I have been testing out Crowdbase, a small and simple private social network centered around notes, links, and questions. It’s value proposition is limited discourse, and does not include events, tasks or documents, elements that seem primary in most work media and task management solutions.
Crowdbase seems to be driven by some slightly contrarian sentiments:
We started using the internet to connect by email. Then came Facebook and other social networks to help us share our personal moments in real time. Now, enterprise social networks are trying to bring the social revolution into businesses—but in reality they deliver a lot of noise that doesn’t assist long-term productivity.
At Crowdbase, we believe enterprise social networks and knowledge management should be reinvented to make businesses better. And that’s why we’re building a social knowledge platform, our own blend of algorithms and technologies, to help people structure knowledge to get better answers and discover new things.
I like the social knowledge notion.
Operationally, Crowdbase works something like a private Pinterest or Pinboard. After creating a network, which requires a corporate email domain, like @stoweboyd.com, users can be invited with whatever email address.
The best model of use is to add a bookmarklet to your browser, so that webpages can be saved and shared when you are browsing them.
When adding new items to your Crowdbase, they are organized by primary categories. Secondary categories are also supported, so Crowdbase’s taxonomy is something like tags, although with the addition of a primary category.
When links are added, the entire page is loaded and textually analyzed by Crowdbase, and the tool makes recommendations on possible categories based on a deep general taxonomy of terms. Here, below, you see an item analyzed, and Crowdbase recommended ‘Talent Management’ and ‘Collaborative Software’.
The landing page is the user’s activity stream. The primary user interface is organized in a three panel manner, with navigational elements along the left sidebar, and activity feed in the right sidebar, and various presentations of posted item in the center. Here you see that a question has been made a ‘featured item’ by one of the administrators of this Crowdbase account.
Selecting the Topics navigation brings up a UI like this, with ways to organize based on latest activity, most popular, etc. Topics can specific items can be followed, so that additional items and comments will show in the user’s homepage activity stream.
Each topic has its own page, with an option image (here I opted to not use one). And in the case of the automatically selected topics, or at least some of them, there is a Crowdbase provided definition:
Below this header you would see all the items tagged ‘Talent Management’.
Questions imply answers, and that is the goal of Crowdbase questions, too.
Basically, Crowdbase questions have crowdsourced answers, with users voting for the answers they like best.
And Notes are a way to write arbitrarily long text — like an idea to share with the group — and gather people’s thoughts in the comment thread. Note that these — and the other items — have a history that can be viewed, so that changes made are accessible.
Who and How
I think Crowdbase could fill a gap in the coordination of work for people who are using lightweight work management tools like Asana, Trello, and Do. These often have no obvious way to share information other than tasks (except as attachments), and so a tool like Crowdbase might be a natural additional capability.
For example, I can upload an item in Crowdbase, and then create a task in Asana to explicitly direct someone to review it. This is made simple by the use of the Asana bookmarklet, which captures the URL of the page that’s open. In my case I am tasking myself, but the general principle holds:
Naysayers might argue that an organization is better off with a single integrated tool, in which tasks and these shared notes, questions, and links would be managed in the same way. Perhaps that has some validity, but I favor using best of breed solutions for various sorts of sharing. And many companies have decided to use team task managers — like Asana — because they are extremely focused on getting things done, and less on a stream of social chatter. Nonetheless, there is still a need to share ideas and links, and so this hybrid might be the answer.
Crowdbase is a small and simple private social network, organized around the sharing of links, notes, and questions. I have been using it for several weeks. Although there are a few tiny glitches in the editor, I have found the automatic topic analysis helpful, and that and the tool’s other capabilities have fit very well into my work flow.