7.17.2007

Mass Customization

Five is the perfect scale for rating things, in my opinion.  If I'm asked to rate something 1, 2, or 3, I always feel like I need a 1.5 and a 2.5.  If I'm asked to score something from 1 to 10, I always use just the even numbers.  In other words, three is too few and ten is too many; five is perfect.

Let me go on:

* Why don't car horns have three volumes instead of one?  Hybrid cars are getting so quiet that I predict manufacturers will actually provide drivers with ways to make noise, lest pedestrians have no advance notice that a car is coming.  A "light horn" could do the trick.  And a "heavy horn" could be reserved for, well, whatever you think is appropriate on the road.

* And why don't toilets have two flush strengths instead of one?  Most of the time, you're just flushing down liquid; does that really need the same amount of water and force as the, um, more solid things you're flushing down?

* On the other hand, do mountain bikes really need 21 speeds?  I do a fair amount of hills, and if my bike had five or six speeds instead, I don't think I'd miss the other 15 or 16.

However, the proliferation of items in your typical grocery store, on Amazon.com, and on TV are, I think, a good thing.  If there are enough different customer types out there, and they can all be served profitably, that's a good outcome: it means we all get more choice, and that more of us can be served with something close to our ideal choice instead of having to get something less than ideal. 

Of course, it's really been in the Internet age that we've been able to approach such mass customization, or as Chris Anderson put it in 2000, "the long tail" (signifying the massive amounts of movie titles or music singles on the right side of a graph that plots number of users on the y axis and popularity ranking on the x axis).  Obscure bands can get hooked up with new fans via MySpace, obscure documentaries live long lives at Netflix, and the three people in the world who are into John Mayer, John Coltrane, and John Denver can meet up on Facebook. 

So while there are some things in this world that are too much and some that are too little, when it comes to customer choices and customer types, more and more and still some more is just right.

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