UK DAM vendor, Bright Interactive, who develop the Asset Bank system have announced a new service called Crowd Feature. This is a website that allows their users to pledge funds for new features in order to split the cost. Asset Bank also envisage Crowd Feature being used by other vendors (more about that later). There is a quote from Asset Bank director, Martin Wilson, on their blog:
“After yet another example of multiple clients asking us to develop the same feature I looked around to see if any other major software vendors enable their clients to share development costs. To my surprise none seem to, so we decided to launch our own online platform so we could provide this service to our Asset Bank clients. Crowd Feature is a SaaS website, available to any software vendor who is interested in doing the same for their clients.” [Read More]
The basic idea is that users can make a request for a given feature, offer to put up an amount of money for it and those which are sufficiently in-demand to cover the cost will get developed. The use of ‘crowd’ in the title indicates that this is inspired by various crowd funding sites like Kick Starter – which is more about creative projects than software. There are other crowd sourcing type sites which I’m sure people who read this publication on a regular basis will be familiar with. As to whether this has been used for software projects before is harder to assess. I believe open source projects, including the DAM system, ResourceSpace do use an open feature funding model, but this isn’t formally managed with dedicated websites and I would imagine the expectation is that this is going to be straightforward ‘client requires, contractor delivers’ type model.
Opinion about Crowd Feature in the den of unrepentant cynicism that is DAM News is divided. My co-contributor has dismissed it as ‘vendor fluff’ and ‘feature voting’. However, in my view, it is less clear cut, there are a mix of positives, negatives and a bunch of questions to think about. Some of the latter may present challenges to Asset Bank – but they probably knew that might happen!
On the positive, we have mentioned many times in the past that DAM vendors need to be more responsive to users and spend less time simply copying the competition because features are mentioned in RFPs from prospective customers. A crowd funding model requires users to think about features in terms of hard cash rather than a vaguer wish list of stuff they might like to be included and then subsequently probably not use very much. For Asset Bank it also gives them direct feedback as to the demand for given features so offers some opportunity for them to prioritise development resources and save costs accordingly.
I am not too sure whether Asset Bank’s competition will be so eager to use their website to allow their users to announce to Asset Bank what feature elements are missing from their product. I can see a few copying the idea and setting up their own. It might well work for any related, partner products that Asset Bank might use themselves within their wider product, however.
As has been mentioned, this is kind of feature voting which has been utilised by a number of vendors for some time now. There is the ‘ebay’ financial element where users need to bid for features which adds far more weight, but this poses some questions which I could not find answers to on the site as it stands. A more in-depth FAQ would be useful to help aid participation, but here are a few to get started:
- Specifications: as anyone who has worked at the sharp end of the software business will be well aware, one user’s idea of a given feature can diverge dramatically from another. If the requirement is very well focussed and tightly defined, you could (just about) get away with it. If the Change Request is more extensive, or harder to define, who agrees the spec? If multiple stakeholders are required to group-fund the implementation, they all need to be in complete (or close to) agreement about the nature of it, otherwise, I can foresee people dropping out and this taking the funding below the necessary threshold.
- To take an opposite problem, if there is an excess of funding, what is the process for deciding who still has to pay and who does not? You could say the first to request it have to pay, but that is de-motivating to participation. Reverse ordering might be another option, so the last people to vote have to foot the bill, but then that might stifle interest in popular features as prospective users wait and see if someone else will meet the cost. I guess it depends on how desperate for a given feature you are (and paying part as opposed to all of the cost is still going to be favourable). I don’t have all the answers to this, perhaps Asset Bank do, but they need to explain how this might work given these scenarios.
- Contribution share. Are the contributions fixed and amortised across the number of people pledging to support a given feature? So, if feature x costs y and is supported by z stakeholders, is it y/z that everyone pays? I can see some being willing to pay more, but probably not cover the whole cost themselves. I imagine this could work a bit like buying stocks and shares, so if you want a feature to stand a higher chance of getting built, you vote multiple times and pay the higher contribution. That isn’t fully explained though and Asset Bank need to clarify how this works.
- Quotes and cost estimates. This is related to the specification issue. Most end users have a fairly sketchy notion of how much features are going to cost and the software market is highly price inefficient with quotes from suppliers (even with specs) varying across massive ranges. If I were using this, I would want an indication of what I was going to be in for in terms of fees before committing.
- Copyright and IPR. Who owns these features once developed? With open source software, this model works better since the users (at least) can get at the code – even if they might have to pay for it. I am not sure of the specifics of Asset Banks’s IPR policy but if proprietary then some might not be keen on funding this themselves without directly owning it. By the same token, however, it should be noted that there will be many end users who don’t care about that point. It needs to be more explicit though.
Those are just a few questions and points, I am sure others will have more.
Overall, I think this is an interesting idea with a lot of potential, but it needs some explanation and development. If it is a marketing gimmick (or ‘fluff’ to use Naresh’s description) to get a bit of press attention then it is less compelling and I can’t see even their own existing users bothering with it too much after an initial glance. On the other hand, if it’s a long-term undertaking that they intend to develop with increased sophistication and versatility, then it might be worth paying attention to as an experimental method to try and resolve the structural issues the Digital Asset Management software market is currently afflicted by.
UPDATE: as per the comments below from Nick Vowles of Asset Bank, there is now an FAQ about Crowd Feature which covers points raised in this article. If there are other questions raised on this forum, we will pass them on to Nick and colleagues.