Boing Boing is excitedly discussing how Neuros, a small consumer electronics company is actually encouraging people to hack its new set-top box to add new features. They've made the firmware open and they're offering cash prizes to anyone who can hack the machine to do things like show YouTube or Google Video content, or create software remotes for other gadgets. It's a smart idea... but the amazing thing is that it's really not that new. Few people remember that back in the early days of TiVo, it was also famous for supporting the hacker community who added more features and made their devices more usable. They didn't go so far as to offer cash prizes, but they at least recognized the value. Of course, that went away as TiVo's relationship with the TV companies got closer (and those same TV companies sued TiVo's competitor ReplayTV). It will be interesting to see where this goes, and whether or not the "bounty" method of encouraging hacks helps it gain a following... or simply gets TV execs one step closer to trying to sue. What's worth paying attention to here, is the idea that there's tremendous value in building an active and committed community around your products. While generally companies have a instinctive negative reaction to the idea that their products are being "hacked," it's really about people who are committed to your products, helping make them even more valuable. It's a real business opportunity that more companies ought to learn how to embrace.
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