One of the interesting initiatives last year was Dell's Ideastorm, where the company solicited ideas from its customers. It was dramatically successful, in the sense that there was a huge response. In fact, it was almost *too* successful, in that the message – that users wanted Dell systems with GNU/Linux – was too loud to ignore, and Dell was pretty much forced to respond to that huge demand.
Now the meme is spreading:
Today a new feedback site is launched at brainstorm.ubuntu.com that will make it easier for users of Ubuntu to suggests ideas for improvements. Voting makes it clear which ideas have the most support in the user community and should be given priority. We have of course been inspired by the IdeaStorm site from our good friends at Dell but modified the concept to fit our needs.
The development team can now take the pulse on the most pressing user issues and propose the ideas as topics at the Ubuntu Development Summits and ultimately as specifications. Ubuntu development is in turn driven by detailed specifications written up in the wiki and tracked as blueprints in Launchpad.
Setting up such brainstorming sites is easy, and are relevant to more or less any company. But it takes a certain amount of courage to ask customers what they really want. Like Dell, you might find yourself forced to offer it.