Monday, August 8, 2011

The power of collaborative competition

LikeLines is a crowdsourced intelligent mulitmedia player that aggregates viewer clicks along a video timeline to create a heatmap of where viewers find a video most interesting.

Today was the day that Raynor submitted his final project for the Knight-Mozilla learning lab. The Learning Lab is part of the Knight-Mozilla News Technology Partnership (shortened to MoJo) that is run as a contest. I was a bystander and watched Raynor go through the process of attending lectures online, writing blogposts and exchanging comments and tweets with other members of the lab.

I was just amazed at the people involved in this contest: in their ability to develop their own idea and distinguish themselves, but at the same time support each other and collaborate as a community. It's nice to talk about crowdsourced innovation, but it's breathtaking to experience it in action.

The results are reflected in how far LikeLines has come since when I first posted on it at the beginning of June. Raynor looked at me one day and said, "It's an API"...and we realized that this is not just an intelligent video player it is a whole new paradigm for collecting user feedback that can be applied in an entire range of use cases.

From one day to the next we started talking about time-code specific video popularity, which we quickly shorted to "heatmap metadata".

Whatever happens next, whether Raynor proceeds to the next round, I already have an overpowering sense of having "won" at MoJo. It really solidified my belief in the power of collaborative competition as a source of innovation -- and a force for good.

I am an organizer in the MediaEval benchmark and this is the sort of effect that we aspire to: bringing people together to pull towards a common goal simultaneously as individuals and as a community.

There needs to be a multiplicity of such efforts: they should support and learn from each other. I can only encourage the students in our lab to get out there and get involved, both as participants and as organizers.

One day last week we were in the elevator heading down to lunch and Yue Shi turned to me and said. Do you realize that of the people standing in the elevator, there are five PhD students submitting entries in five different competitions?
True to usual style, my first reaction is, "Hey people, what happened to TRECVID?" We are also make an honest effort to submit to TRECVID this year. I watched that happen...and then not happen.

But then I gave myself permission, there in the elevator to turn off the bookkeeping/managing mechanism mechanism in my head -- and just go with my underlying feeling of what we were doing as a lab. It's the feeling of wow. Everybody doing their own thing, but at the same time being part of this amazing collaborative competitive community.

The elevator doors opened and as we passed through I thought, it seems like the normal daily ride that we're taking, but when you look a bit deeper you can see the world changing and how the people in my lab pool efforts to change it.