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The Switch

I try not to write too much about products that you can go buy, but some strike me as being really cool so they get a mention.  This time it’s a modular pocketknife called the Switch. The idea is great, but the manufacturing process is the real story.

The Switch consists of an outer case with a number of modular tools that all fit onto an internal axle.  The switch is disassembled easily with a quarter or washer, and the tools can be swapped out. There are different length axles to accommodate varying numbers of tools: various knife blades, saw, screwdrivers, nail file, LED flashlight, pen, etc.  In total it ships with 18 tools. The photo shows one fully loaded, but if that’s too big for your pocket you can put a smaller axle in it and cut down to 4 tools, or any number in between.  This definitely falls into the “why didn’t I think of this” category.  The only drawback I see is the price.  At $79 it’s a little spendy, especially for a product that doesn’t seem to mention a warranty.  Other hand tools in that price range have 25 year or longer warranties.

But the real “why didn’t I think of that” idea here is the manufacturer of the device, a company called Quirky.  I had not previously heard of it, and have only taken a quick look over their WWW page, but they appear to have crowd sourced every aspect of production: conception, refinement, prototyping, marketing, sales, etc.

The basic process is that there is a round of product idea submissions.  Anyone can submit an idea, and as many ideas as they want, for $10 each.  At the close of the round there is a community discussion period and voting.  The top five ideas are selected for more detailed evaluation of marketability, viability, etc.  They’re scored, and the top scoring one of the five goes on to be the next product.

The next steps are pre-sales, production, and shipping, and the product can be ordered by members at any time during the process.

Where does the crowd sourcing come in?  At every stage of the way.  Members contribute to the design during the initial discussion phase by commenting and voting, steering development of the product.  Members can order the product during the pre-sales and production phases, before it is actually available, or later when it is actually shipping.  Members can also contribute to marketing and selling the product by making use of their own social networks.  The clever idea is that all of these members who participate in a product also earn a piece of the pie when it is sold.

Quirky calls it  “earning influence”, and describes it this way:

Think of the Quirky influence engine as a complicated, evolving recipe, made up of many different ingredients. The ingredients are your contributions to the site, which include: submitting a winning product idea; submitting a winning idea in another phase of the product’s development, like a name, logo, industrial design, tagline, etc.; committing to a product in Presale; making insightful comments on ideas; voting for a winning product idea; voting for a winning idea in another phase of the product’s development; and rating the majority of ideas in a round

In the case of the Switch the inventor is credited with 37% influence, and a few hundred other members have influences of 3% and lower.

I’ve mentioned before Nobel prize winner F. A. Hayek’s writing on the diffuse nature of knowledge, and how it is expensive and difficult to collect, concentrate, and maintain that knowledge in a company or other organization of human endeavor.  I think one of the great promises of the Internet is that it removes, or at least makes much smaller, that barrier.  Quirky and Switch are great examples of this.

Steve Ravet

Design News Gadgeteer

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