Many of you will know the great blog of Donal Reddington, who regularly reports about developments, company announcements, and new technologies in the mass customization and personalization domain.
Recently, he posted a great feature on "Customerism", explaining different recent trends in business and technology seem to be converging into a new business model, that includes mass customization but also user innovation, crowdsourcing, and other developments.
Customer Empowerment: "The idea of empowering customers with a higher degree of control over their relationship with business has gained widespread acceptance. Various terms have been devised to describe different approaches or strategies that empower the customer."
The Rise of Mass Customization & History of Product Configuration:"The major impediment to wide adoption of mass customization in the early 1990's was the absence of an efficient communication channel for customers to describe their requirements. But than, the right tools cane up: The Product Configurator. My research suggests that the earliest work on what would be considered a product configurator was carried out by Ron Brachman at Harvard University in 1977. ... In the mid-1980's, Brachman worked at the Artificial Intelligence Principles Research Department at American Telephone and Telegraph (ATT) which developed the PROSE product configuration system for use in the telecoms industry. A few years later, unrelated research by Tim Berners-Lee would produce the first web-browser. By 1996, Dell had combined these two technological innovations into the first web-based product configuration system, that would allow anyone to specify their requirements when purchasing a computer."
Micro-Manufacturing:"The first examples of how mass customization could be the catalyst for new business models came about at the turn of the Century, with the launch of two companies: Zazzle and CafePress. Both of these companies offered conventional personalization of everyday products ... However, the most important aspect of their business was that they were also 'micro-manufacturers'" – allowing creative users to sell their creations to others.
User Innovation: "Ideas about involving the customer in the innovation process had been around since the late 1980's, … devised by Eric Von Hippel at the MIT. Von Hippel discovered that most products and services are actually developed by users, who then give ideas to manufacturers. This is because products are developed to meet the widest possible need; when individual users face problems that the majority of consumers do not, they have no choice but to develop their own modifications to existing products, or entirely new products, to solve their issues."
Crowdsouring as an alternative model of MC: After discussing Threadless etc., Donal concludes: "While to date crowdsourcing has been used mostly in the area of visual design, it could easily be adapted to issues of technical design also. Who is to say that an electronic equipment company could not use crowdsourcing to develop new products? There could be thousands of engineers itching to submit designs for new devices or contribute to the design of a new product. ...
Customerism: This is where we are now then: "A collection of separate business concepts and enabling technologies, that encourage user/customer participation, whose attributes overlap with one another to a significant extent. ... While there is no single word that can take in all of them ('masspeercustomizationcommonsmarketplace' doesn't roll off the tongue!), my personal opinion is that the term 'Customerism' is probably the most suitable word to describe a series of ideas that empower the customer ... "
Great observations and conclusions, again: read his entire post! I asked Donal what motivates him to spend so much time and effort to documenting mass customization and Customerism with this dedication. And his answer was a typical example for the motivation of empowered users in the new market space:
"As regards motivation, I guess you could say it is mainly interest in the topic. I researched MC as part of a master's degree a few years ago. I couldn't use my MC knowledge in my 'day job' (working for the Irish Government), so I set up the website as an outlet to pursue these ideas further. My view at the time was that if I did nothing, my work on the topic would 'go to waste'."
It is only through the great contributions of people like Donal that mass customization is really catching up. There are very few consultants or people who do mass customization professionally that have contributed so much back to the community – and doing this with so much modesty and intellectual generosity. Thank you, Donal!