Kluster: Crowdsourcing Design to Get Stuff Done

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Crowdsourcing works great for information -- check out a little site called Wikipedia to see it in action -- but the concept hasn't jumped to business with much aplomb, just yet. That's something that the guys at Kluster are betting on changing, with their freshly-launched beta site that will get its first serious workout next week at TED.

The idea behind it is pretty cool: projects with a defined goal -- a logo or product design, event, campaign, etc. -- are submitted, and the community users submit their ideas, designs or solutions that meet the goal. Broken down into four phases (phases, sparks, amps and watts -- more on them in a sec), projects take the best from a handful of brains to create the final product. And it all started with an iPod accessorBen Kaufman, the 21 year-old founder of Kluster, was also the man with the plan behind mophie, and iPod accessory company. One of mophie's big sellers is "Bevy," an all-in-one iPod Shuffle case, bottle opener, keychain and cord-wrap. The company designed it at last year's MacWorld conference in just 72 hours with input from 30,000 customers using software that preceded Kluster. According to Kaufman, Mophie sold hundreds of thousands of the $15 cases.

Based on that success, and really interested in using the power of community to get stuff done, Kaufman launched Kluster, whose key innovation since Bevy includes the flexibility of the project architecture, focusing on the four key concepts mentioned above:
phases break down projects into small manageable deliverables. Phases also allow users to define an audience, either public (allowing the entire world to influence the decision) or private (allowing just a select group to participate).
sparks are ideas or proposed solutions to a phase. sparks can be text, photos, graphics, audio/video, CAD, animation, etc. Users may express themselves however they are most comfortable.
amps allow participants to collaborate by proposing enhancement and refinements to a spark.
Community members show support by investing watts into sparks that they believe in. watts are kluster's internal currency. Members can earn and grow their watts based on sound judgments and positive participation. watts encourage users to participate and stay on target, keeping the community productive. Participants who invest in phases that carry a "reward" have the opportunity to turn their watts into cash.

Here's the green angle: because it's all online, Kluster allows virtual prototyping and testing without physical models, creating an opportunity to go from concept to production without wasting any physical materials trying something over and again; instead, it can all be done with input from the community. This won't work for everything, of course, since most any product that gets designed will have a physical testing phase at some point or another, but it can help it cut way back on waste. Will it work? The test-run at TED will help determine how effective the service can be, but, ultimately, we'll have to wait and see. ::Kluster

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