Social Product Development

Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Social Computing Meets Product Development

How many of you visit social networking sites? Maybe you have a LinkedIn account, you post on Facebook, you rate movies on Netflix, and maybe you have registered on the PTC/USER forums. Some people think this social networking stuff is pretty cool, but could never work in business. I was reading an O’Reilly Radar report the other day and Tim O’Reilly (timoreilly on Twitter) makes a great point: “…remember how the personal computer was dismissed by the titans of the computer industry as nothing but a toy? The future often comes to us in disguise, with toys that grow up to spark a revolution.” He was referring to Twitter, in this case. But it struck me that the same is true for social networking’s role in product development.

Collaboration is not new to product development. In fact, since the dawn of time, people have been working together to create innovative designs. In short, product development is a team sport. How well you and your company choreograph product development activities is key to the success or failure of your product and your business.

But beyond well defined business processes, which are absolutely necessary, individuals need to connect easily to information and people on an ad-hoc basis to get their work done. If you have used IM to get a question answered quickly while you are in a meeting or used Yammer to get information for a presentation, you know what I mean (note to my boss, BTW, get on IM….please). Product development is already social….but it can be even more so.

For business, social networking has evolved into social computing, and today, social computing technology has emerged as a real business application, but for product development it needs a boost. The real value of social computing in product development comes not only when you are connecting to people and documents, but when you are connecting to the content that defines your products -- and that content is helping you connect to people you don’t even know who can help you get your work done better and faster.

So while some of us have dismissed social networking as a fad or a toy for the teenagers and college students of the world, I have news for you: Social computing is here to stay and I think product development is ripe to take advantage of this new way of working.

What do you think? Does social computing have its place in product development?


  1. I place a quote about your blog and a comment. Congratulations!

  2. I'm a believer in social networks--I think they're bound to become a part of the way we live, work, and interact with one another in the future.

    I think they can play a critical role in product development, but many companies don't seem to understand how to use them correctly. The common approach I've seen is where businesses use Facebook or Twitter to promote the next product releases, turning their Facebook "friends" and Twitter "followers" into no more than a mailing list.

    That approach usually backfires, as most people can see through it. They'll simply "unfriend" (a new verb emerging in the social network lingo) the business.

    The correct approach, in my view, is to openly discuss what you're working on with the general public on these social platforms and incorporate what you learn from the users' feedback and comments.

    Now, if you'll excuse me, I'll go check my Twitter updates.

  3. By product development, do you mean your customer processes, or your product development?

  4. This is fun to see discussed - I noticed in 2007 that the US government had a plan in place to use a company internal social networking site to share information on crooks - "Newest spy gadget: Social networking". There is definitly potential here. We could be using similar tools to track projects within our teams - members internally could 'friend' projects and share information with other 'friends'. I talk about how this could be used within Support teams to improve customer support at