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3 Posts authored by: Paul Artiuch

Building a video game is a complicated undertaking.  A single title can take years to make and costs tens of millions of dollars.  Microsoft’s Halo 3, for instance, was thought to cost anywhere between $25 and $40 million.  Development requires top notch programming and graphics skills as well as specialized hardware and software tools.


As a result, until recently game development was the exclusive domain of companies such as EA and Blizzard Entertainment.  However, Microsoft changed this with the 2009 release of Kodu – a visual programming platform that allows anyone to create simple games for Xbox 360 and Windows.


The tool is so easy to use that even children can pick it up.  In fact, a project in three Australian schools engaged kids to build their own games using the Kodu Game Lab.  The results of the two month project were impressive with over 200 games built by the students.


Kodu is an example of a wider phenomenon.  It’s a platform that allows users, customers and even small scale entrepreneurs to realize their ideas.  These platforms for innovation are springing up across a number of industries, creating opportunity and leaving old business models in the dust.       


What are Innovation Platforms?


Innovation platforms have several characteristics:

  • Tools: At the core, innovation platforms allow individuals to create something.  It can be a design, an opinion or even a business.  The output can lead to a physical or virtual good, a transaction or another type of action.
  • Technology: Innovation platforms allow widely distributed individuals to participate using internet technologies.  Broadband penetration and easy to use software tools have given non-techies access to capabilities that were previously the purview of technologists.  The use of information technologies also allows innovation platforms to achieve significant scale and critical mass.
  • Communities and Markets:  Innovation platforms with enough traction can lead to the creation of communities where likeminded people meet to exchange ideas and co-create.  Platforms can also develop into markets where goods and services are bought, sold and exchanged.    


Leading Innovation Platforms


Microsoft’s Kodu Game Lab is an excellent example of an innovation platform, with thousands of users creating their own games using the simple online tools.  A number of other platforms enable individuals to create, market and distribute their innovations:

  • Threadless:  The online t-shirt company allows independent designers to upload their creations which are then printed and sold to a community of loyal customers.  Designs are voted on, with the creators of the most popular t-shirts receiving cash prizes.  To date, 100 000 designers have submitted over 300 000 designs to the company’s site, which sells over a million t-shirts per year.   
  • Motley Fool Caps: The multimedia financial services company hosts a community of individuals interested in financial markets.  Users make predictions on whether individual stocks will outperform or underperform the S&P 500 over a certain period.  Those with the most accurate predictions have more influence in the system helping the site’s users make better investment decisions.  Top pickers are recognized by the community.   
  • Apps Stores:  Apple’s App Store, Android Market, Ovi Store and i-mode are just a few platforms that harness the creativity and ingenuity of individuals or small teams of developers.  The tools are simple enough that most people can learn to use them on their own.  Most apps stores are two sided markets where the creators can charge or give away their innovations to the millions of users.
  • Local Motors:  The startup hosts a community of designers and engineers who help create custom cars from scratch.  Local Motors’ first car, the Rally Fighter, was created by 2 900 community members who submitted 35 000 designs.  The contributions ranged from schematics for the braking system to interior design. 


There are many other examples of innovation platforms.  Online retailers such as Blue Nile or Amazon, allow users to build anything from a custom ring to an online business.  Traditional companies such as Nike and Dell also provide tools for customers to design or customize their own products which are then manufactured by the company.


Physical Innovation Platforms


Communication technologies and online tools have driven the emergence and rapid scaling of many of the innovation platforms mentioned above.  But the overall platform concept can be extended to include offline environments as well, with the basic concept of providing tools to harness people’s creativity.  A real revolution may be around the corner, with the emergence of 3D printers allowing individuals to design and manufacture their own creations.     

In 2002, P&G came up with the idea of putting images, such as cartoons and trivia, on their Pringles chips in order to differentiate them from generic brands.  While this sounded simple, the technical challenges associated with printing on fragile chips without affecting the taste were significant.  The company struggled with the problem for two years until it found a university professor and bakery owner in Italy who had a solution.  P&G quickly entered into a partnership and launched Pringles Print in less than a year.

The vital connection to the Italian professor came through a network of experts which pointed P&G in the right direction.  Since then, a number of similar networks have sprung up to facilitate the exchange between companies with problems and innovators with solutions.  Through these networks, companies are able to find and connect with individuals who may already have developed the needed solution.  One of the most common areas where External Networks are used is to help in the R&D and innovation process.

Startups such as InnoCentive, Experts Exchange and Quirky have sprung up to help manage and facilitate External Networks for companies as well as individuals who want to use them.  They have developed the tools and methods to match those in need of answers with those that have them. 

External Network Offerings

Problem Definition:
  mechanisms for companies to define the solution they are looking for. 
Search and Match:  tools and methods to figure out where the answer may lie. 
Community:  large communities of users, practitioners, researchers and academics.  The largest External Networks have links to hundreds of thousands of people who can help solve problems.   
Reward Systems: reward mechanisms for solution providers.  They can either be extrinsic, intrinsic or both.

Other Services:  value added services to help companies define, find and acquire solutions to their problems including help with valuation, solution filtering or IP management.

Types of External Networks

Expert Networks, such as InnoCentive, YourEncore and NineSigma help companies with problems find innovative solutions.  This can be done either by providing a suitable expert (YourEncore) who is then engaged directly for an assignment, or by sourcing a solution (InnoCentive, NineSigma) which can be a chemical formula or an electronic design.  The reach of these networks is significant.  YouEncore lists about 5 000 retired professionals, while InnoCentive has access to 225 000 experts across fields like chemistry, biology and various types of engineering fields.  In turn, NineSigma claims to have access to 2 000 000+ solution providers across various scientific fields.  Each company boasts an impressive list of Fortune 500 clients including P&G, gsk, DuPont and Xerox. 

Question/Answer Forums:
  The focus of Q&A forums is to provide answers to brief, repeatable questions.  Forums fall into two categories – those specializing in professional matters (Experts Exchange, FreeAdvice) and those that cover a broader set of topics (Yahoo Answers, About.com).  Communities of experts, some vetted and others not, provide answers to questions posted by users which are then categorized and saved to a searchable database.


External Networks such as Experts Exchange and FreeAdvice focus on topics such as IT or legal.  Experts participating in Experts Exchange receive points for answering IT and computer related questions and are rewarded through recognition on the community’s site.  The site has amassed well over 2 000 000 solutions with new questions continuously added.  Similarly, FeeAdvice hosts a community of lawyers who answer questions from users. The site is divided by legal specialties (eg. injury or bankruptcy) and contains tens of thousands of threads and posts discussing various issues.

Inventor Networks:
  Independent inventors often lack the skills and resources to commercialize or even build their designs.  Inventor networks such as NewIdeas and Quirky provide assistance and services to inventors.  NewIdeas is a social network for inventors who get feedback on their innovations from a community of users, customers and other inventors.  The company also provides services and information on patent filings.  Quirky has a slightly different model, in that the site allows inventors to submit their ideas which are then voted on by the community.  The most popular ones are developed and launched by Quirky.  The company also leverages its community of inventors to help develop and refine internally designed products.


Adoption Curve

An increasing number of companies are realizing the benefits of using External Networks.  The technology and infrastructure is already in place, with companies catching up by developing the necessary processes, skills and cultures.  Demographic shifts in the Western world will see many experienced Baby Boomers retiring, leaving a skills gap while swelling the ranks of people looking for more flexible ways to do work.  Eternal Networks may provide the answer that will balance the needs of independant professionals and companies who need them. 

Internet-enabled platforms revolutionize the transportation industry.


1. What is mitfahrgelegenheit.de?


Mitfahrgelegenheit is the German word for sharing a ride.  What we have done is built an online platform to bring together people who are driving somewhere with those who need a ride.  The drivers and passengers split the cost and there is less traffic on the roads.


The platform is free to use for everyone and the business model is based on advertiser partnerships as well as premium services.  We facilitate around 30 000 rides per day in Germany alone.  It’s a very different way of thinking about transportation.    


2. How does the service work?


If you are a passenger and want to go somewhere, you go to the website and enter your current location, destination and when you want to go. A list of available rides comes up and you can click on the particular departure time to get the driver’s name and contact details.


Drivers must register first by providing us with a name, email and phone number.  They can then add a ride, including the departure and destination, time and number of seats available.


The premium service offers additional security features and more information on the drivers.  There is also a way to blacklist drivers who have not provided a good ride.  Going forward we are looking at adding various social features to allow trusted networks of drivers and passengers to develop over time.



3. Why do you think this service works?



There are a few reasons.  In Germany there was a ride sharing phenomenon in the 1970s. This introduced the concept to a lot of people and there is more comfort with this type of service.

Other transportation options are also very expensive.  Filling up a car costs much more in Europe than in America and trains as well as busses charge high prices.


The internet has made services such as Mitfahrgelegenheit possible.  You can just log onto your laptop or find a ride using your phone.  The online platform makes it much easier to add users, making the service more useful for everyone.  We now have 1.3 million registered users which is enough to have many daily options for rides between most cities.  


Interviewer Comments


Mitfahrgelegenheit.de is an example of how internet-enabled platforms can drive innovation in “traditional” industries such as transportation.  Services including Mitfahrgelegenheit.de, Zipcar and Zimride rely on technology to bring down the cost and bring up the speed of searching and connecting different parties.  There are also embedded network effects which make the platforms increasingly valuable as more users are added.  Each system has mechanisms to ensure that people abide by their commitments.  These mechanisms can include social features, rankings and reviews as well as outright financial penalties. (eg. for bringing a car back late)  Overall, services like Mitfahrgelegenheit.de unlock value by allowing us to make better use of the resources we already have.




mitfahrgelegenheit.de is the largest lift sharing platform in Germany and Europe, with a partnership with the ADAC. With 1.3 million registered users, mitfahrgelegenheit.de brings people together on the streets, connecting 30,000 people every day, and reducing CO2 emissions on the roads.  Through our different country websites mitfahrgelegenheit.de also offers it services in Austria, France, the UK, Italy, Poland, Greece and Switzerland.

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