Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Finding the Next Big Thing! (Part I)

If you are like me, expending energy on finding the Next Big Thing is much more fun than working at creating the Next Big Thing. Why work hard when you can march in front of a popular revolution and then install yourself as its leader?

I’m being a little facetious here but, it is true that The Next Big Thing is never just one person’s idea. The history books say Calculus was invented by two men simultaneously; that the phone and light bulb were invented by many independent teams as well.

Some people think it up, some people adopt it early, others improve it, others promote it, others commercialize it, etc. People outside the organization touch it and use it. The idea though is for you as a leader in innovation for your company to know in what industry, product, price-point and value proposition to be in based on what the trends say. So the Next Big Thing has everything to do with trends.

I use the Internet to find big trends. I would not use the Internet to discover if a local vacant parking lot was used more on weekends than weekdays. But then, a local vacant parking lot may not be part of the Next Big Thing - just part of the Next Small Thing. I might be able to see if vacant lots around the city or North America where used more, but then I would have to go to a distributed data gathering tool, like the Internet, for more information anyway. Have I mentioned I like using the Internet to find big trends?

So what (free) tools and data sources are out there to find trends?

  • The first tool is Google Trends (it is simple and gives you some basic statistical answers to some basic questions: when do people search for “flu”? are there more searches for “snow blowers” from Los Angeles or New York over a similar period?)
  • Another neat tool is Alexa. It’s a company that uses really big browser search numbers to project activity across the whole Internet. They can tell you what topics are hot, what websites are active and becoming more active, and even what products are hot. But these are basic and the ability to ask a more complicated question is not possible in this free tool
  • Yahoo Buzz! Is another trend monitor. It’s divided into news, business, entertainment, etc. It’s basically a way to find the top “information” pages being read on the Internet found through Yahoo sources.
  • Other, but poorly organized storehouses of information would be: Twitter, Facebook, Wikipedia, Slashdot, YouTube, Blogger and Baidu.

There are even some meta-sites like that put a few of these free tools side-by-side on the same web page. The problem with these tools is that they really talk about what is hot now, and not what is a large underlying trend. For this you need to be a little more clever in how you analyze the data you read and how you monitor the hot trends over time.

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