Crowd control Predict the future (sort of) with Inkling Markets

Posted by tom klein September 7, 2007

We’re all familiar with the challenge of guessing how many jelly beans there are in the jar. In the Wisdom of Crowds by James Surowiecki (Doubleday: 2004), you learn that large groups of people are smarter than an elite few. While one guess at the number of beans is no doubt wrong, the average of many guesses is invariably very close to correct. So, how can you harness the wisdom of crowds to questions that are important to growing your business – everything from the price of oil to the direction of the housing market?

Try Inkling Markets, a site whose goal is to combine the opinions of a diverse group of people to predict the probability of an event occurring or the value of something. Say you would like to predict book sales (as O’Reilly currently does with this system). You create a market and ask the specific question. Then, other participants express what they think will happen by buying and selling shares in stocks representing possible answers. The stock price either represents the probability of an event occurring or an actual value. Participants whose predictions are more accurate accumulate more wealth and gain in influence.

The bottom line here is that this is a great way to open a window on the future when it comes to thinking about what affects your business. Given that this is marketing planning season, what would you like to predict?

Creating a marketplace is markedly different from conducting a survey. A marketplace represents an indicator of how people currently think, while a survey is a snapshot. In addition, a marketplace captures what people think will happen, not what they want to happen (though it’s certain that some people will lose money on the 2008 election).

Abbott, Chrysler, Stanford, and Los Alamos are among Inkling’s clients. Think about building a marketplace to help gain perspective on sales of your products, to evaluate the potential of new products, or even to gain insight into the behavior of your targeted customer.

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