What Social Media Can’t Do: Ben Kaufman


During Social Media Week, Quirky CEO Ben Kaufman said when it comes to product innovation, there are limits to what social media can do.

Among the many events currently taking place as part of Social Media Week, Quirky CEO and founder Ben Kaufman spoke Thursday about benefits and, more importantly, the limitations of social media in developing a new product.

“I have a sort of love hate relationship with social media,” Kaufman said to an audience at the Metropolitan Pavilion in New York City. “I think it’s amazing we can talk to each other, share our thoughts, but on the other hand I think it’s changed the way we interact with each other to a fault, to the place where we’re not putting our energy in the right place.”

In an average week, Kaufman said Quirky fields as many as 3,000 new ideas on the product evaluation section of its website, and each idea can be shared via Facebook and Twitter. “They go up for the world to vote, comment on, enhance, and refine each other’s ideas,” he explained. “People aren’t just saying ‘that sucks’ or ‘that doesn’t suck.’ They’re saying round that corner, or make that a little bit cheaper and I would buy it.”

Research, functional design, and even naming a product, he said, are all discreet phases in which community helps Quirky make smart decisions.

But this community, he said, has its limitations. “Community is still the Internet, and there are still trolls,” he said. “Community plus technology plus an expert team is proper product development. No one of these things can work without the other.”

The back end, Kaufman said, is what the Quirky team is most proud of: the mechanical engineering, electrical engineering, and patenting process. The community, he said, is not smarter than the experts, and the experts are not smarter than the community.

“What the world needs is a little bit of both,” he said. “It’s experts sitting side by side with the hillbillies figuring out what the future can hold.”

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