At the DEMO conference, I learned about a new company called IPswap that is trying to become an eBay marketplace for software hacks and mods. Here's how it works:
People with software-driven consumer electronics devices - like wireless routers, cell phones, or TiVos - post requests for software mods, along with a proposed fee. Programmers can login and offer to provide the code that people request. And the site runs on an eBay model, in which multiple people can make offers, and they can haggle over prices.
In addition to the single transaction, the new software goes into a library, where other people can buy it. Both the programmer and the original requester agree in advance to terms for splitting the proceeds on future sales. IPswap just launched on Tuesday. but a few interesting mod requests have surfaced. For example:
A request to overclock a Linksys Wi-Fi router to extend its range
A request to enable one DVR to wirelessly transfer content to another
I think it's a great idea, and I hope companies will too. Hopefully they won't go ballistic like Sony, which tried to prosecute Aibo fans who hacked the robotic dog's software in order to give it more features.
What could be better than having free focus groups, beta testers, and designers working on ways to improve your product? Of course, there might arise a sticky question about intellectual property. What if the hackers create features that the manufacturer was developing anyway? Could the hackers claim prior art and sue for royalties? Hmmm...