May 20, 2007

Software open innovation without open source

In my book chapter with Scott Gallagher analyzing open source as an example of open innovation, we were challenged two years ago by co-editor Henry Chesbrough to more clearly delineate the overlap between the two constructs — including examples of IT innovations that fit in one category but not the other. It turns out that the resulting typology — Figure 5.1 in our 2006 book — has well stood the test of time. I used it again this week in my keynote speech at EURAM, in this case to introduce open source researchers to open innovation concepts.

However, one thing bothered Scott and me. We were very interested in game mods as something that was definitely open innovation, but (except in rare cases) did not really use the open source IP model. We were not sure whether it was representative of a broader phenomenon or just an interesting anomaly. There is so much about the video game industry that is anomoulous — despite the industry’s huge economic significance — that we thought this could be just one more.

It turns out there’s an N of at least 2, because music mods seem to work almost the same way as game mods. I learned about this from two papers at the EURAM 2007 online communities track. This research has been pioneered by Lars Bo Jeppesen, although the 2nd paper (by Linus Dahlander and Lars Frederiksen) did not involve “Lars Bo” (as everyone called him this week).

[Reason Logo]The company involved in this is called Propellerhead Software of Sweden. Even if the name is not familiar to readers, anyone who’s walked into a guitar store (such as Guitar Center) in the US has seen their Reason software, providing a software-only simulation of all the great guitars and amplifiers during the seminal rock & roll era of the 1960s and 1970s — sounds originally created using wirewrap components, discrete components, or even tubes.

Propellerhead has an active community of user-contributed content — special sounds and sound effects. Jeppesen said that a typical computer-controlled musical instrument would take 100-150 hours to develop by an experienced Propellerhead engineer. They have attracted free some 100 significant modifications by users. Of course, this is exactly the user innovation paradigm of Eric von Hippel of MIT.

Jeppesen and Frederiksen already published a 2006 paper on this in Organization Science (DOI: 10.1287/orsc.1050.0156). I had previously read parts of the article, but somehow never made the connection between their research and the demo I saw of Reason and the Line 6 Toneport at the Guitar Center booth during the 2006 and 2007 Macworld Expo.

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