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Mike Bull

IBM employees have an online forum called Thinkplace where anyone can post an idea, and others can discuss the idea, rate the idea (1-5 stars) for business value, technical merit, cultural impact, and feasibility.

The ideas have visibility with decision makers and change agents within the company.

ThinkPlace is widely known about in IBM. The average person probably reads what's there occasionally, and a percentage of those will contribute either comments (more common) or new ideas.

Executives regularly request ideas on a specific subject.

There's also a count of the number of ideas put into use / implemented, with follow-up details, which is good, because originators and contributors both get to see results (often of course they're intimately involved in implementing the ideas, but not always).

Ideas can be viewed by category, or by how recently they've been submitted, or by how they've been rated by others.

T. Smythe Richbourg

I work for a software developer that produces an application for electronic textbooks. (Think of us as a printing company for someone like Holt-Rhinehart or the folks you mentioned, O'Reilley, but we use bits instead ofvatoms.) We have been using a service from 37signals.com called BaseCamp. It is a shared collaborative web application that allows any user to start a discussion and see the other team members' follow-up comments.

While the same thing could be done with "discussion forum"
software, the beauty of BaseCamp is that it is divided into project areas, requires nothing but a standard browser, lets you choose who to invite to a discussion, lets you make it private or not (you can start a public discussion and only invite 2-3 key people, but if someone happens to see it, they are free to join, unless you make it private. Then they don't even see it.), that sort of thing.

There is also a "writeboard" feature. This is like a Wiki (which I assume anyone in innovation is already using, or at least familiar with through sites like Wikipedia), but tied to a project, and allows for comments without editing the focus document. This is great for, say, working on a document like a script for user testing or a presentation for a certain group. Anyone can read and edit the document, but if they just want to mention that "having the user turn on the computer right away is often distracting. I'd rather wait until "X" point in the document to have them do that,"
it becomes a side discussion without making a new version of the main document. Those who care can discuss down in the comments, while the rest of the team works on the major information. Prevents rabbit trails from de-railing the entire group.

The other thing that has brought about the greatest leveling of participation has been RSS. Everything we produce internally is posted within a system that anyone can subscribe to. Someone posts a bug, anyone can see it.
This teaches new folks the proper form (yes, there is a proper form for reporting bugs! ), models good communication skills, and makes them think "hey, I saw that a week ago! Guess I should have mentioned it to someone."
Next time that entry-level person sees a bug or has a question or idea, they put it in, and get a public pat on the back for getting it uncovered early in the process.
This leads to more participation and innovation (posting potential features), crazy things that they may think are impossible but are, in fact, trivial, and who knows what all else. I have seen just getting an RSS feed of several key discussions bring previous wall-flowers out into the discussion, bringing with them new outlooks, new ideas, and (for the participant) greater job satisfaction. Suddenly, they're in a conversation with the head of development about a proposed feature, even though they don't even live in the same time zone. No water cooler can facilitate that!

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