Open Thread: Top Web Worker Innovations


Danforth Coffee ShopTechnology propels society forward, and web workers are more keenly aware of that than anyone. In just the last five years we have made leaps and bounds in terms of how connected we can be, how quickly we can receive and disperse information and how we communicate with each other. It has been an exhilarating ride as we have embraced all of the new technology innovations.

I began thinking about what has had the biggest impact on my ability to be an effective web worker when I heard about a PBS “Nightly Business Report” feature: 30 Most Important Innovations from Last 30 Years. This list will be announced on the show tonight.

It got me thinking about the specific technologies that make what I do possible. Using the same criteria, I made a list of some of my own most valuable innovations for the web worker.

Here are the criteria used by “Nightly Business Report” (in conjunction with Knowledge@Wharton, the online research and business analysis journal of the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania) in making their list:

1. Did it have a direct and/or material effect on quality of life?
2. Did it address a compelling need? Did it solve a compelling problem?
3. Was it a fresh, new breakthrough? Was there a “WOW” factor?
4. Did it change the way business is conducted?
5. Did it increase the efficiency of how resources are used?
6. Did it spark an ongoing stream of new innovations on top of the original innovation?
7. Did it lead to the creation of a vast, new industry?

So given that, here are my Most Valuable Innovations for the Web Worker.

Gmail – Sure, email existed before Gmail, but the massive adoption of the ubiquitous service by web workers shows they got it right. A web-based platform with powerful search capabilities allows us to harness the massive amounts of information that flows through our email.

Skype – The distributed nature of web working means we need an easy and inexpensive way to talk with clients and colleagues. VoIP solutions like Skype offer us the ability to communicate from just about anywhere. I love it when it works.

RSS – For the publisher it offers the ability to syndicate and distribute content to the masses. For the consumer, it enables aggregation and the ability to retrieve the content more efficiently and view it on demand.

Wi-Fi/Wireless Broadband – Allows us to lose the wires and lets us work anywhere. Along with the widespread adoption of the laptop computer it turned any place in to our work place. I still maintain an office but it’s great to know I can connect from anywhere and get things done. Would the coffee shop industry really be sustainable without wireless connectivity and the web worker?

Digital Media/Streaming Music – We web workers sure do love our music. The transition from physical media to digital formats lets us take our music with us anywhere, or listen online to streaming radio services like Pandora or Slacker. I know I work better with music playing.

I know this list is incomplete, and intentionally so. It demonstrates what I think is the most important benefit to all of these innovations — the power of collaboration. It is now so easy for us to work together to create and share, I thought we could finish the list together. I’ll be watching the “Nightly Business Report” on PBS to see how many of the innovations on their list are also on this one.

What would you add and why? Let us know in the comments.

(photo via Wayne Lee)


Avery Otto

We are at a pivotal point in the history of humanity. Tools give us the capacity to see that we can address our own needs and the drivers of catalytic change. In the world of innovation, I am a strong advocate for collective intelligence. The rise of competitive portals where problem solvers compete and cooperate to solve organizational challenges is an important contribution to our collective next steps.
One exciting example of this is

Simon Mackie

Well, there were quite a few items on the NBR list that could have made a “Top Web Worker Innovations” list (including all of the top 4):

29. SRAM flash memory
23. RFID and applications
22. Digital photography/videography
21. Graphic user interface (GUI)
20. Social networking via internet
16. Media file compression (e.g., jpeg, mpeg, mp3)
15. Online shopping/ecommerce/auctions (e.g., eBay)
13. Liquid Crystal Displays
11. Open source software and services (e.g., Linux, Wikipedia)
9. Office software (Spreadsheets, word processors)
8. Fiber optics
7. Microprocessors
4. E-mail
3. Mobile phones
2. PC/laptop computers
1. Internet/broadband/WWW

Paul Carney

I love the criteria list. It was so close to what we use in our marketing criteria for what we do, that I had to put a comment in.

Our Saas called NaturalInsight hits 6 of the 7 directly:

1. We enable more than 22,000 workers to accept work and manage it from their desktop. The “old” way was for managers to assign people. The “new” way is for the managers to put opporunities out there and people accept what they want to do and schedule it themselves. This makes the field worker’s life so much better.

2. Managers had a hard time tracking down people by phone and email to schedule work. When a worker was sick, it created the same issue. The worker now manages it all through their dashboard.

3. The WOW factor was a large, billion-dollar company that went from a manger-to-field worker ratio of about 1/25 to 1/275, with 3 times the volume of work getting done! Talk about efficiency!

4. Drastically changed the way that organizations in the retail industry worked. Instead of forcing schedules on the workers, it placed the responsibility on the worker themselves to coordinate and manage, while managers can view online instantly what is happening (saved on phone bills, too!).

5. See #4 above.

6. Yes. PDF’s with 2-D barcodes became the normal “worksheet” that a worker printed to take into the field. When they were done, they signed it and faxed it into a toll-free number that received, decoded and put a copy of the PDF with the project. The clever HR group realized that they could now use that as a timecard if they put in some extra words. That dual-purpose form now serves as a timecard – a new innovation that replaced an old process.

7. This is the only one that it has not done (yet). Although, we are bringing the same type of service into other markets. Anyone who has distributed People doing work at Places for a specific Project (People,Places,Projects) can use this.

Sorry if this seemed liked an infommercial. That was not the intent. It was more to the point that our system does meet a lot of the criteria, but won’t be on the same scale as a GMail or Skyp.

Troy Peterson

I think one of the biggest advantages has been the various business apps offered as a service. This saves tons of money compared to buying full enterprise level software applications.

A few that come to mind are:

1. Bookeeping Software
2. Project Managment Software
3. List management and newsletter apps

Especially since most of these services either offer a free or try before you buy type accounts.

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