NowPublic & Crowd Powered Media

A future billion-dollar company is growing out of a modest office in downtown Vancouver.  The company is called NowPublic and its tagline is “crowd powered media.”  NowPublic has spawned the largest band of news contributors in the world.  Mike Tippett, the managing partner, explained to me, however, that this is not a collection of “actual news guys.”  Instead, it is an online network of over 120,000 contributors in more than 140 countries. 

So what is crowd powered news?  NowPublic defines news as “new information on current events.”  NowPublic operates its site on the premise that there are three different types of news:

  1. original, relevant information about a current event that you have actually witnessed;
  2. new information you have collected, arranged and contextualized about a current event; and
  3. commentary, advice or analysis directly related to a current event.  The news received from contributors can thus be treated accordingly. 

The value of a company like NowPublic is particularly demonstrated during situations of severe crisis.  Tippett explains that during the Hurricane Katrina crisis, NowPublic had more citizen reporters in the area than many news organizations did.  In fact, if the news organizations had sent all of their staff to report on the event, the number of staff members would still have paled in comparison to the number of citizen journalists on the scene.

Because of its success, NowPublic is currently expanding its partnership with Associated Press (AP) to include AP’s bureaus across the US.  AP is the world’s largest newsgathering organization, with a staff of more than 4,000 employees located in more than 240 bureaus in 97 countries.  NowPublic started an innovative partnership with them in March 2007.

How did Tippett come up with the idea?  NowPublic started with three partners, including Tippett.  Tippett had been doing “internet stuff” for about 13 years.  He started to get interested in blogging and remote wireless devices.  At the same time, wi-fi technology and camera phones were gaining popularity.  He understood the technology, so he started blogging about it.  He also noticed websites for people who liked to post snapshots from their camera phones and make up headlines for the images.

Combining the two elements together, Tippett set up a small portion on the back of his site that enabled people to post camera photos in conjunction with top news stories.  He realized that this new aspect of his site was gaining unusual popularity. In fact, the feedback showed that site visitors didn’t care what he had to say, but they were very interested in other people’s postings about the news.  Thus, the idea of NowPublic was basically a response to the interests of his “customers.”

Tippett states, “Part of the mystery of Web 2.0 is that many of the assumptions you have about human nature and the way people interact with their property and other people’s property are counterintuitive.”  For example, he cites the idea of people devoting time and energy to sites without being paid: “The whole idea of the gift economy, sharing and giving away for free, is outside of the traditional business mindset.  You have to be open-minded about it, because it can be scary as an entrepreneur; you may not know what you are getting into.” 

His conclusion is that the real risks are not technological, because you can build anything you want; rather, the big risk is what happens when you put your idea into the market.  Tippett describes the key issues:  “Is the market going to be receptive to it because everyone has their own sense of what people want, but you often find they are watching, but that they are watching for a different reason.”  So, for an entrepreneur considering a Web 2.0 opportunity, there should be sufficient research to launch the process, but not so much as to project with great detail how it will evolve.