Ingenuity and What-if-ery

If you were trying to get around CAPTCHA’s in order to do something plainly against the Terms and Conditions of a web site then the obvious place to start would be optical character recognition, wouldn’t it?

In CAPTCHA Wish Your Girlfriend Was Hot Like Me? (via Seth Godin) we can see a different approach altogether. Here the naughty hackers have decided to use the just ask people strategy.

It’s amazing how often this solution is overlooked when trying to solve a very difficult problem. Wikipedia, Digg, Delicious and Amazon’s Mechanical Turk are all examples just asking people to help you solve a very difficult problem. The web now has so many people willing to answer that if only a few do, it’s more than good enough to solve your problem and perhaps lands you a catch you didn’t go looking for.

Jonathan once showed me a game that Google had created in which you competed with an unknown person to tag an image with words that you thought best represented it. As games go, it held our attention for a few minutes, partly in disbelief that people would be so stupid to fall for such an obvious ploy to get the world to work out if a picture was blue sky or blue lagoon.

But imagine, if millions of people do something that changes something, like being able to relate pictures by human entered keyword and not by some technological feat such as colour recognition, then you have a wildly different platform on which to build something. You start from a different place…. completely.

So, why does this interest me? Well just from the point of view of the questions companies don’t bother to ask.  Of course, lots of the time when you ask questions you get a whole load of nothing back, but that shouldn’t be a reason for not asking, should it?

I think, one of the biggest problems is that people wrongly believe they have any ability at all to predict the future. This leads to not asking questions, not asking people to contribute because in the past nobody has replied so in the future nobody will reply or contribute. And then comes something like Facebook with a lame proposition that goes “register and add your friends and then like stay in touch”… come on, that’s pathetic isn’t it? And if they’d have come to you for cash admit it, you’d have laughed it off wouldn’t you?

Today’s exercise is a bit of what-if-ery.  In order to leapfrog mediocrity it is necessary to simply imagine an ideal that is on the face of it, unworkable. Now whilst suspending belief that a thousand people would do your bidding, imagine that they’ve already done it.

Your they-will-never-tell-me-this question might be telling you which exact colours make them happy, which sounds go best with mexican food, how many times they think of socks per day.

At the point at which a million people have answered your question, you have a resource that will guarantee other people will join in.  And so a million online ideas are born hoping to reach that Tipping Point. The only hard part is bridging the gap between implausible and plausible. Your emotional interior design shop will only fly if you can give the early adopters a taste of what’s to come. It amazes me that people are willing to do small things (like buy energy saving lightbulbs) if the larger issues feel close enough. We will behave like ants at times but need enough selfish motivation, which probably isn’t like ants.

From hacking to emotional interior design to light bulbs and ants. My next blog will be on focus…

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