Prosumer is one of those horrible words. But it does encapsulate an ethos sweeping through online business today (particularly media), where the audience/readers/viewers/consumers are no longer treated in a passive way but actively brought more into the business or publishing processes. It’s also known as crowd sourcing.
To understand exactly what this means, here’s a great framework for understanding it. The clever people at the Harvard Business School (HBS) have defined four types of collaboration: open-hierarchical, open-flat, closed-hierarchical and closed-flat. I’ve been meaning to blog this for a while: It was one of many fascinating things we studied on a short HBS course a few months ago.
Depending on your need, or the type of business you are, any of these network types could apply. Businesses often make the mistake of choosing an inappropriate network type, which causes the proposition to fail.
For example: Wikipedia, a wonderful phenomenon, is an example of an open-flat (all participants are equal, publishing open to anyone – arguably no explicit hierarchy). The open source movement also applies here too. It’s a brilliant model that may or may not be appropriate for your business.
For example, you may want to still engage the audience/consumers, but still hold on to a measure of control for economic reasons. For this you would look at a open-hierarchical network. Threadless (or local Springleap), which outsources T-shirt design is an example of an open-hierarchical network: Anyone is able to submit T-shirt designs, vote, but then the business owners ultimately decide which make it through. Open-hiercarchical also describes the comment facilities below articles on most publishing sites.
A closed-hierarchical network could be a site like Thought Leader: it’s only open to a select group of people and not everyone gets to be published. Typically non-profit industry bodies tend to be closed-flat: Only members of that industry may join, and everyone is equal. It’s a closed version of Wikipedia’s model, if you like.