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Kluster Launches at TED: A New Product in 72 Hours

Crowdsourcing firm Kluster officially launched yesterday at the TED conference, which is underway this week in Monterey, California. Founder Ben Kaufman, who bankrolled the company in part with money from the sale of his last company Mophie, has organized a gimmick over the course of the TED conference he hopes will prove Kluster’s worth. Kaufman intends to let TED attendees — and users from around the world — design a completely new product over the course of 72 hours.

The idea behind Kluster is that a group of passionate people working together can come up with better solutions for any decision-making problem than a single person. Whether that is planning an event, designing a new logo, or creating a new product, Kluster believes their system can work.

Kaufman got the idea after the Bevy, one of Mophie’s most popular products, was designed by the crowd at Macworld using sketch pads and a precursor to the system that evolved into Kluster. The keychain/bottler opener/iPod shuffle case was one of Mophie’s best selling products, and it was designed in just 72 hours by a crowd, and launched as a product just 2 months later. Kaufman realized he was potentially onto something.

The Kluster system works by breaking down products into manageable chunks. For each chunk (or “phase”), people submit what are called “sparks.” Sparks are proposed solutions for that phase. For each spark, other participants can submit “amps” — which are improvements to that idea. Users also assign “watts” to sparks and amps they like. Watts work kind of like investments. You accrue points based on participation and other factors, and can invest those points (watts) in ideas you like.

Then an algorithm that takes into account “each user’s successes, failures, reputation, areas of expertise, and overall history” goes to work to determine which sparks are the best. Companies interested in using the Kluster system, put up cash prizes that are doled out along the way (at the completion of each phase).

The whole concept is similar to the one behind Derek Powazek’s new site, Pixish (our coverage). The main difference is that where Pixish is strictly for design related tasks, Kluster is for anything suited to crowd creation. And at Kluster, the crowd is also being relied upon to pick the best result.

During the TED conference, Kluster is hoping to use their system to create a new product in 72 hours. It will be unveiled on the last day of the conference, March 1 at 8am. Unfortunately, the Kluster site has been having a lot of problems, so getting in to participate might be easier said than done. There are $15,000 in phase prizes up for grabs.

Can lightning strike twice? Or was the Bevy a fluke? Kaufman admitted earlier this month that right now most companies see participation in Kluster as a means of viral marketing to connect with their die hard fans. It will take a few hit products to come out of the Kluster process to prove that it is a viable way for companies to conduct their R&D. Do you think it will work? Let us know in the comments below.

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