This case is more exploratory and located in an earlier research phase than the other social media cases, for we do not know as yet whether and how much user innovation will be present. Earlier literature and our preliminary knowledge of the domain, however, suggest that some amount of user invention ought to have happened, and that these inventions are presently likely to become more visible and have greater propensity for spreading due to the possibilities social media and the increasingly positive public attitudes toward energy conservation.
The present energy systems are characterized by centralized supply and corresponding tendency for highly integrated solutions at energy consumption. This is, however, only a half of the story. The other half lies in that energy efficiency, particularly in detached houses, depends squarely on how the house and practices of energy usage have been configured at the particular setting. Increased thermal insulation, low- energy windows, room temperatures, reduction of air leakages, heat recovery etc. affect greatly how much energy is consumed (Halme, 2005; Heiskanen, 2007). Increase in the use renewable energy sources such as solar, wood boiler or waste heat adds to locally available options at using less energy from the centralized energy production and causing less CO2 emissions. The adequacy of any of these solutions varies greatly upon location, housing type, and activities within the house. Previous work on user innovation predicts that this would lead to user innovation niches (von Hippel, 2005) as off-the-shelf technologies and solutions need to be locally adjusted and occasionally best solutions for some users would require wholly new alterations. We expect that this concerns the detached housing stock in Finland, but just as importantly the 450 000 summer houses, many of which are outside centralized energy supply options, but just as many have been insulated (etc) for year round living.
This case focuses on a) identifying user innovations related to more sustainable energy production and consumption within Finland, b) examining how people communicate and exchange ideas and expertise in regard to innovative new ways to improve energy sustainability, particularly electronic fora and other social media applications are used to spread, find information on, improve, and generate movements around technical and social innovations at energy saving, and c) reconstructing the user innovation pathways and impediments to their proliferation from the original inventor to other early enthusiast users to the early majority of users.
To identify user innovations we use a range of techniques developed for this purpose and purposefully assess their yield (as we do in case 2 as well). The main thrust, however, is placed on charting the kind of communication venues user innovators themselves would likely to be using in signalling about their solution and soliciting help for developing it—hence tying identification with assessment of the available communication means. We will experiment with advertisements in housing fairs and journals, but particularly analyze the Internet in extant forums and social media applications used by potential user innovators. The data from these forums can be retrieved manually, but also with specially developed web crawlers, computer programs that browse the web in methodical and automated manners, much like search engines. The data can be analysed qualitatively, but also with the aid of computer-supported text analysis algorithms. Once user innovations and used forums have been identified they will be further examined by qualitative semi-structured interviews that cover the incentives, initiation, means, development path, aid, proliferation and impediments in the proliferation path of the invention.