Was IdeaStorm a bad idea?

Was IdeaStorm a bad idea?

Summary: Many hailed Dell IdeaStorm the ultimate customer feedback model and a great example of Seth Godin-style “take something good, innovate, and make it great


Many hailed Dell IdeaStorm the ultimate customer feedback model and a great example of Seth Godin-style “take something good, innovate, and make it great” thinking that shows Dell really cares about its customers.  I was skeptical.  Now, a few weeks into the project and I'm totally convinced IdeaStorm was a really bad idea.

Give people a forum such as IdeaStorm to tell you what they want and that it's exactly what they'll do! The problem is that what customers want and what Dell wants to give them is totally at odds – often for good reason.  And while it might be a nice PR stunt to seem open to feedback and suggestions, when customers don't see the company start to take action on their suggestions, the whole thing begins to backfire.

[poll id=100]

There's little doubt that the people have spoken.  The first page of IdeaStorm lists the following top 15 "suggestions":

  1. Pre-Installed Linux | Ubuntu | Fedora | OpenSUSE | Multi-Boot (promoted 95,256 times)
  2. Pre-Installed OpenOffice | alternative to MS Works & MS Office (promoted 62,280 times)
  3. Stripped down, fast Linux Box (promoted 48,520 times)
  4. NO EXTRA SOFTWARE OPTION (promoted 45,388 times)
  5. No OS Preloaded (promoted 42,888 times)
  6. Have Firefox pre-installed as default browser (promoted 41,683 times)
  7. Provide Linux Drivers for all your Hardware (promoted 26,567 times)
  8. Linux 2.6.16 ready (sticker) (promoted 22,261 times)
  9. National Call Centers (promoted 18,848 times)
  10. More RAM! (promoted 17,289 times)
  11. Design & Form Factor (promoted 12,505 times)
  12. Silent / Quiet Computers: Sound levels in decibels (promoted 11,507 times)
  13. Laptop Web Cam (promoted 11,742 times)
  14. LinuxBIOS instead of proprietary BIOS (promoted 10,076 times)
  15. Become the open source OEM (promoted 9,828 times)

Dell didn't need to create a forum to be told any of this stuff, especially since someone should have seen what was coming - a motherload of suggestions that Dell wouldn't want to implement.  There was no need for IdeaStorm.  By creating a forum for feedback and now having that forum filled with customer "wishes", Dell is now in the uncomfortable position of having to respond.  Silence won't work and neither will the marketing-speak filled "thanks but no thanks" response to every idea that Dell doesn't like or involves a cash outlay.  IdeaStorm is now nothing more than a focal point for everything that is wrong with Dell, and the lack of any obvious moderation over at IdeaStorm is making the problem a lot worse.

Having looked through a few hundred suggestions for Dell on IdeaStorm, it's clear that it was just a bad idea.  Someone at Dell's PR department helped steer the company into a nasty tar pit that's going to be hard for the company to back out of – that is, without causing a different kind of storm!

The phrase that must be making the rounds at Dell now must be "damage limitation."  What steps can Dell take to limit the IdeaStorm damage?

Topic: Dell

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  • In the UK...

    ... the government made the same mistake


    One senior govt Minister has been overheard saying [i]"What genius came up with that idea?"[/i] Many of the govt.s pet projects have been massively voted against. One of them had 1.8 million votes against it.

    Current ones are here
  • It was a stupid idea, it was easy to predict the zealots

    would do everything they could to flood the site promoting their favorite diety.

    The sad part was there were several really good ideas that got buried in the fanatical ranting.
    • No word limit

      You needn't limit yourself to 25 words or less.
      Sad that you chose not to elaborate.
      D T Schmitz
      • I can try

        Basically, the problem with an open forum like this is the same problem you run into with simple, voluntary pools; it will tell you a great deal about people willing to take the poll (or type into a forum), but tells you nothing about what your actual user base wants, expects, or feels.

        Most people who buy from Dell have 2 things in common

        1- they are happy with the purchase. The machine does what it is supposed to do.
        2- they don't care about 'alternate' OS's. They want what works, and what has worked for them is Windows.

        So what does the feedback on the forums mean? Nothing. Most of the folk evangelizing wouldn?t buy from Dell anyway. They just want a soapbox to stand on, regardless of who is providing it.
        Dell?s real customer base has gone to the den to enjoy their new toy, and have little care for something like a forum.
        • Do not like the results?

          You can slice it up anyway you like.

          Seems to me one of the things you said was "kinda" true. or at least not untrue.

          "They don"t care" Many are not aware or interested, and basically no other equitable choice is available.

          That group/majority you allude to are "Consumers".
          And Dell is a well known name.

          While I do not doubt, after on the wire. it got, greater response from those interested. The "Typical Consumer" would not be likely be those interested or involved.

          But as always those interested/involved may set the mark for the next trend... Alpha Customers

          And Do you really think MS & Dell would allow this if they did not know the possible outcomes or already have that Novell deal?

          More people everyday are looking at alt OS's
          with good reason.....

          Once there was no "market" for computers.
        • Tech help is what is keeping me from Dell

          I had a Dell years ago and raved about it and the friendly, fast, very good tech help, then Dell decided to save money and went overseas with people that are just reading from a script. Can't understand them and they don't understand me. My next computer will be a Gateway because they have AMERICAN tech help.
        • You obviously did not read my comment.

          I have avoided Dell because they only are willing to provide Microsoft products even during the time that they were advertising that Dell was the Best platform for IBM's OS/2.

          In case you haven't learned yet cartels are self sustaining until they are broken beyond repair. If you do not know what a cartel is, blame your education.
          Update victim
        • RE: I can try...

          Try harder. Unsupported assertions < facts.

          "1- they are happy with the purchase. The machine does what it is supposed to do."

          Where do you get this? How do you know? Prove it.

          "2- they don't care about 'alternate' OS's. They want what works, and what has worked for them is Windows. "

          Ditto. Unless your mindreaders union card is current, I think you need to make some attempt at presenting support for these unsubstantiated assertions, because I know several non-technical users who no longer use Windows (on their Dell) because it was too expensive to pay a A+ tech to re-install Windows every 6-12 months due to malware.
    • Zealots

      First, No Ax, Linux users are no more zealots for Linux than you are for Microsoft. Second, not all posters to Dell's storm are non-Dell users. My family has 4 computers. The two oldest ARE Dells. But, the two newer are not, for different reasons. One is an Apple that my daughter is using in college. In her field, video productions, Apple software is more prevalent, and apparently, better. The newest computer is a PC, but not a Dell. Two of the reasons that I bought something other than Dell were things that are mentioned in the ideastorm. Their poor tech support system, and the fact that they are so rigidly set in their Microsoft ways.
  • Jumping to conclusions?

    I don't know Adrian--isn't IdeaStorm fairly new???

    Seems to me that we ought not jump to any conclusions and let Dell have a chance to act on some the suggestions.

    D T Schmitz
  • Not a bad idea, just poorly implemented

    The open forum style could bring the "next big thing". However, the way it was done made for a mish-mash of the same old stuff that everyone already knew. Plus, early on, there were no filters to stop people "voting" for their pets multiple times. There was no real effort to get a valid cross-section of users to provide real, statistical wants versus getting the sequaky wheels. As you stated, there was no effort to focus on what Dell is willing and able to provide.
    • Not a bad idea, just poorly implemented

      I agree. The idea was only flawed in that Dell never intended to follow thru on the suggestions. And they make a remark about not wanting to alienate Linux users by picking the wrong distro. Huh. You ain't even SEEN alienation if Dell just leaves this mass of smoldering passion unrequited...
      • WOM Works Both Ways

        I left messages on IdeaStorm related to this exact subject. It was a great idea, but it wasn't thought through thoroughly, it wasn't framed correctly, it is running a forum format that looks kludged together by interns, and isn't being managed correctly if at all. In short, it looks like someone at Dell read an issue of WOMMA's newsletter, and had a Eureka! moment (kneejerk reaction).

        A scary thought is that the forum isn't there to do what its stated purpose is at all: perhaps all it is doing is collecting information on potential buyers, or is being datamined for keywords for who knows what purpose, and was never intended as a customer interaction tool.

        I manage online communities both for a living and as a hobby and have done so for over a decade; I could literally walk in the door and by lunch have things on the road to recovery -- I know *exactly* what they need to do. Have I heard back? No. Am I likely to? No. Is this likely to be a PR thermonuclear explosion for Dell? Quite likely.

        Bad WOM is almost always worse that no WOM, and in this case could be a company killer.
  • Probably not representative

    The problem is that the feedback mechanism was not done in a way that encouraged feedback representative of the population out there. As soon as the link got published on SlashDot, you knew the Linux community's opinion would be overrepresented in the results. Note that I'm [b]not[/b] saying the feedback was bad, only that it isn't necessarily (or even likely) representative of the wishes of Dell's current or potential customers. Ignore the rankings of the feedback but don't ignore the feedback itself. Living and dying on the ranking would be like looking at ZDNet talkback posters and concluding that 90% of the world ran OSX and hated everything about Microsoft. While some probably have drunk enough Jobs koolaid to believe that 90% of the world runs OSX, the sane members of this community know better. :)
    • You are correct, but one trend is clear

      You are correct, the results are probably not representative to the computing population as a whole. One thing is true, with so many people pushing for Linux, and the fact that not everyone reads ZDnet or slashdot, that even while skewed, there is a strong demand for Linux out there from the larger vendors.

      I would think that maybe 1 in 20 linux user's found the site, could be bothered to log in and vote and read, etc. So while still VERY small compared to the marker in general, it does represent approximatly several hundred thousand units that could be sold, extra, over the next couple of years.

      On thing that Dell should keep in mind. Nvidia took the plunge with full support of Linux, for real. 5-6 years later and they are still #1 in the hearts and minds of Linux user's over ATI. Anyone buying a video card for Linux = Nvidia.

      Overseas, I could see the demand for Dell's without OSes or Linux reaching the 10-20% range in some countries.


      P.S. I'm with Adrian. I think they launched ideastorm as a prelude to announcing SLED support (which was obviously in the works long before ideastorm started) and then use them both as free publicity. It hasn't backfired yet, but lots of people are watching.
    • Representative ? right

      I didn't know about this idea until I saw it on ZDNET. There are most likely others like me, who having given up on Dell as a source of choice, would neven have seen "Ideastorm". Your comment about Slashdot indicates to me that Dell wanted lots of Linux responses.
      Update victim
  • Basis to build on

    Yes the zealots have spoken.

    Take their ideas and any others and use it a basis for market research across the whole current and potential Dell customers then Dell can be seen to be acting and can limit the final options that it might implement. A win win
    • Oops...

      ...you seem to be ignorant of the fact that Dell is now evidently backing away from pre-installing Linux, so now Dell will be seen as...? Non-acting? And they a limiting the final options not because of "zealots" input, but for other reasons known only to them. (Kickbacks, anyone?)
      Other than that, a brilliant, incisive post. Thanks!
  • Listening to customers is NOT a "bad idea"

    Dell has the jump on what people want. It's smart to find out what they like and don't like about your product. The only issue is that the results are public, available to their competitors and the entire world. Is that bad? Yes and no. If it wasn't public, it wouldn't have the level of participation that ideastorm has and wouldn't be nearly as useful. I think Dell should be congratulated for having the guts to host this forum. Now it's up to them to do something with that feedback. Personally I was happy to be able to tell them about their noisy cases and bad cooling designs. If they show any inclination to fix these problems, they can get me back as a customer, so it wasn't a mistake.
  • Takes Time

    A most important element in any effort like this is to set realistic expectations from the outset. Apparently Dell failed to do this effectively. The other is to understand that the first wave of input will be highly skewed towards several issues that generally could be identified ahead of time. For these topics there will be an initial huge wave. Dell could have anticipated and said something to the effect that we understand that having a Linux option is important to segment of our customer base, but supporting at a level that meets our quality requirements would take a huge investment that we are not prepared to take at this point in time. In other words, be proactive about some issues that could have been anticipated.

    The other point, though, is to wait and see a bit more. Usually the first rant wave passes and then more useful information begins to surface. OK, we've all expressed our Linux opinions. Now what. Or now, who else has something to say. In an in-person forum, this is where the moderator would say, OK, we've got it that there's the issue of Linux. Let's move on. What's else?

    A false expectation would be that big ideas are going to emerge in the first round of something like this. It just doesn't happen. Those without a burning issue hang back or are at first simply drowned out in the din. Over time, however, these opinions begin to gain traction.

    A better approach than the poll of votes, is to highlight new and interesting ideas that others might like to know about. That's where you find out whether there's support for those ideas.