How To Crowdsource Your Research & Development

Taking a cue from the success of Dell’s IdeaStorm, in which consumers vote on features they want to see in Dell products, and Yahoo!’s Suggestion Board, Intel and Asus have launched WePC. WePC is a crowdsourcing project that lets people vote on features — similar to Dell’s site — and also to design their so-called “Dream PC” by describing the key features they’d want to see and adjust sliders to let Asus know what features are most important at the expense of others. The Dream PC part of the site also has a simple drawing app that allows users to sketch out their dream computer.

Asus is one of the fastest growing PC makers in the world, and their Eee PC line of netbooks ignited a new market segment. The company has sold over four million of the mini PCs to date.

Asus marketing director Lillian Lin said that WePC is “an effort to bridge innovation and technology with consumers’ wishes.” That’s certainly the sort of attitude that will make users giddy, but is this approach to gathering customer feedback smart?

We think it is extremely smart. Crowdsourcing your research and development in this type of environment allows customers to not only feel like they are influencing the direction of products they love, but it allows them to connect with one another around your product as well. That, in turn, strengthens the perception of your brand. As long as Asus follows through on some of the suggestions they get, WePC should strengthen their brand and turn users into fans.

How to Follow Asus’ Lead

We think this is a good way for any company to gather feedback on their products or services, and there are a number of companies that can help you do it. Our list below of eight companies that can help you gather customer feedback is presented in no particular order.

  • IdeaScale – IdeaScale is basically a clone of the platform implemented by Dell on IdeaStorm. Users can submit ideas, and others can get on board by voting on submissions using a Reddit-like thumbs up/thumbs down mechanism. The free plan on IdeaScale allows for logo customization, so it is suitable for business use. Advanced moderation features, private portals, and custom URLs cost a fee (starting at $15/month).
  • featurelist.org – featurelist.org, which is almost completely focused on software, is a bit different than IdeaScale in that while they provide a branded service, the suggestion boards are completely public and anyone can submit feature ideas for any product (or start a project page for your product). In other words, you may not control your own product page. From a user perspective the site is nearly identical to IdeaScale.
  • FeVote – Similar to featurelist.org, FeVote takes an “anyone can create a suggestion board for any product” approach. Even though these sites are user focused, it is a good idea to get there first and claim your brand, then check back and make sure you’re interacting with your users wherever they are most comfortable, regardless of which site that is.
  • CollabAndRate – CollabAndRate is another suggestion board product, though their pitch is that it can be used to poll not only customers for feedback, but also employees and partners.
  • CrowdSpirit – Once an ambitious project to crowdsource the production of a consumer electronics product from R&D and design through production and marketing, CrowdSpirit has relaunched as an idea marketplace similar to the design contest marketplace that SitePoint runs over at sister site 99designs. Entrepreneurs can ask questions of the CrowdSpirit community (such as, “What killer app could be made with our new API?”), and the best ideas are rewarded with cash or prizes.
  • SuggestionBox – SuggestionBox is one of the most full-featured and slickest designed customer feedback boards. The site uses a ratings-out-of-five scheme for suggestions, rather than the more traditional Digg-style thumbs up/down voting. It costs $49.50/month, or $4/month for non-profit and educational use.
  • UserVoice – UserVoice, which is free while in beta, is a very nicely designed suggestion board app. They set themselves apart from the competition by offering a widget that allows consumers to make suggestions and view the top feature requests directly from your web site. I find myself seeing the UserVoice widget more and more often around the web.
  • Get Satisfaction – Get Satisfaction is actually focused on customer support, but users often make suggestions about how to improve products via the site. It’s a great idea to monitor Get Satisfaction like a hawk and let your customers know you’re listening.
  • If you know of any other options that we’ve missed, or have any experience with this type of customer feedback mechanism, please let us know in the comments below.