John Paczkowski

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TechCrunch40 Fourth Session: Crowd-Sourcing

Digital Daily’s John Paczkowski is blogging from TechCrunch40 in San Francisco. Technical difficulties at the conference site prevent him from live-blogging, so he summarized the fourth session on crowd-sourcing:

  • Cake Financial. Here’s an intriguing idea: investor hive-mind. Cake aggregates historical investor data that can be used to guide the investments of others. Interesting, assuming the aggregate guidance isn’t compromised by the unskilled investors almost certain to jump on something like this. Presenter notes that top 10% of investors have been beating the SAP by a significant margin lately.
  • Docstoc. This is virtual shared professional document storage. Users can upload documents and designate them as shared (under Creative Commons license) or private. Docs then become searchable to original creator or the Docstoc community. Company hopes to create a massive repository of shared professional documents.
  • Teach the People. Marketplace for peer-to-peer-powered learning communities. Presenter uses the word “monetize” nine times in first five or so minutes of the presentation. Communities of learning that distribute knowledge to community subscribers. Ad-supported or subscription-based. Teach the People takes a cut of both. Presenter then pitches the service as a Facebook-style social network tricked out with education tools. A place to offer foreign-language lessons or guitar lessons, etc. An eBay for education. (An eBay for education?) Ah, the crux of it all: “We all have knowledge to share, why not earn money from it?”
  • CrowdSpirit. Some sort of social network revolving around “ideas” and “solutions.” Presenter offers up an example in which a user has proposed the idea of a “Facebook phone” and proposed a “solution” that involves a
    bunch of Facebook phone mock-ups. Other community members may then either offer up alternative solutions or critique the original. Apparently the idea is that entrepreneurs can use the CrowdSpirit community to refine their ideas. The community can ascribe a value to the idea, and if it becomes significant enough CrowdSpirit will investigate manufacturing costs, etc., and refine the idea into a “product” with a real price. And then, if I’m understanding this correctly, if enough members of the community agree to purchase the product at that price, CrowdSpirit will actually get it manufactured and distributed. Seems a bit of a
    stretch, this one.
  • Ponoko. Personal manufacturing outfit. A Service that allows one to design, create and sell one’s own products. Presenter describes the design and creation of an acrylic top (the spinning kind) which can then be sold to others. Interesting, an outfit that takes inventors from the creation to marketing phase. Apparently, we’re at the advent of the Personal Industrial Revolution.

Judges Panel:

Ron Conway likes Cake Financial, in which he’s apparently an investor (this was disclosed as a preface to his comments). And beyond that Ponoko.

Rajiiv Motwani likes Cake, but wonders how much faith he can put in the collective investment advice of a group of investors whose net worth he doesn’t know.

Don Dodge piles on, noting that the only thing people lie about more than their sexual prowess is their investing skill.

Yossi Vardi, riffing off Dodge’s analogy, suggests that Cake might benefit by the addition of a sexual prowess tab to its site.

Dodge likes Cake, too. Also, Teach the People. Noting that charging for content on the Internet has proven extraordinarily difficult, he asks how the company will convince people to pay for content which they haven’t really seen.

Vardi likes Cake, too. Point-blanks Conway and asks him if, as a Cake investor, he eats his own dog food. Conway says no; he doesn’t manage his own investments. Vardi: “Who does, your wife?” (Someone should give Vardi a bike horn to punctuate his jokes. Or a drummer with a snare and cymbal.)

Conway redirects, but Vardi pursues asking him how many of the 160 or so companies he’s invested in he actually uses. Conway says 40%. Vardi follows up with the inevitable: “And you expect us to risk our money investing in the other 60% you yourself don’t even use?”

Laughter. But no answer from Conway.

Vardi addresses all presenters. Apologizes to those who might feel jilted by a lack of attention from the judges. He says, in the end, it doesn’t really matter since we really don’t have the foggiest idea what will happen down the road: “Between us, Ron [Conway] and I have more failed investments than you can imagine.”


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Just as the atom bomb was the weapon that was supposed to render war obsolete, the Internet seems like capitalism’s ultimate feat of self-destructive genius, an economic doomsday device rendering it impossible for anyone to ever make a profit off anything again. It’s especially hopeless for those whose work is easily digitized and accessed free of charge.

— Author Tim Kreider on not getting paid for one’s work