The hot idea of the moment for large companies is to outsource their research and development efforts to their customers. Who knows your product better than your most loyal fans? If they can collectively agree on the best way to improve it, it must be good, right? Dell did it with IdeaStorm (our coverage), Starbucks did it with My Starbucks Idea (our coverage), and Salesforce did it with IdeaExchange. Now a new web app called IdeaScale is offering that same basic premise as a packaged service for companies of any size.

What GetSatisfaction does for customer service, IdeaScale is aiming to do for research and development -- though perhaps on a more local, private level. IdeaScale offers a way for companies to solicit ideas and allow customers to rate, discuss, and brainstorm for the company. The app works in more or less the same way as the sites from Dell, Starbucks, and Salesforce. Users submit ideas, rate them via a Digg-style voting mechanism, and discuss them with one another.

The company can go in and mark off which ideas are being implemented or considered, and leave status updates for users curious to see how an idea is progressing from brainstorm to finished product.

IdeaScale is currently in public beta and is a free service right now. Eventually, the company plans to offer both free and paid versions utilizing the "freemium" model that they already use for their Question Pro app. IdeaScale has their own copy of the softare running at http://questionpro.ideascale.com/.

A more public implementation of the same idea is featurelist, which takes the same Digg-style community feedback concept and makes it more public -- similar to GetSatisfaction's approach to customer service.