Thanksgiving 2013

New life to old blog on this day. The whole concept of why this blog was established changes – from an MBA course to a personal blog.

So what am I thankful for today? Certainly for having completed my MBA…Yay! If I can manage a kid, a full time job and a demanding part time MBA course, I can do anything I want….Thanks for that. And of course a host of other things.

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Google Prediction Markets

The collective wisdom of the crowd has shown to be very powerful. Other companies like TopCoder which harness content from the crowd worldwide has known to produce high quality output. In this case however, this model is being used internally at Google – since all of the participants here are highly trained engineers, there is no surprise at the success rate of the prediction models developed in Google. The key would be encourage a more diverse population to participate and benefit, thereby leading to opportunities to tweak the underlying software, if required. It does seem to have a very promising future – to be used in a wide variety of applications.

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The idea of developing software as components, just like hardware is a good idea. TopCoders takes it a step further and develops components using the competition model – this ensures that the reach for talent is global and the software output is of superior quality. The company also does not have to manage its most important human resources – the programmers who write the code. There are several drawbacks to this approach in general. IP rights could become a big issue, inspite of the legal considerations put into writing, by the company. Since its coders are spread out worldwide, it may not be possible to enforce laws in every country and region. Also, in the competition model, winner takes most of the money – leaving the rest of the participants with little more than a practice ground, where they learn to do better coding. Most of the coders are from developing countries after the prize moeny was reduced – this geographical distance, cultural differences may add to complex working relationships betwen TopCoders and the coders. The company would also need specialized resources to understand its client requirements and break it apart into modules.

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A traditional product development process in a company mostly depends on the efforts of the employees of the company. Most ideas and work is done by a localized group within the company, requiring other outside efforts like market survey, response etc that needd to be done separately. On the other hand, the employees of the company are available and ready to work for the firm. In the community model, ideas originate from the community and other work like testing market response is also done by the community. The crowd also monitors the content to make sure inappropriate material gets thrown out. They also act as advertising agents sometimes by introducing more like minded people to products they like. One downside of this approach could be that if a company makes a wrong move to antogonise their crowd, it risks alientating them completely. The company does not have too much control over its contributors, unlike over its employees. Sourcing content from a wider audience has also shown to lead to better quality – where little bits of information and experience from a large group of people trumps over the efforts of a selected group of experts in a field.

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The idea of providing authentic knowledge free to the world seems to be a good one – the keyword here being authentic. Wikipedia takes information from anyone and publishes it – though, on the same lines, anyone can point out an article for deletion. I agree with the vision of the founder – gather knowledge from the public and format it well and give it back to them. Most of us today use Wikipedia as a first reference – and only that. The issue that I find with Wikipedia is the lack of depth – though it gives me a good high level understanding of what I am looking for, I often have to turn to other sources (library, published expert articlies, journals etc) for a more indepth information. It does serve as a quick reference lookup.

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United Breaks Guitars

I think several factors are at play here for the success of Dave’s song on YouTube:
1. Travellers were already frustrated with United – they received the lowest customer satisfaction rating.
2. Dave is a talented musician and wrote a catchy song.
3. Along with his group of friends, he promoted it well.
4. There was truth in his video about United not treating his guitar and him well

The above actions resulted in:

1. Free publicity and business for Dave
2. A channel for angry United passengers to vent
3. 180 million loss for United

In todays world, there are numerous avenues for customers to be able to comment on products and experiences. While some of the complaints can be genuine, there can be disgruntiled customers, who may take to the internet to voice untruce concerns or complaints about companies. I think the public will receive only genuine complaints well and only those become wildly popular, like Dave’s song. United was already going through a rough patch and employee morale was probably low.Their customer service response was also not great and people were not happy with it. It does not look like the top management took any action to deal with these steps internally, before Dave’s video surfaced.

Companies should deal with customer complaints in a fair way immediately – just hoping to stop the customer by frustrating him would lead to expensive mistakes, as United learned. Offering to settle the situation right with Dave, after almost a year, was too little, too late.

Companies should also monitor social media (which United already does) and deal with customer issues immediately. Better training their employees to deal with customers, passing on unsolved issues to their superiors could be some ways for dealing with them. In such a case, even if an irate customer goes on the internet to complain, companies can have a good story to tell from their side.

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Hulu follows the freemium model, with content some content on its site being free and charging people to use HuluPlus – to offer more content and possibly quicker access to programming for its paid viewers. Though the case points out “TV Everywhere” as a competitor, I think the online streaming business of Netflix has good potential to give Hulu a run for its money. Netflix charges a minimal fee for online streaming and it is commercial free. Though Hulu has more current content, I think Netflix will ramp up its database for online streaming. Most households already subscribe to cable networks in some form of package offered – though the recession might be cutting into this market making people turn to free tv sites like Hulu, I believe it is a temporary second choice in the market. Netflix aptly bridges the gap by offering online streaming for a reasonable monthly subscription.

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