You don’t have to be a fan of literature to admire the sheer commercial genius of the recently announced online venture by the publishing giant Harper Collins.
Its problem — shared with most of the rest of the publishing community — was simple in essence but extremely difficult to solve.
It needed to pick out potential bestsellers from the hundreds of manuscripts it receives each week from would-be novelists, without employing an even bigger army of staff to read them.
The solution? Get the public to do the job for you — which is exactly what Harper Collins has done with www.authonomy.com. It works like this: authors upload their masterpieces, which are then judged — free of charge — by other users of the site.
Each month, the five best manuscripts will be passed on for further reading by Harper editors. The beauty of it is twofold.
It now costs the publisher very little to do a job that used to be extremely time-consuming and labour intensive.
In addition, the five novels chosen will already have proven themselves popular with readers by the very fact that they have won a public vote.
The idea, of course, is based on the phenomenally successful concept of social networking and creating an online community. Harper Collins are not the only people to have launched a project based on the idea.
Last month, a collaboration that has been described as “a Facebook and YouTube for spies” went live among the American intelligence community.
It’s called A-Space, but sadly I can’t give you the web address. That’s because the project — established by the office of the Director of National Intelligence ( www.dni.gov) — is open only to people in the CIA and other agencies who have a certain level of security clearance.
I can, however, tell you the aim, which is to allow the intelligence community to share information in a way it hasn’t been able to before.
A less — or perhaps more — dramatic example of how networking has been adapted to suit specific requirements is in the world of film.
At the site www.indiegogo.com moviemakers are invited to post details of films they plan to make.
They set a funding goal and contributors are invited to donate money in return for certain perks, such as a mention in the credits or a day on the set.
Unsurprisingly, since the site is based in the US, most of the projects are American. But at the time of writing, there was at least one from Belfast.
The site makes its money through advertising and from a small commission on each project that reaches its funding target. Otherwise, it’s free to use.
But the web is packed with innovative ideas — not all of them based on the social networking model.
Take www.taxime.ca. This Canadian site allows you to type in any starting address and destination and works out the approximate cab fare using Google Maps — useful if you’re about to head off on a business trip.
At first glance, the Canadian and American fares seem to be the most accurate, but they are working hard to make it useful worldwide — and accessible by mobile phone.
These are just some of the great examples of how the internet and a little bit of lateral thinking can have huge business benefits.