Crowdsourcing moving beyond the fringe

Startup Yegii positions itself as an insight network designed to sync up information seekers and experts via a crowdsourcing model.

Depending up on how you look at it, crowdsourcing is all the rage these days -- think Wikipedia, X Prize and Kickstarter -- or at the other extreme, greatly underused.

To the team behind the new "insight network" Yegii, crowdsourcing has not nearly reached its potential despite having its roots as far back as the early 1700s and a famous case of the British Government seeking a solution to "The Longitude Problem" in order to make sailing less life threatening. (I get the impression that mention of this example is obligatory at any crowdsourcing event.)

This angel-funded startup, headed by an MIT Sloan School of Management senior lecturer and operating from a Boston suburb, is looking to exploit crowdsourcing's potential through a service that connects financial, healthcare, technology and other organizations seeking knowledge with experts who can provide it and fairly fast. To CEO, Trond Undheim, crowdsourcing is "no longer for fringe freelance work," and the goal is to get more organizations and smart individuals involved.

"Yegii is essentially a network of networks, connecting people, organizations, and knowledge in new ways," says Undheim, who explains that the name Yegii is Korean for "talk" or "discussion". "Our focus is laser sharp: we only rank and rate knowledge that says something essential about what I see as the four forces of industry disruption: technology, policy, user dynamics and business models.  We tackle challenging business issues across domains, from life sciences to energy to finance.  The point is that today's industry classification is falling apart. We need more specific insight than in-house strategizing or generalist consulting advice."

Undheim attempted to drum up interest in the new business last week at an event at Babson College during which a handful of crowdsourcing experts spoke. Harvard Business School adjunct professor Alan MacCormack discussed the X Prize, Netflix Prize and other examples of spurring competition through crowdsourcing. MIT's Peter Gloor extolled the virtue of collaborative and smart swarms of people vs. stupid crowds (such as football hooligans).

A couple of advertising/marketing execs shared stories of clients and other brands are increasingly tapping into their customer base and the general public for new ideas from slogans to products, figuring that potential new customers are more likely to trust their peers than corporate ads. Another speaker dove into more details about how to run a crowdsourcing challenge, which includes identifying motivation that goes beyond money.

All of this was to frame Yegii's crowdsourcing plan, which is at the beta stage with about a dozen clients (including Akamai and Santander bank) and is slated for mass production later this year. Yegii's team consists of five part-timers, plus a few interns, who are building a web-based platform that consists of "knowledge assets," that is market research, news reports and datasets from free and paid sources. That content on topics that range from Bitcoin's impact on banks to telecom bandwidth costs -- is reviewed and ranked through a combination of machine learning and human peers. Information seekers would pay Yegii up to hundreds of dollars per month or up to tens of thousands of dollars per project, and then multidisciplinary teams would accept the challenge of answering their questions via customized reports within staged deadlines.

Yegii CEO Trond Undheim discusses his new "insight network"

"We are focused on building partnerships with other expert networks and associations that have access to smart people with spare capacity, wherever they are," Undheim says.

One reason organizations can benefit from crowdsourcing, Undheim says, is because of the "ephemeral nature of expertise in today's society." In other words, people within your organization might think of themselves as experts in this or that, but when they really think about it, they might realize their level of expertise has faded.

Yegii will strive to narrow down the best sources of information for those looking to come up to speed on a subject over a weekend, whereas hunting for that information across a vast search engine would not be nearly as efficient.

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