Chumby on sale: a new era of 2.0 devices?

Chumby logoYesterday I received an email with the announcement of the release of a new interesting device called Chumby.

You can use this device to listen to internet radio stations, podcasts and other web favorites nonstop, including content from MTV, CBS, The Weather Channel, MySpace, Facebook, eBay and more. You can also listen to music, plus a personal broadcast of sports scores, news, video clips, photo shares, and entertainment.

Apart from all its possible uses, what`s interesting about this new device is that it is powered by Linux OS and that it could be considered as a new kind of 2.0 device.I got interested in the device because they are making a new gadget in a new way. Instead of trying to compete with the big consumer electronic companies by doing things in the traditional way, they have an open approach, using a “hacker development model”: build, run, fix, run, fix, works and creating a community around the product that can influence the development process.

They have mainly focused on providing a good product (with good specs) that can be easily modified (by them and also by others) and being very close to key potential customers: early adopters, “alpha-geeks” and hackers. From their own blog, I found some interesting principles that describe very well their point of view:

  • Open is better than closed
  • “Hackability” is better than sound product warranty
  • Passionate users are the best consumers but “co-creators” (hackers, makers, crafters, artists) are the best of all
  • Open early and honest discourse is better than stealth
  • Viral is better than orchestrated

I find this very interesting because the collaborative web 2.0 seems to be enabling a new way of developing products: products that have to be open and that have to take into account their users opinion along their lifecycle, to the point of creating and supporting communities around them. In the open source world this happens for every succesful product. But this tendency is still rather new for other kind of products.

As well as what happens with open source products vs traditional closed source products, this new 2.0 devices don’t need huge marketing investments, don’t need to make very expensive surveys and market studies and don’t involve so much risk because they receive early feedback from their potential and real customers. This new situation enables small companies with good ideas to compete with much bigger and established companies.

Chumby photo

Apart from Chumby, there are other products that are created and marketed using this new approach. Right now I can think of OpenMoko, an open mobile phone that also runs on Linux OS and that is open to the extent of opening the phone’s design to their community.

Two other products that could fall in this same category are the SquidBee, a wireless sensor device, and Arduino, an open-source electronics prototyping platform.

Finally, another example of 2.0 devices from big electronics companies (in this case Sony) is their approach to their Playstation gaming console and their support for porting Linux to their console. That gives them an advantage over their competitors in the console gaming war, and also gives more value to their customers, who can enjoy of additional funcionalities from their consoles.

If you want to see a full list of open products, you can read this Wikipedia article about open source hardware.

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