the frequency a kenny chung blog

November 25th, 2011
according to

Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! This blog post will be (somewhat) in the spirit of food!

It’s no secret that I love Yelp. I love utilizing crowdsourced reviews as a baseline filter for whether or not to visit/spend money somewhere. I love writing my own opinions and mingling with community members. And I love the community itself. The events they throw for Elite members are awesome, and they’re investments back into the system.

It’s such a simple formula. You’d think that a huge behemoth like Google would be able to replicate success with its own Google Places, right? Well, you’d be surprised. I think that Google Places will never have a chance to beat Yelp at their own game, given what they’ve been doing.

Now, this is not a rant against the Google NYC team. I love following them on Twitter and we’ve had some friendly (and not so friendly) exchanges. This is me pointing out the flaw of their incentive structure. Here’s an excerpt from a contest they’re running in conjunction with a recent event:

Google Places Contest RulesGoogle Places has a really, really bad incentive system (click to enlarge)

So what’s my issue with how Google Places is building its community? It’s mostly extrinsically motivated (see my blog post on Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation in Crowdsourcing). The more you review, the more likely it is that you win a prize? That works against Google in two ways – firstly, you won’t convince the truly passionate reviewers (the ones who do it to help others, or because they really love writing about local businesses) because you’re not concentrating on them; instead, you’re going for the low hanging fruit: the people who will say, “sure, I’ll write a review in exchange for a chance to win a Chromebook.” And like the pigeon pushing the lever with no pellets coming out, eventually those extrinsically motivated individuals will learn their lesson and give up, abandoning their Places account entirely. That’s not how you build a self-sustaining community.

Secondly, Google Places vs. Yelp will always be an us-versus-them scenario for the die-hards. People who have been following the Google vs. Yelp saga know that there’s bad blood between the two. To sum it all up:
1) Organic search reportedly supplies Yelp with a whopping 75% of its traffic.
2) When Google starting emphasizing their business pages in SERPs, they aggregated reviews from different sites including Yelp to provide their own “rating”. But they also overstepped their boundaries when Google took content directly from Yelp reviews and posted it on those pages, leaving users no reason to click through to Yelp.
3) Google was quiet on the local reviews front and then did a soft launch for Google Places in key cities.
4) Then, out of nowhere, Google bought Zagat.

If you follow the logical progression of things, it’s clear that Google wants to be a bigger player in the local space. Heck, just do a search for “dentist” and see how many results from your city show up. But Google is totally handling this the wrong way. Obviously, Zagat’s business model is in a totally different direction than Yelp’s, which makes me think Google might be taking the high-brow approach. But then again, crowdsourcing is the future of not only search, but of the internet as well (as I’ve mentioned in previous blog posts) so it would be very silly for Google not to make a play in that space. That’s where Google Places would ideally fill the gap. However, I just don’t think they have a sound strategy to build up its review and user base to rival that of Yelp, and they’re just taking too many shortcuts.

Rome wasn’t built in a day, and if any other service can topple Yelp, it will take a lot of time and a much better plan than what Google’s employing.

I’m going to lead off by saying that I could have named this blog post many different things, and they all would have been accurate. One title that I threw around was “Crowdsourcing 2.0 – Translating Reward Systems to Web 2.0.” Another was “Quora vs. A Tale of Two Reward Systems.” But alas, I ended up with a title somewhat amalgamating the two: “Quora vs. Intrinsic vs. Extrinsic Motivation in Crowdsourcing.” While I’ve written about the value of crowdsourcing before (Crowdsourcing- wisdom of the masses?), this post is not so much an update, as it is an analysis of two sites that I feel are doing it right.

I’ll start off with a brief introduction of the services, as I am wont to do: Quora is a question and answer site, much in the vein of Yahoo! Answers. The main difference is that it’s not anonymous, so the answers are typically of higher quality and many respondents are actually professionally qualified to give their opinions (as long as you stay out of the Psychology Quora page). Users can vote up or down each answer that a question receives, and they can also “Thank” someone for their answer. The difference (at least from what I’ve read in a Quora thread) is that voting means you think a response is the most appropriate answer, whereas Thanking someone could mean you appreciate their effort or unique input. is a crowdsourcing music website where the “audience” listens to up to 5 users (DJs) take turns playing songs. The crowd can vote a song up if they like it or down if they want it to change. Each positive vote gives the DJ who selected the song 1 point. Alternatively, if enough people vote down a song, the song skips and the next DJ gets to have their shot in the limelight. Points can be used to change your user avatar into something either ridiculously large or just ridiculously “expensive”.

Quora vs. Turntable.fmQuora vs. – Slightly different audiences

Obviously, Quora and are about as different as you can get in terms of social media websites. I’ve been using both a lot more lately (just to plug, here’s a link to Quora/Kenny-Chung, where I answer questions about SEO, Graphic Design/UX, Psychology, etc.). Both were quite addictive to use, but the area that interested me the most was how different their reward systems truly were.

And now (as I am also wont to do), I’ll provide some basic psychology 101 terminology. Intrinsic motivation refers to when someone does a task or chore because they want to (because they like doing it, if they like helping others, etc.). Extrinsic motivation means that someone is doing something for reasons outside of themselves (money, to avoid consequences, to be better than others, etc.). Those are highly simplified explanations, but they’re adequate for the purposes of this blog post.

With regard to these two sites, Quora uses intrinsic motivation to drive user responses (the votes and Thanks don’t amount to anybody’s profile being quantitatively better than someone else’s, unlike on sites like Reddit). Yahoo! Answers has the opposite approach. There, users gain points for answering questions, for being chosen as the best response, or for voting. This is a form of extrinsic motivation, and it can be argued that that’s why the community answers there are so… terrible. Because Quora targets knowledgeable and educated people to begin with, intrinsic motivation is more naturally suited for its user base. And from personal experience, it actually does feel good to know that I could help someone out with the knowledge that I’ve accrued over the years.

On the other hand, is driven by extrinsic motivation (for its DJs). The reason people spend their time picking songs for others to listen is for points. While it’s very possible that people enjoy the music they choose, sharing a space with others, and spreading knowledge of their favorite bands, I’ve found that most rooms are an exercise in self-affirmation, with the DJs choosing popular/safe songs in fear of being skipped and not gaining any points. But for a site where the focus is all on the audience’s enjoyment, I think it works well.

So is one reward system better than the other? Yes and no. It depends on context. It’s hard to tell which is the chicken and which is the egg, but reward systems attract certain types of people, and certain people are attracted to certain types of reward systems. There’s a barrier of entry to answering questions on Quora (actually possessing knowledge), whereas is more for fun and anybody can join (well, only if you’re Facebook friends with someone already using it).

I’m going to end with a well known idiom- “different strokes for different folks.” Especially in this growing online environment of crowdsourcing, the most important consideration when building a loyal fanbase is whether or not users are engaged and if they have any reason to be. And the best way to do that is by motivating users properly.

So next time you’re on a social networking site, take a step back and see how they’re getting you to do what they want you to. And if you’re thinking of starting your own web service with a reward system, my only advice is to choose wisely.

June 16th, 2009
according to

Source: Crowdsourcing: What It Means for Innovation

There’s an age-old story about a contest where villagers had to guess the weight of a cow just by looking. The town butchers were of course the most accurate. But a curious thing happened- after pooling together all of the guesses, their average was even closer to the actual weight. In short, the combined wisdom of the crowd was greater than that of any single individual.

Now then, that brings us to crowdsourcing. To summarize the concept glibly, crowdsourcing is when a company allows many different individuals to contribute their ideas in a contest-style format and the company then chooses a winner (or amalgamates the best aspects of several ideas). This can work for designing logos, programming scripts, deciding a color scheme for a product- pretty much anything in today’s technological age of connectedness.

Competition lights fires under creatives, right? It makes you put in that extra 10% so you can edge out the competition to gain recognition or a quick buck. So crowdsourcing is a good thing, right?

Well, think about it from the perspective of the creative. The company will no doubt be paying less to the contest winner than if they had hired a professional to do the work, so in this respect, it devalues your work. But it’s not just about the money. If companies just crowdsource the design of everything, then in theory wouldn’t that mean that the opinions of all those individuals would create a super-opinion that would be better than any individual designer? Only in theory. In practice, designers and creatives work in their own distinctive styles, which when done well, help a brand create their own trademark style. If a company just takes bits and pieces of all the best entries, then they’ll lose the subtleties and nuances behind each decision- why these two colors work together, how the curves of each part complement each other, the overall theme of the work, etc.

And of course, let’s not forget that Twitter paid $6 for the design of their logo.

We creatives have to eat too.

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