Written by Tom Powell: Online enthusiast with an abnormal interest in innovative applications of technology, crowdfunding, co-design, co-creation, and crowdsourcing.

27 June 2008 ~ 0 Comments                                       

Roundup: Random goings on in the world of crowdsourcing and outside innovation

Taking a break from the multi-part series, I thought I would cover a bunch of interesting goings on in the areas of crowdsourcing, lead users, and outside innovation.  Read and enjoy.

Eric von Hippel speaks at MIT about Lead Users (Video: Part 1 and Part 2):
Lead users in certain segments are working together to drive the manufacturers out of the innovation process.  Companies are freely revealing to others so that others can improve on it. An example of lead users in action: Kitesurfing, which was developed by users.  First, manufacturers stepped in, then Saul Griffith posted his designs online and others did too. Each manufacturer had 1 or 2 engineers, but then aerodynamicists from NASA started joining in and brought their tools with them.  These lead users drove manufacturers back out of the design busines.  Users collaboratively built tools and designs.

Linus’ law: the reason you want a lot of people looking at a problem is that they all look at it in different ways.  Given enough eyeballs all bugs are shallow.

Users innovated historically but collaborative user design is becoming so efficient it will drive manufacturers out of design.

Johnny Chung Lee: A perfect example of lead user innovation: 
Not only has he dones these wicked things with nothing more than cheap parts and a Wii, he is the creator of the poor man’s steadycam, and wowed the audience at TED.

Freakin awesome Future of Making Map from the Institute for the Future:
Check this out for an incredible overview of many of the topics and companies covered on this blog.  Categories covered are: Networked artisans (Threadless); Citizen R&D (Lego Mindstorms, Innocentive); Lightweight manufacturing (Ponoko); Personal design and fabrication (reprap); From closed IP to open innovation (theoscarproject.org).

20 June 2008 ~ 3 Comments                                       

Part 3: Digital Suggestion Box: how big corporations are asking for help

Listening to customers is nothing new, but the technology and transparency it enables are. Recently, companies like Dell, Starbucks, and SalesForce have implemented forum-like sites for users to submit, discuss, and vote on product enhancements and product extensions. (The technology under the hood of Starbucks’ site is actually provided by SalesForce, called SalesForce Ideas.) This is customer co-innovation and customer co-creation at its purest: submitters to the site are not compensated for their contributions, they are simply doing it for the love of the brand and its products – or at least out of the desire to see the company improve.

This type of technology is similar in spirit to that found at Crowdspirit, Spigit, and Kluster, to be discussed in a future installment of this series, but the aim is different – and much more difficult to pull off. While these are unestablished companies looking to the wisdom of crowds to create totally new products and work up the design, the Dell’s and Starbuck’s of the world are looking for popular ideas to use as jumping off points for their internal experts to mold and launch.

As Charlene Li and Josh Bernoff would say, this is the “Embracing” portion of the Groundswell – though I would argue it is also a “Listening” activity on the companys’ part. As a commenter on the Groundswell blog mentioned, the only way this works is if it is supported and promoted within and outside of the company. The fact that a company follows up on ideas is an essential way to improve contributions and return visits. Simply slapping your own SalesForce Ideas up on your company’s site will do nothing for you if you don’t promote it and actually incorporate it into the regular functioning of your company.

Getting feedback without some kind of action, whether that be an explanation why the company can’t implement it or examples of successful implementations, will lead to failure.

(I have included below a set of companies that, while they do not have an open process available for voting, they do accept submissions over the web from anyone with an idea or relevant intellectual property. Not quite there, but interesting that companies are opening up, nonetheless.)

Examples of open, digital suggestion boxes:
Dell IdeaStorm
SalesForce IdeaExchange
My StarbucksIdea
IBM ThinkPlace
Cool Software

Throw it over the wall and hope they buy it:
P&G Connect+Develop
Ideas4Unilever
Staples Invention Quest (closed idea competition project)
Kraft
Shell’s GameChanger

Read previous posts:

Part 1: Figuring out crowdsourcing: What does it mean? What’s working? What isn’t?
Part 2: Crowdfunding, Investing and Donation 2.0

07 June 2008 ~ 4 Comments                                       

Part 2: Crowdfunding, Investing and Donation 2.0

Definition: a group of people invest or donate a small portion of a larger investment over the internet. That money is pooled together to bring off a project that otherwise would need traditional sources of funding.

Extremely cool and definitely effective, Crowdfunding is a viable application of these principles. Of course it is: it’s been going on for centuries via investing in companies and projects — but now it’s so much easier and transparent of a process. No longer focused on commercial enterprises, any enterprise in need of funds can connect the long tail of people interested in a particular topic, play, artist, film, event, political candidate, even a niche knitting and crocheting site to bring together small amounts of money to raise what is needed. Raising money from fans to record an album, for example, would have been prohibitively difficult in the past, but now a band can easily offer free downloads, take payment, show progress, and keep fans abreast of developments.

And this extends beyond simply an alternative for funding but can also be applied in untold new ways. Case in point: what about crowdfunded investigative journalism?

Verdict: Viable and ripe for experimentation.

Examples of crowdfunding:
Album recordings and band support: Sellaband, ArtistShare, SliceThePie, VIP Band Manager.
Soccer club takeover: MyFootballClub
Fashion: Catwalk Genius, nvohk,
Community funding: Liverpool Culture Cafe.
Creating a film: A Swarm of Angels, Its Our Movie, FilmRiot, IndieGoGo,
Content creation: Countless blogs seeking donations, Ze Frank, Fund A VLog, Democracy in America.
Loans: Prosper, Kiva, Zopa, Lending Club.
Brewery Funding: BeerBankRoll
Journalism: Guerrilla Journalism Fund, Assignment Zero
Software: MicroPledge
Political fund raising: ActBlue
Music festival: Tennents Mutual
Tools for crowdfunding: Crowdfunder, FirstGiving, BountyUp, Fundable, Global Giving
VC decisions: VenCorps

Resources:
Crowdfunding Wiki
P2P Foundation
Know The Music Biz

Read previous parts:
Part 1: Figuring out crowdsourcing: What does it mean? What’s working? What isn’t?

01 June 2008 ~ 4 Comments                                       

Part 1: Figuring out crowdsourcing: What does it mean? What’s working? What isn’t?

I lack a specific definition or term for what I have been writing about here — mainly because there isn’t one. “Crowdsourcing” comes close, but it is a bit constraining in that it connotes outsourcing work to the crowd, which is only part of the story. Thus, in light of that, I will be posting a series covering the various aspects of whatever the hell this is that I am talking about with examples of each portion in action. It will by no means be exhaustive, but it should provide a good overview of some interesting orgs that are leveraging these principles.

So, let’s set out with a few of the current names for it and related concepts that feed into it:

The overarching themes revolve around: Crowdsourcing; Outside Innovation; Innovation Networks; the Wisdom of crowds; and Customer co-creation.

These larger initiatives are supported by: Web 2.0/Social Computing; Mass Customization; the Long Tail; Open Innovation; Peer production; Prediction markets; Voting and ratings; Competitions and prizes; Lead users; Transparent business practices; and Democratized content creation and distribution.

(Don’t forget, Sami Viitamaki has a pretty generalized but effective take on how to think about Crowdsourcing in particular with his FLIRT model.)

So, going forward I am going to touch on a variety of topics that will hopefully clear things up a bit. Some of the topics I will cover:

  • Crowdfundingistock_000004727096small.jpg
  • Prediction markets
  • Crowdsourcing: Graphic design
  • Customer co-creation and crowdsourcing: New product development
  • Home Fabbing and Crowdsourcing: Physical product design and development
  • Crowdsourcing: Content creation
  • Crowd feedback; or, Business starts to listen
  • Crowdsourcing: Problem solving
  • Many hands make light work: The atomization of work resulting in the completion of massive jobs.
  • Crowdcooperation

All of this stuff is connected somehow, is undergirded by similar philosophies, tools and technology, and methodologies — and I love geeking out about it. There are some powerful changes hidden in all of this and, while many of the concepts have been with us and operating for some time — centuries even — only recently has a confluence of developments led to the ability to really harness it all.

31 May 2008 ~ 0 Comments                                       

Just got back from South America…

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… so this time I have an excuse for not posting for weeks on end.  And now I’m in New York starting my internship at FiLife, a joint venture between Dow Jones and IAC.  More fabulous co>innovative type content soon.

24 April 2008 ~ 0 Comments                                       

Crowdsourcing Venture Capital Decisions…. sort of.

Similar to product idea/product generation and promotion sites such as Kluster and Crowdspirit, You Be The VC and IdeaBlob aim to surface the best ideas for companies.  If your idea and pitch are good enough, you win prize money and support. (IdeaBlob gives out $10K a month for winning ideas while You Be The VC takes a different approach: they winnow ideas down internally then the public votes on the top 20 in order to award the top 3 with incubator-type services over the summer in Cambridge.)

Ideablob appears to be a marketing vehicle for Advanta, a large credit card company, which makes a certain amount of sense. It costs them $120K a year for the prize money and whatever it costs them to run and promote the site, which can only help them in marketing to the small businesses at the core of their target market.  It would be interesting to see what comes of the contest winners 6 months, a year after winning. There is nothing revolutionary here, it is basically a monthly contest the with the small twist of allowing people to vote.

You Be The VC on the other hand is a bit more interesting in that there is some follow up and responsibility there: winners aren’t just released into the wild with $10K to spend on their business, they need to go to Cambridge for 3 months and are provided with office space, advisors (such as Curt Shilling, yup, the Red Sox pitcher, huh?) and other admin/legal support services — not prize money.  It is run by Bang Ventures which is a legitimate investment company with some heavy hitter advisors.

The question remains: does the crowd voting in these cases add any value to the process or is it more of a gimic than anything else?  Any VC will tell you, they would rather go with a mediocre idea/great team than a great idea/mediocre team while the people voting are likely not that worried about the team, just the pizzaz of the idea. Although Bang Ventures is not a VC and don’t award money, they are investing time and resources in these companies.

As these types of sites proliferate it will become harder and harder to bring people into the process and get their feedback.  Threadless works so spectacularly due to their being pretty much first and best in the space as well as the simplicity of the feedback they are looking for.  You can look at a graphic design and make a quick decision… a business idea on the other hand?  A bit more complex.

Only the sites that are extremely compelling will survive.

Further, the more complex the decisions being made, the fewer people will participate and the more focused/passionate/obsessed they will have to be about the topic.

20 April 2008 ~ 1 Comment                                       

Questionable feedback: Incented and Not

This post by Francois Gossieaux on Marketing 2.0 echoes some of my thoughts in a previous post in which I mulled over the balancing act between providing a platform for interested users and creating a paid marketplace for extracting feedback, ideas, work.

Would you rather have feedback from a person who is filling out 10 surveys to gain points towards a gift certificate? Or someone who has sought you out to tell you something they think about your product?

Thus, it seems, unfortunately, that it is generally an either/or proposition.   Either you provide a platform for a group of people who LOVE to contribute — seek you out in order to contribute — or you have a robust marketplace for creating extrinsic incentives for user contribution.

03 April 2008 ~ 1 Comment                                       

ReDesignMe and BMW

BMWBMW has what is basically the equivelant to P&G’s Connect + Develop in which anyone can submit a technical spec for an innovation in which BMW would be interested.  They like it, they’ll buy it.

ReDesignMe is a minimalist, simple implementation of user submitted design improvements and suggestions for existing products. Companies or users submit products which they would like improved along with a description of what they feel is lacking.  A Pro Challenge feature is also available whereby companies may post one of their products or websites for comment and redesign and the most creative or useful submissions win a prize. Here’s one from Vodafone.  Okay, basically this is simply an open blog in which anyone can post a picture of a product with a problem and anyone can upload comments or photos of a redesign.  (Via Springwise.)

Both of these point yet again to what seems to be a no-brainer: Companies should solicit ideas and innovation from everyone, everywhere.  Employees, partners, customers, non-customers, haters.  It doesn’t bind you to anything and doesn’t cost a whole lot, but it could open up your company to any number of innovations that never would have come about otherwise.

Unless you figure out how to run a fascist state (Apple) that produces breathtaking products and services, why not solicit ideas from everyone?