In an interesting turn of events, a project born out of the Occupy Wall Street movement to build social democracy 2.0 (see our story here) has turned into a commercial enterprise.

The effort keeps the title Project 99, but creator Brett McDowell is calling the open source intelligence firm the semantic technology powers OpenThinkLab. The idea remains largely the same, in that it seeks to draw upon the intelligence of the crowd and make it useable, this time in the service of anyone with questions to explore, from startups to think tanks to corporate titans like McDonald’s and MTV — and, yes, even stock traders.

McDowell says the idea is for clients to let OpenThinkLab push their projects for them, discovering what they don’t know they don’t know that could affect their business development or marketing project plans, and “inspiring unknown innovation” among a crowd of individuals in networks of affiliates with knowledge and skills appropriate to the effort. It will stimulate those users through good relationships, games and rewards, and continually scout for more users to bring in and to make more connections, he says. “We’re collating intelligence. Everyone has a piece of information, and the point is to bring it together into something usable that makes sense. …As a service you can have this swarm intelligence directed, like through campaigns. You can’t tell a swarm what to do, but you can inspire it through leadership.”

The swarm’s input is paired with other data related to the clients’ efforts that OpenThinkLab will surface from other sources, both real world and online. “The first thing we do is make an intelligence collection plan to find out all the information you need, and then we use different methods, whether scouting social media or going to the Deep Web, to start to answer your research questions,” says McDowell.

Inside Project 99

As with its past effort, Semantic Mediawiki is in the picture, as a base for OpenThinkLab’s collected knowledge platforms. In addition to deploying and managing tools for data collection, annotation and management, the company will integrate clients’ social media collections into the collation process. By itself providing the platform for public collection and annotation, “this allows us to maintain a synergy with existing campaigns, events, rewards and other promotions,” says McDowell. “At times the best means of collecting may be constructing external websites for collection. We, however, require that the data collected remains open source,” though the policy does not apply to intranet solutions or offline analysis provided to clients in confidence.

As for information intake, it’s been simplified from the previous incarnation, he notes, and we “made it better for semantic annotation,” he says, adding that clients as well as swarm members who contribute to intelligence will have the opportunity to level up in terms of how they annotate and understand data. It also maintains a semantic offline database for research done via other methods. The platform’s tagging system is set up in a way to discover more vocabularies, McDowell says, apply them to the same annotation, and then bring that back to the core ontologies that are being used, depending on the subject.

“Through a simple entry things can get more complex, annotating and adding analytics to those entries and finding what’s connected to those entries as well as groups and different links across the web,” says McDowell. “It focuses highly on analysis and situational awareness.”

After all, says McDowell, “we can’t predict events. We can only search out unknown possibilities.”