Building Legendary Software
When thinking of open source success stories, one need only look to Mozilla's Firefox for an example of excellence. Built out of two frustrations with browser alternatives of the day, what would eventually become known as Firefox had timing, passion and an open mindset working in its favor.
If your company is looking to jumpstart development for its software project, take notes from those who have come before you. Study what they did right and what they did wrong. Examine hurdles faced by such projects as Firefox versus Flock..
Why has one become a household name while the other is still building an identity for itself? Despite the fact that Flock is still relatively new, I believe that we should have seen it take off by now if their core mission had a broad enough appeal. I believe Flock is very cool as a concept, however it simply does not appeal to me as a casual user.
Regardless, understanding the challenges and successes faced by each project will save you thousands of wasted man-hours along with countless headaches in unproductive social efforts. In short, stop trying to 'sell' what you believe is cool. Look at what people are asking for and fill an existing need, rather than providing a solution to a self-invented 'need' that doesn't yet exist. This type of effort fails more often than it succeeds.
Sticking to the widest scope of users will always yield the best chance of success. Google hit it big because existing search engines were terrible at the time of its creation. Firefox was a runaway hit because Microsoft (at the time), was not interested in upgrading their Internet Explorer browser. That, and the Mozilla suite was offering more bloat than most people wanted.
Some areas that could prove to be runaway successes today include better non-application specific email spam filtering and improved localized browser bookmark management. Each of these possibilities has wide appeal, and each has largely been ignored or perverted with Web 2.0 efforts. Most users just want to find what they are looking for, not experience some new 'AJAX-filled' web application that will further waste our precious productivity.
You will know that you nailed your project's full potential when you can summarize the value of your application in three simple bullet points. Again, I point you to Firefox as an example of doing this the right way.