Tim O'Reilly writes glowingly about O'Reilly Alpha Tech Ventures' latest investment in Satisfaction. It's kind of a dumb name for a company (sounds more like an adult novelty store than a customer-support site), but the premise behind the company is interesting, though I'm not yet sure how practical:
Satisfaction is people-powered customer service for everything. It's a Web service that uses "community-sourcing" to provide better support for products and services, with or without company involvement. Satisfaction's open discussion-based system allows companies, their customers and partners to work together to answer questions, identify problems and bugs, share great ideas for how to make products better, and connect in unexpected ways.
It sounds like a reasonable way to harness the web-based support that already happens around companies, both open- and closed-source alike. But will it work? And do we want it to?
Given the move from proprietary software models to support-based open source, I'm really not sure I want it to work. If I give away my source code, I've got to have something left to sell. Satisfaction should find a way to both satisfy end-users and vendors if it wants to truly thrive. Otherwise, the incentive to want to squash it will be too strong.
And that's just the open-source companies. Given the tendency to want to control everything within proprietary vendors (HP wants to control ink in its printers, most contracts call for termination of one's contract if you fiddle with their systems, etc.), I don't think this is a big win with closed-source software vendors, either, though it may be just what their customers want.
As an adjunct to a company's own support resources (maybe providing first and second-line support?), however, the idea is quite interesting. There is already a great deal of third-party, community-driven support on the web. Harnessing that is a Very Good Idea.
Again, I think the idea has the most utility if Satisfaction can become a partner both to vendors and their customers, rather than subverting the vendor's relationship with the customer. That sort of an emphasis strikes me as highly promising.