Companies big and small monitor Twitter to find out what their customers like and what they want changed. Twitter does the same.
It started two years ago as a bare-bones service, offering little more than the ability to post 140-character messages. Then, it outsourced its idea generation to its users. The company watches how people use the service and which ideas catch on. Then its engineers turn the ideas into new features.
In the next several weeks, Twitter users will discover two new features, Lists and Retweets, that had the same user-generated beginnings.
“Twitter’s smart enough, or lucky enough, to say, ‘Gee, let’s not try to compete with our users in designing this stuff, let’s outsource design to them,’ ” said Eric von Hippel, head of the innovation and entrepreneurship group at the Sloan School of Management at M.I.T. and author of the book “Democratizing Innovation.”
Economists have long thought that producers — the people making products and running companies — are naturally the ones coming up with new ideas, Professor von Hippel said. In fact, he said, consumers often come up with ideas for products, and companies wait on the sidelines to see if they have mass appeal.