Innovation through volunteers

We’re all familiar with the power of volunteer contributions in the open source software movement. Now companies are finding additional ways to work with volunteer contributors.

We’re all familiar with the power of volunteer contributions in the open source software movement.  But recently, a number of smart thinkers have been pointing out other interesting ways that companies have been able to benefit from volunteers’ contributions:

  • Andrew McAfee blogged about how volunteer “super-users” answer questions from other users in forums on telecommunications company Verizon’s website. McAfee notes that Verizon’s volunteer “super-users” particularly value getting high ratings for their contributions — and that, more generally, building reputation is a common motivator for volunteer contributors in online communities.
  • In their blog at the Harvard Business Publishing site, John Hagel III, John Seely Brown and Lang Davison wrote rabout how software company SAP benefited by creating an online network where customers of its NetWeaver product, as well as third parties such as system integrators, could share information about the product.
  • And, on the open source front, ETH Zurich reported recently on a study ETH Zurich Professor Georg von Krogh conducted about Nokia’s use of volunteers and open source in developing its Internet Tablet device. Von Krogh noted that, for Nokia, using open source volunteers in new product development posed risks — such as information-sharing and inability to mandate deadlines or completely control the process. So, von Krogh reported, the company worked with a mix of  volunteer and paid developers.