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User generated products

I snuck in on another NewsGang live today and got to have a little chat with Dave Winer (inventor of a few things you all use every day).  I asked him about some of the posts he put out in the first half of last year at the end of 2006 outlining the perfect podcast hardware device and why he thinks it never caught fire.  Dave had some really good comments about the fact that most ideas never actually go anywhere and that if he wants something actually done he often has to do it himself. (you can listen to them here Hooking Up buy

).
I’m still really trying to understand if there is anything to the idea that social production will cross over the bit-atom barrier and start to have a real impact on manufactured products.  What got me going was the conversation that kicked off the gang about Doc’s request for a Twitter console

Bride Wars ipod

.  Dave’s view was someone should just pick up and build it, and I would suspect that someone is already working on doing just that.  But that didn’t happen in the case of the podcast player.  But I understand Dave’s point: it does at least happen some of the time with software.  Someone does a blog or forum post asking for a feature to be added to a product or a new product to be created and if there is enough piling on (or a really responsive developer) the change is made or the product appears.
But when was the last time you saw a user deigned car dashboard?  It could be that hardware is just too hard (although the guys at Make would argue with that) or maybe it’s just that the manufacturing community and the UGC community aren’t connected enough yet. If it’s just the difficulty factor, then hopefully guys like Bug Labs will start to break down that barrier.  If it’s just that manufacturers haven’t caught on to the whole ‘users and developers partying together’, well then I just may be able to help out with that.

4 replies on “User generated products”

I believe there are a number of reasons why hardware doesn’t follow software (yet). Among them:
– Real world tangible design is more difficult than many people realize bc it engages all our senses in ways software doesn’t.
– Beyond the design is that like software the tools are still too difficult for most people, thus only a relatively few are capable of creating what’s in their mind’s eye.
– The time investment even for those capable of developing a tangible product, in addition to the hard costs associated with fabrication, often outweighs the returns. A success is still a success of One; software has no such limit as replication is essentially free.
– Everyone has an opinion wrt tangible things bc unlike software, everyone can interact with it (not just a box on the shelf or a digital download), thus fear of failure is potentially more palpable for those creating such product.
– The ability to market and the time to market for software is its advantage; code a Facebook app and go to town. Or make it shareware and get a review on Mashable. Or make a cool plug-in for some other popular app and ride its coattails. Can’t do that with tangible goods (where companies *pay* for shelf placement)
– There is a sense of “someone will steal my idea” that’s still very much a part of the tangible goods invention/development culture (perhaps bc of the severe limitations). There seems to be less hesitancy to take the risk in software development; perhaps it’s cultural, perhaps due to the ease of taking product to market, perhaps something else or all of these things.
I’ve watched some of the 3D sites like TurboSquid for years. The adoption has been slow. Modelers are aware how quickly their 3D creation can be pirated. And the returns are fine for modelers in Thailand or Russia; not so good for those in the West. I’ve noticed the same slow take up of 3DVia.
We’re just not there yet.

If I had an award for most valuable comment, I’d give it to you there csven!
Lot’s of good stuff in there. On the topic of difficulty in fabrication, this is one area where I think that there will be a massive shift in the next 20-30 years. Not to go too star trek, but the idea of a replicator gets closer every day with the amount of research going in to nanotechnology. Once we can hit ‘print’ and our ipod comes out of the z-machine, then that barrier will disappear.

I don’t know about “massive shift”. Perhaps. But I see this as not only a technological barrier but a cultural one as well. There’s a ton of stuff tied up in how things are made today that has nothing to do with the technology; everything from uneducated uncle Bob working at the local old-school plant to people who are happy blending in owning the *same* product as their neighbors.
So long as people are depending on the kinds of jobs that old style manufacturing still demands, there’s little incentive for workers to upgrade skills; not when the cost of living is manageable, credit is (was?) easily available, and consumer goods cost so relatively little and satisfy so many desires that keeping up with the Jones poses no real issues. Education is a big hurdle.
Another factor is that expressing one’s individuality – while getting plenty of press – is still something surprisingly few people will do. So “fitting in” is a cultural barrier to the adoption of custom product. Notice all the stories recently on tattoo removal? That sense of conformity spills over into areas affecting the adoption of this technology.
I do believe we’ll see something significant within the next 15 years or so. After that I suspect we’ll have a hybrid factory for some time; part rapid manufacturing and part old school processes.

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