Sunday, August 01, 2010

What’s Wordnik Worth?

Words. In an era of real time social engagement and streaming video, the notion that words form the fundamental building blocks for the Internet seems quaint. But it’s never been truer. Never before have words been used in such volumes to create, connect and counsel. For many lifetime students of advertising, it’s still shocking that in a world of sight, sound and motion, words alone are also the basis for the fastest growing and most profitable advertising medium yet devised, search marketing.

One company trying to become the earth’s data store for words is Wordnik. They claim supremacy over Dictionary.com, Webster and the like with what appear to be more comprehensive descriptions.

I tried Wordnik last week while preparing for a panel presentation alongside Josh Jacobs, SVP at Glam Media, at the RightMedia Open last week. I got curious about what “Glam” really meant. I knew it had something to do with a fashion movement from the 70s, but nothing more. So I turned to Wordnik, which not only gave me several definitions, it also supplied me with the raw material for a serious slam down if Josh had gotten cantankerous on the panel.

My slam would have been along these lines (with tongue firmly planted in cheek):

“I’ve always wondered what ‘Glam’ meant and how they came to pick that name. So I looked up the definition on Wordnik. It turns out there were few:

1. Loud talking; a noise; a cry; a shout; a call.

2. The clump or otter-shell, Lutraria elliptica, a bivalve mollusk.

3. A clamp used in the old method of castrating horses.

“I was wondering which one most closely fit when I found another definition on Urban Dictionary:

· A movement that which erupted in the 1970s promoting vanity, copiousness, surreality, narcissism, campness and hauteur.

“And I knew I wouldn’t find a more apt description for the people of Glam…”

I didn’t get to use the slam, but hopefully a future co-panelist of Josh’s will read this and find an opportunity to leverage it!

It turns out that I’ve always been interested in words. Words were at the heart of my work as founder and Editor of Politica, a monthly political journal at Tufts, as Co-Editor of The Reporter, the student newspaper of record for Stanford Business School (at The Reporter, we also published the first web site for a b-school newspaper, btw), and as VP Marketing & Product Management for Banter, an NLP company. I’ve just never thought of words as the currency by which these entities conducted business. Until I ran across Wordnik, that is.

My inner venture capitalist wonders whether Wordnik can find a business model for words as compelling as the role it could play in human discourse. In a consumer context, will Wordnik become the Google for search, improving the search experience just enough to create a franchise of historic value, or the equivalent of the britannica.com for research, a pinnacle of edited content covering what was once considered a wide variety of subjects, only to be displaced in importance by Wikipedia because consumers valued breadth and volunteerism over a perceived gap in professionalism? I can’t wait to find out.

1 comment:

Josh said...

Do you want a rematch Dave!?