Cambrian House: Crowdsourced Software

Not long after my Crowdsourcing post in the Purchasing Innovation series went up over at e-Sourcing Forum, JR posted a comment letting me know that a company up here (North of the Border) was already doing it commercially, in one of Canada’s IT hotspots (although you might not know it if you visited during stampede week). Cambrian House, located in downtown Calgary, has been up and running since February and has already turned out some revenue generating products. To date, they have launched CVR for Parents, AdWord Alerts, Pod Blast Video, Prezzle , Renoworks Homeowner Edition, Desktop Playground , and Cambrian Code.

It’s true that a couple of their projects have already been suspended due to lack of interest, but its also true that some are going stronger than ever. One of the advantages of the crowdsourcing model applied to software is the ability to greatly accelerate initial development lifecycles and get working betas to market really quickly. Instead of waiting months or, more often, years to find out if a new product idea is going to fly, you can now have the answer in months, or sometimes even weeks!

Furthermore, they’ve also proven that when crowds of like minded people get together, they can have an impact on communities, locally and globally. They’ve already made charitable donations as an organization, including one to the local Mustard Seed (a non-profit, Christian humanitarian organization that responds compassionately to the needs of the inner-city’s less fortunate) and fed Google worldwide.

So how does Cambrian house work? It’s simple. An idea is submitted, be it from an employee, an advisor, or a random individual who stumbles across the site, the best ideas (as judged by the team) are thrown out to the crowds (through the world wide web) to test and comment on, those that get traction are then built by development crowds constituted of those individuals interested in seeing the product brought to market, Cambrian House handles the sales and marketing, and those who worked on the product (including the idea generator) get royalties. And for those who like graphics, Cambrian House has a nice assembly line graphic (Flash 8 required) for you.

Right now, most of the projects are pretty small – but there’s nothing stopping crowdsourcing from working at the enterprise level. After all, viewed the right way, it’s just a logical extension of open source development, the difference being that the contributors get paid (allowing them to develop the software they want to work on full time, instead of in what hours they have left after fulfilling the requirements of their full time job, since we all need to pay the bills) and there is a support organization to help them market and sell the product, allowing them to do what they do best – develop great products!

In my crowdsourcing post, I predicted that “the view of sourcing will slowly shift from that of a reactive business unit that aggregates needs and demands into a proactive business unit that is looked upon as an enabler, problem solver, and even forecaster of future trends and consulted by the other units of the business“. In software terms, where many professionals now work as contractors and independent consultants, I believe that the innovative organizations will shift from outsourcing projects to big traditional consulting firms that throw whatever warm bodies happen to be on the bench at the time at the project, with varying degrees of success, to using crowdsourcing firms that specialize in large-scale and distributed project management and bringing together the right resources for the task under the crowdsourcing model.