Staying on the concept of “Web 2.0 Meets the Enterprise,” I had dinner the other night with a senior executive of a very large enterprise software company, and we got on the subject of another core concept of Web 2.0: the wisdom of crowds.
It’s an interesting notion based on a book of the same name (The Wisdom of Crowds), written by James Surowiecki now being embraced by a number of internet pundits, VCs and entrepreneurs. First, let me say that the book is right now only serving as a paperweight, because it is on a long list of books that I am meaning to get to, but I had to read The Search first (which I highly recommend), then the holidays came, family came into town, my two-year-old decided that I was no longer allowed to read while in his presence…well, you get what I mean. But in essence, the book explores the idea “that large groups of people are smarter than an elite few, no matter how brilliant—better at solving problems, fostering innovation, coming to wise decisions, even predicting the future.”
So, as we got to talking, we were both complaining about how Microsoft’s Internet Explorer, when it crashes, will pop up a dialogue box that asks you to report the error somewhere to Redmond so that they can do some kind of regression analysis on why their product crashed. I never send the error report, because frankly, I am too frustrated to even click on a button at that particular moment to help a company whose product just crashed on me. But that example and many others, such as an anti-virus software provider like Symantec leveraging users to identify potential virus signatures to add to their AV updates (and spyware and anti-spam), illustrates how capturing information from a broad mass of users can be a powerful lever to substantially improve a product or service. You can see this idea happening in many other areas – open source projects, for example, and scores of startups building consumer oriented internet services.
Which leads me to two ideas: First, where else in the enterprise can this notion of the wisdom of crowds be leveraged? One area that I think is very interesting would be in systems and application performance management. Imagine for the moment an Oracle applications admin desparately trying to figure out why his order management system is breaking, right as his company is trying to close its quarter. Is it the app server? The database? The OS on the server? The hardware? The network? Now imagine if IBM Tivoli, CA, BMC or Mercury could incorporate into their diagnostic tools (which, for the most part, measure systems performance as a proxy for where a problem might lie), an update that could analyze system performance and then map it to similar problems that every other Oracle administrator also encountered under the same set of circumstances. Then imagine if that same piece of software could actually suggest the top five ways that those other Oracle admins went about fixing the problem, and then in an automated way, go and do what is necessary to fix it. If anyone knows about any companies that are doing this, I’d like to hear about them. I don’t think that the big systems management vendors are doing anything like this, but would certainly welcome your wisdom.
Oh, and about the second idea, which is more of a comment to Microsoft: If you want me to send information about when and under what circumstances your product breaks, at least offer me some kind of incentive or compensation to participate, will you? Nothing big. Just something to remind me that you actually do care about the fact that your product just crashed. How about a free song download from MSN Music?
Know of any interesting startups? Any burning topics of interest that you would like to see me cover? Let me know.