Open Source Hardware: Birth Of A Long Tail Market?: Page 2

Posted September 19, 2007

Matt Hartley

Matt Hartley

(Page 2 of 3)

Now consider for a moment, what is causally referred to as the “long tail market.” Rather than boring you with a lengthy explanation, allow me to illustrate with a common example of the “long tail” versus the typical “sell what is hot” business model so commonly used today.

Take Blockbuster and Netflix. As a means to generate as much revenue as possible, Blockbuster made it their business to open up as many storefronts as they could in order to rent the most popular blockbuster hits to as many people as possible. They had plenty of the top titles, yet their lesser sought after movies were, at the time, few and far between.

Then came Netflix. They too, had the same blockbuster titles as the brick-and-mortar powerhouse, but offered them without immediate access – Netflix was a mail order outfit. To compensate, Netflix catered to the lesser known DVD titles that only a few individuals would ever care to watch. DVDs features like “The Greatest American Hero,” a TV show from the early 80's, is hardly a blockbuster hit. Yet Netflix believed this gave the customer added value not seen with Blockbuster's mass market movie appeal.

As individuals, each Netflix customer is only selecting a single video and it might not be ordered again by anyone else for weeks, sometimes months. But with thousands of people doing this as well, you have tidal wave affect. And it is this affect that creates what is known as a long tail market.

So how does this long tail market concept relate to open source hardware and Buglabs? Simple: it will likely be a model that they’ll end up following. The mass market aspect to their efforts will be the 'BUG' itself, from which long tail type products can be built off of as each individual wishes.

Perhaps customer No. 1 is looking for a GPS unit that has certain functionality that could only appeal to that person. And customer No. 2 is wanting to build some sort of motion detector that has a customized software base that only meets their personal standards. This is long tail in its truest form and if implemented properly, Buglabs could see the Netflix effect fairly easily.

Learning From the Software Side of the Fence – Understanding Both the Mistakes and Successes

If open source hardware participants such as Bug Labs really examine what has worked and what has failed within the open source software world, a lot of time can be saved along the way.

As Canonical has proven with the Ubuntu Linux project, keeping true to an open source vision does not mean living in a fantasy land filled with good intentions. Canonical proved that you can indeed, build an open source base for your target market, but do so without resorting to becoming a non-profit venture.

Treating new open source hardware projects like the business models that they are is a wise approach. Especially when considering wonderful opportunities you may be providing for future hardware developers. Giving the gift of a self-sustaining business is never 'evil' and even the most devote open source enthusiasts have to appreciate being able to pay the rent while doing something that they love.

Next page: A sci-fi open source scenario

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