Open Sourcing vs. Crowd Sourcing Products | Do You Know The Difference?

One of my observations from attending ProductCamp PDX was that there was a very vague understanding of the differences between open source and crowd sourcing. 

I sat through one discussion at ProductCamp PDX about ways to launch products to an audience, and there was some consensus/agreement that it was acceptable practice to “get the MVP (minimum viable product) out to the public and (or with?) “open source” feature ideas and ongoing development.”

Me, attempting not to jump up on chair at that point, said “I think you mean crowd source.”  Blank stares ensued.

Both take some time in building a community of users interested in your product and willing helping out with it. One is not exclusive of the other; open source products are crowd sourced, and crowd sourced projects can be open source.

The difference is…

Who’s benefiting?

If a company is opening up a product for public input, then taking the feedback and incorporating it into their next product release for sale, it’s crowd sourcing. It’s crowd sourcing because the company is capitalizing on the feedback. Yes, a public contributor may get some incentive or cash for having their idea adopted; regardless, the end product remains under the company control.

Should you release a product into the community, solicit help to improve it, then allow the public to use and modify the product for everyone’s benefit, then it’s open source. Some features or improvements may be crowd sourced amongst the community, however, the end results in improvements that everyone can have access to.

Chris Grams has his opinions about why one trumps the other.

In the discussion I described above, most of the attendees were employed by corporations and had been struggling with how to improve upon and gain traction with their products. Anything the public contributed would be fed back into supporting the profitability of the product, thusly crowd sourcing.

I believe building communities is important regardless of your product approach. It’s a beneficial way to tap into the user base to discover how your product is being used and perceived, as well as to encourage users to talk about it among their personal networks. Those types of interactions can’t be bought. Just be aware of under what guise you’re asking the community to participate.

Have you ever tried crowd sourcing a product? Has your community grown, shrunk or stalled?

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