: Two of the four answers are removed, leaving only two possible answers from which the contestant can choose.

The Phone-A-Friend “expert” gets the answer correct 65% of the time. Asking the audience, or crowdsourcing the decision, results in a correct answer 91% of the time. This is documented in the book, “The Wisdom of Crowds,” by James Surowiecki.

Social Rank, Not Just Page Rank

For the past 15 years, the web has been driven by content first and then by search. We spent the first five years creating lots of linked content (remember that novelty?) and the last 10 years watching search engine technologies begin to rise in popularity.

The most prominent has been Google and its use of page rank as a determining factor of the importance and relevance of content. And along the way, a cottage industry designed around optimizing content for search sprung up: search engine optimization.

Then, the mid-2000s ushered in a new trend: Web 2.0 and the interactive web. These social capabilities, where people interact and share ideas/feedback, have become the dominant way in which people make decisions.

Similar to “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” people have found that the crowd (social communities), not necessarily the expert (search engines), is the preferable source for obtaining detailed, personalized answers to very specific questions. Taking the route of gaining information from others eliminates the expert and local search bias while also allowing for various voices to be heard.

Search isn’t going away anytime soon. The way we think about search and how we make decisions is going to continue to evolve. Rather than basing the importance of content solely on page rank or similar algorithms, I expect to see a “social rank” that scores content based on how people interact with, and the conversations that are formed around, that content. Companies such as Amazon.com have already implemented this for their product experience. The next evolution of search will apply social ranking to the entire experience of receiving and reviewing content online.

Looking into the future, social communities, whether for consumers or employees, will play a critical role in enabling the discovery of information and in the fight for content relevance.

Creating Content Relevance

Former Google CEO Eric Schmidt was quoted as saying, “Every two days now we create as much information as we did from the dawn of civilization up until 2003.” While there is some debate as to what constitutes “information,” there is no question that the amount of content available today is unprecedented, with more being added every second.

Content creators are all fighting for relevancy: whether it is a vacation offering from a hotel chain, the latest news on the global economy or the introduction of new products into the marketplace.

Communities, and the rich interactive experiences they enable, are at the heart of content relevance. Thankfully, most businesses have moved past the abusive use of the word “social” when describing this interaction. Specifically, in use-case driven communities, people are looking for interactions with peers that have similar issues or decisions to make.

Many people have attempted to characterize the social community software space as another slice of the enterprise software pie. They categorize it as a competitor of customer relationship management tools, Web content management systems and more. However, communities aren’t just another slice of this pie: communities overlay the entire digital experience from the customer to content to product. Particularly, as businesses fight for relevance amidst this mountain of information, social communities will remain at the heart of ensuring their content is trusted.

The Social Platform

Every major software vendor from ERP players to Web CMS providers is making investments in social features. Where they struggle is in trying to take the current convention and fitting it into a community dialogue. That’s where social platforms come into the picture.

Social platforms, technologies that aggregate, condense and distribute social interactions, will become a requirement for any organization. They will become the glue that connects disparate systems together. However, confusion remains around the definition of platform and how social platforms should be incorporated into a company’s strategy. Altimeter Group did some early research on this topic and it is the most closely aligned with what we expect to see happen: social platforms act as the connective tissue between traditional enterprise systems and the experiences that consumer’s desire.

Consumerization of Business Intelligence

Another trend we’re watching closely is how traditional business intelligence data -- information used to make decisions -- is paired with community data and made available to information consumers. Ultimately, we are all becoming information consumers. The more tools we have available to help us make decisions, the better.

Back in 2001, IDC published a white paper, “The High Cost of Not Finding Information.” In it, IDC estimated that an enterprise employing 1,000 knowledge workers wastes at least $2.5 to $3.5 million per year searching for nonexistent information, failing to find existing information or recreating information that can’t be found. Considering that today we are all becoming information workers, the consumerization of business intelligence will help increase the efficiency of finding the information needed to solve a given problem or difficulty.

It’s evident that people can connect to the information that they need faster through social interactions; a social community simply enables these interactions. As with Ask the Audience in “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire,” people want the most accurate answers possible and social communities are getting them just that.

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