Tuesday, 9 September 2014

Open source business model 5/5 – How to use it?

This last post explains how to use it. What it can be used for is in the first post, the second explains the model, the third why it works and the fourth suggest when it can be used.

Thinking of using it?

1.  What is the objective?

The open source model is one way to tap the crowd.  But be clear on the objective.  Is this the most suitable crowdsourcing tool to apply, among others like the peer-to-peer model?  And note that tapping skills, developing a product, trend tracking or market penetration should each be executed differently.

One key difference is that while the open source model is better at directed activities, say, what features should a product have, the peer-to-peer model is better for listening, say, opinions and ideas to improve a product.  The latter is more likely to produce unhindered input.   Another is that with open source, ownership of the deliverables is in the public domain.

2.  Resources

Do you have the resources to support the initiative?  The preparation can be as simple as a website detailing the project, material for download, then inviting ideas but there is usually more work.  Many involve developing tools comprising information, data, project briefs, blueprints, access tools, sharing tools, discussion platform, etc.  And once you launch it, it’s not auto-pilot.  It’s co-development so you must have a team to engage the community and carry out some of the work.  Most of all, your team must take the lead to guide its development.

Is time a factor?  Obviously you cannot expect results within days.  The open source model takes months to start getting results.

2. Suitability

Why would the crowd take part?  Is the idea interesting, exciting even?  There’ll be little takers otherwise but bear in mind the 0.001% law that even if you think it’ll attract few volunteers, it can add up in the global internet.  If you are unsure, test it.

Does the initiative give something back to the peer community?  It has to.  This should be in terms of social currency if there is no direct benefit.

To succeed, management must keep an open mind.  A traditional top down command-and-control mentality won’t work.

3.  Corporate issues

Is there an intellectual property or copyright issue?  You must be prepared to share the results with others, even competitors.

This method requires management to accept some loss of control.  Can management accept this?

4.  Execution

Plan for it.  The peer crowd is not just going to stampede onto your project.  Make the case to enlist them.

Outreach is required.  Get invited to guest post in blogs popular with the peer group and print media.  Highlight it in your website, use social media channels, etc.  This is the challenging part.

Are the tools easy to use?  Minimise friction in the engagement, make it easy for them to contribute.

Get the processes right.  For developmental projects, remember how this model works - ‘in small steps, do it often’.  That is, release a quick version, don’t try to finish as much of the project as possible before releasing it.  Then release updates often after consolidating the best contributions.  Be consistent, be timely.

The challenge is to devise the initiative in a way that would appeal to the market participants of your industry.  If it does and if you can create social currency, you will have your ‘workforce’.

5.  It is critical to be mindful of the culture

“Those who view the crowd as free labour is doomed to fail”

If you are merely making use of the crowd, it will not work.  Treat them as partners.  What unites all successful efforts is a deep commitment to the community.

The entire effort must be open and transparent.  Never bluff the crowd. 

Get the operating culture correct. Think peer-driven, community-spirited.  It attracts peer crowds for a reason and needs to be treated as such.  At all times show respect.  Handle it with a light touch, guide, never force.  The team should view itself as just another member of the community.

Continual engagement of the community is a must if you are going to get anything useful.  Be responsive, say, to their questions (later this can be self generated) quickly, make as much information available as possible, hold workshops and conferences if the initiative warrants it.

The best ones have a thriving community, many become self organising running on its own most of the time.

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