Web 2.0 Summit 2006 – Day 3 / Disruption: Harnessing the Collective Intelligence

Here are the day 3 notes for the Web 2.0 Conference in San Francisco:

[My notes are in this square brackets.]

Harnessing Collective Intelligence with Jim Buckmaster (Craigslist), Owen Van Natta (Facebook), Toni Schneider (Automattic), and Richard Rosenblatt (Demand Media)

  • On the panel:
    • Jim Buckmaster / CEO, Craigslist
    • Owen Van Natta, COO of Facebook
    • Toni Schneider, CEO of Automatic
    • Richard Rosenblatt, cofounder, chairman, CEO of Demand Media
  • Buckmaster:
    • We have made major business decisions (do we have sales people, do we get funding, do we expand the site) based on our customers discussions.
    • We keep having people tell us we should be running text-ads. In theory we would make tens of millions of dollars. But so far…(in a deadpan voice)…none of our users are requesting those ads be there so we haven’t done it.
      • [This got a great response from the audience. It’s funny. As audience members, we all want to monetize the web, but as users of Craigslist, we appreciate his user-centricity!]
    • We have taken no VC money at all.
  • Rosenblatt:
    • Demand Media is going to build tools that will let people embed their knowledge and share it with like-minded people and then get paid for it. We’re moving into all sorts of niches: hiking, outdoor sports, gradening,
    • Question: You raised $220M. You bought 9 companies and rolled them into one big platform to start off with a solid base. So they bought “Trails” – that documents the 50,000 “professional trails” that are out there.
      • Answer: Yes, we saw an opportunity and we moved to dominate it quickly and massively.
  • Schneider:
    • We only took a little bit of money (from Polaris)
    • “User generated content” is too narrow of a term. It doesn’t capture the ranking/sorting/sifting functions.
    • Spam is a huge problem for blogs. We have seen a doubling on the blogs in THE PAST THREE WEEKS alone. We built a completely adaptive spam system. When you mark something spam, that goes back to the server and the server learns going forward. That isn’t user generated content but it certainly is collective intelligence or community based ranking/marking/flagging.
  • Van Natta:
    •  We built some new stuff and our customers got very mad. We had to adjust very quickly. That’s good. It’s good to have your customers hammer you once in a while to make you realize how adaptable you need to be.
  • Question: It sounds like you can be very adaptive. Talk about that.
    • Rosenblatt: We consider product features as marketing. “Feature roll-out IS marketing.”
      • [I **LOVE** that!!! What’s our marketing budget? What marketing budget? You mean the money we’re spending on talking with customers and making this product “kick ass?”]
  • Question: what about giving up control. How do you do it?
    • Schneider: We let our users do the language translation. We set up WordPress so that our users could hit the button and translate the page and post it directly and it went live that second. We reviewed thousands of lines of translation later and tweaked only a very few things and found only one intentional swap and it was a guy announcing his wedding date in German! It was BRILLIANT and allowed us to do a full language translation in 24 hours!!
      • [That is a very powerful story!!]
  • What advice do you have for new entrepreneurs?
    • Schneider: Don’t build a business that people think is a good idea. People will always tell you that it is a bad idea. Focus on what you think is important and ignore the advice.
    • Rosenblatt: Follow the users. Early.
  • Question: There is a difference between knowledge and opinion; How do you deal with the fact that a large audience can say a lot of stuff that isn’t true?
    • O’Reilly: Have you ever heard of Sturgeon’s Law? A science fiction writer named Theodore Sturgeon had an audience member once say to him, “95% of all science fiction is crap”, to which Sturgeon replied, “yes, but 95% of EVERYTHING is crap. So what?”
      • [This parallells the comment in The Long Tail by Chris Anderson where he says: “The Long Tail is indeed full of crap. Yet it’s also full of works of refined brilliance and depth and an awful lot in between.” (p.116, The Long Tail)]
  • Question: All of you have big communities. What is your role? Leader? Cop? Good guy? Bad guy?
    • Rosenblatt: you are a guide most of the time but you also have the ability to police it to remove/sanction the damaging elements of the community. Your moderators need to have that ability to do that.
    • Schneider: Your most involved people will begin to feel that they are helping you build your COMPANY, not just your product. You need to realize that ownership feeling is there and treat those people accordingly. You might not actually give them shares but you definitely need to let them be involved in your business.