|Noting the widespread use of virtual communities for interacting with customers, this thesis explores the role of virtual communities for involving distributed customers in packaged software development (psd) and the opportunities and challenges that are associated with this. While the idea of involving customers in software development is not new, it is yet to gain momentum in psd. Here, customers are distant and unknown — making traditional methods for customer involvement difficult to apply. Instead, packaged software developers use indirect links, such
as intermediaries and customer surrogates, to communicate with customers. However, while these are cost-effective approaches for involving customers, there are problems associated with them. For example, filtering or distortion of information may occur. In this regard, virtual communities constitute an interesting approach for involving distributed customers more directly in psd. In such communities, broad communities of interest, e.g., software customers, coalesce around products and services and instead of being involved
only in idea generation, customers can co-create software, test software and provide each other with software support.
Conceptually, this thesis is based on a « knowing-in-practice » perspective, viewing community knowledge, i.e. situated knowledge as enacted in use by distributed software customers, as critical for improving packaged software. In accordance with this conception, knowledge creation processes are understood as expanding beyond the level of the firm, and as suggested in this thesis, psd would benefit from utilizing also this knowledge.
Methodologically, the interpretive case study is employed, using the hermeneutic circle as the guiding principle for the research process. Empirically, a Swedish computer game developer provides the context for assessing the role of virtual communities in psd.
As a result of theoretical as well as empirical insights, this thesis presents community-based
customer involvement as an approach for involving customers in psd. In embracing opportunities as well as challenges, this approach views community knowledge as critical for improving psd. For facilitating an understanding of the processes associated with community knowledge creation and transformation, the approach embraces a model for community use.
In this model, community use is portrayed as a continuously ongoing interplay between the
software firm and the software community. In this, knowledge creation and transformation processes are a result of commercial firm interests as well as voluntarily community participation. In understanding community use as portrayed in my model, there is the possibility to analyze how community knowledge is built, elicited and exploited from customer communities and hence, to what extent these can be used for involving customers