First there was open source software. Now, Scientific American reports, there's an open source prosthetics community working on better artificial hands and arms. The reason? In the United States, the number of amputees missing an arm or hand is too small to justify a lot of commercial research and development. As a result, a community of users, The Open Prosthetics Project, is working to improve designs, starting with a popular design known as the "Trautman hook" whose manufacturer went out of business in the 1990s.
And, more generally, user-driven innovation has become a subject of increasing interest among academics. For example, MIT Sloan School professor Eric von Hippel has done extensive research about user innovation networks. Meanwhile, in an interview in the new Fall 2008 issue of MIT Sloan Management Review, Marten Mickos of MySQL describes how MySQL grew through open source innovation. Mickos explains the four biggest reasons programmers contribute voluntarily to MySQL:
- To build a reputation.
- To prove something to themselves.
- To get satisfaction from seeing their work have effect.
User communities like the Open Prosthetics Project are a good example of motivation #1 that Mickos mentions.