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Busting out of silos, accelerating innovation

I’m a big fan of Zemanta – the blogger’s tool which automates the task of finding relevant links to add to your own content (in fact, we really ought to get it installed here – I do run it on my personal blog, FasterFuture.blogspot.com.

So it was a pleasure when Boštjan Špetič, Zemanta’s co-founder and CEO, sought me out for an interview.
He’s running “a series of blog interviews with opinion leaders on the future of blogosphere. So far Marshall Kirkpatrick (lead writer at ReadWriteWeb) and Kyle Lacy have contributed. Now it’s my turn.

Here’s how it went:
Q: What do you expect ‘bloggers assistant’ means / should do.

A: Assuming we are talking about online tools here… The key value driver and innovator of the web is its ability to bring us together with people who care about the same things we do. Increasingly it is able to do that in real time.
To get the most from this we need to exist outside of silos – we need to be able to express our metadata everywhere. It needs to be discoverable and meaningful everywhere.
Blogs are a great example of expressing beyond silos. You don’t have to be a member of the blogosphere to discover its content.
You can link to whatever you want from where-ever you want.
But you don’t know what it is you don’t yet know.
Tools which help you discover stuff you didn’t know you needed to know make the edges of your own particular fuzzy-edged adhoc communities of purpose ever fuzzier.
In practice Mr Tweet is a good example of this in distributed micro-blogging (Twitter) while Zemanta fills a similar role for bloggers.
So, to answer the original question (you see, I got there in the end) a blogger’s assistant should help extend the blogger’s network of trust. It should make the edges of his community of purpose fuzzier.
It should help him discover things and people he didn’t know he needed to know.

Q What bothers you today in the blogosphere? Which services and tools do you miss or wish were more developed asap?

A Well, like I say, things that allow us to form groups rapidly are what I’m interested in.
The next stages in that may be to merge the people-centric approach of Mr Tweet and the content-centric focus of Zemanta.
Then there’s getting the rest of the world to join in. Not just bloggers. Not just tweeters. Not just an aggregation of the two. How about tools to bring-in those using much more ubiquitous social technologies such as Facebook (and Hive and Tuente and Orkut (and, and, and,) and of course email and SMS text.

Oh, and then there are the huge silo challenges we face thanks to language.

The blogosphere isn’t a special case. It’s simply a series of social tools which also enable us to find each other and help each other as and when we need.

To that end there are very great weaknesses in our ‘listening’ technologies – our abilities to find when we seek. People-powered searches are beating the algorithms and will continue to do so the more semantic the web becomes.

Which begs the question how do you scale this form of discovery and introduction – people-powered, across all silos
Give me a tool that can deliver that ;-)

Q What was the most innovative use of social media in the past year

A Innovative? For me that means ‘what made something new’. I’m not into innovation for innovations sake. So I place equal value on any project which used social technologies to bring people together to create change, a new service, a new product, a new strategy, a new system a new policy, a new brand. Or, the refinement of any of the above.
Provided we are doing things with people rather than seeking to do them to them, then I view the innovation equally. They all created something new (an innovation). It’s even hard to say which was the most valuable because those involved in the co-creation of mass niche outcomes will each value their purpose highly.
I’m sure it would be possible to do an ROI calculation in many cases – cost of gathering the crowd and surfacing their requirements vs hike in sales, minus alternative costs of New Product Development, advertising and marketing etc.

Q In your opinion, what was the most interesting project you worked on?

A I love the community support model we (90:10group.com) have developed to deploy across Europe for Honda. Instead of trying to build a new ‘honda’ community. We recognise the value in supporting existing niche Honda communities of purpose and helping others emerge. This is driven by the view that Honda cannot hope to track, serve or reach all the emerging niches of Honda’s particular long tail. But existing communities, and those yet to emerge, can. It’s led to a discovery-introduction-support strategy which is making excellent progress just a few months in.