Community crowdsourcing and innovation

The Wall Street Journal recently profiled calculator hobbyists who hack calculators to do weird (but ostensibly fun) things like making an Etch A Sketch, or a Tetris game, or synthesized music. The WSJ article also relates how a calculator company that was the target of some of these hacks sent cease and desist emails and letters to members of the calculator hack community for violations of intellectual property rights.

First, it’s understandable why the calculator company sought to protect its intellectual property. But there’s also an opportunity for the calculator company to foster a user community from this hack community, and the LEGO MINDSTORMS community offers an intriguing parable.

Product directors at LEGO MINDSTORMS first reacted negatively to a budding hobbyist community centered around their product, according to this MIT lecture, but have now embraced this community to drive product sales and innovation. Similarly, IBM has a developer community. And this research paper details how individuals update Google’s mapping system to make it more accurate, while this New York Times article discusses how a community of volunteer cartographers are logging details of neighorhoods.

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