In my upcoming book, Outside Innovation, I’m using as one organizing principle the different roles that customers can (and should) play in shaping your business and its products. I’ve identified lots of different roles. Now the challenge is to describe and differentiate them.
Engaging customers as collaborators is one of the most advanced, and the most challenging, business propositions. Open source software development is a prototypical example of customers as collaborators. Customer collaboration is when customers band together to co-create something new and complex. They work together in an open, transparent environment to co-create new products, solutions, and works of art. Each customer contributes his or her own intellectual property and/or builds on a contribution made by a colleague.
Wikipedia is a good example of the power and pitfalls of the “customer as collaborator” role. Launched in January 2001, and based on the open source model of collaborative development, Wikipedia is the world’s fastest growing, most current, and largest encyclopedia. Wikipedia provides a great example of how complex projects like writing software, solving really difficult problems, and creating and classifying knowledge are increasingly becoming customer-collaborative projects.