When you have a great idea for a web application, it can be hard to consider with all the moving parts to focus just on what’s your uniqueness or differentiator from everybody else.
You may want to have control over your forums, comments, chat, photo management etc, i.e. user data, but how much does that help you. Is allocating resources to these features when plenty of completed applications exist distracting you and lengthening your time to market.
I always like to refer to Guy Kawasaki’s quote “Don’t worry, be crappy”. While I don’t necessarily agree with just throwing functionality out to the www, I believe in quality over quantity, you want to ensure that more time is spent in reviewing the input for new or improved features rather then bugs, bugs, bugs.
Ping.fm and Plurk are two new community driven sites that have leveraged the functionality of other sites, these being Get Satisfaction – People-Powered Customer Service for Everything! and Disq Us – Turn your blog comments into a webwide discussion.
There are advantages and disadvantages to this approach. As an smaller web site with a growing community, exposing what you do to a wider audience when using a third party to manage something can greatly help in exposure and associated marketing at no cost. On the down side, you are losing traffic to another site.
You need to ensure you can always get access to your data, and your community contributions. Ensuring adequate API’s for integration and data extraction are key. From a technology perspective, BitKeeper and LaunchPad come to mind. BitKeeper is a closed source, version control system that MySQL used. This was a killer for community contributions, where individual users simply could not contribute, and if they wanted even access to getting source code via the repository had to pay for an appropriate client. SourceForge and Apache are two examples of huge communities where they leverage the power of the community. LaunchPad is the latest kid on the block, but suffers from the fact that while access to applications hosted there are free, the actually LaunchPad code itself is closed. This has caused some issues.
It’s a fine line, and in the genre of software development, the Internet can create copies of anything just about overnight. More and more I hear about companies working in stealth mode rather then open community input and interaction, but that’s a topic for another discussion.