Over the weekend, Rob Walker of the New York Times took a closer look at the evolving business model for Threadless.com, which has often been cited as an example of democratized innovation, consumer-generated innovation and amateur innovation (and sometimes all three at the same time!). The Threadless.com site has sold millions of dollars of T-shirts simply by relying on its users and fans to submit, select and then purchase the winning T-shirt designs. Now, in a slight departure from democratized innovation, Threadless.com is embracing the idea that "celebrity designers" (i.e. top contributors who have earned a reputation for design savvy) should become a more integral part of the site:
"Threadless celebrities, it turns out, are part of a new shift in the formula: letting winning designers select a certain number of shirts to be printed every month, regardless of the voting results. That doesn’t sound particularly democratic, but Kalmikoff says it will give designers “more of an incentive to try different things.” That is, it will help offset a tendency of submitters to echo whatever has been winning lately. “We envisioned Threadless at first to be this level playing field, where everyone gets an equal shot,” Kalmikoff says. “But you start to realize that leaders and popularity and all those things are quite possibly an organic, natural part of any community.” What Threadless has done is try to keep exploiting the benefits of those natural tendencies while avoiding their potential pitfalls. Even a design democracy needs a few checks and balances."
It's actually a fascinating development when one thinks in terms of social communities and how they evolve on the Internet. There needs to be an incentive or reward for people to contribute to a community, and Threadless.com has apparently found a way to maintain the integrity of the community while still applauding the efforts of the designers who have made the site so successful.
[image: New York Times]