Mass Customization / Custom Local Manufacturing
Mass customization is the large scale production of custom things. The internet has spawned many services for getting personally customized stuff made and sold to others.
The web isn't uniquely responsible for this trend. Small and computerized sewing and knitting machines are allowing pictures to be woven and embroidered onto clothes more cheaply than before. Many shopping centres and craftfairs now feature a stall where logos and slogans can be custom embroidered onto shirts.
Cheap, high quality printing allows many other items to be customized. Eventually 3D printers for making small solid models, and other computerized tools, aimed at the individual craftspeople, will allow further local, custom manufacturing.
MP3.com were the original online music company, allowing musicians to put their music on a central server. They also allow musicians and composers to specify complete CDs including the music and cover designs. MP3.com then take care of the entire manufacturing process. You just supply the music.
Clothing and Branded Tchotchkes
Cafe Press are one of several organizations that let you create your own "branded" clothes, mugs, mousemats etc. You just upload the images and create the virtual "stores".
An interesting variant is Threadless which creates short runs of T-shirts. The images on the T-shirts are chosen by members of the site, who vote for designs that have been submitted by other members. The 3 most popular each are made. This gives rise to limited editions, based on designs which are known to be popular.
- Cafe Press : http://www.cafepress.com/cp/info/index.aspx
- Threadless : http://www.threadless.com/
Cafe Press say they'll do it. Who knows? Maybe you'll be able to buy this wiki on paper some day :-)
And Brewster Kahle is taking it on the road : http://www.guardian.co.uk/online/story/0,3605,946511,00.html
Lulu is another CafePress : http://www.lulu.com/
What's the Significance of all This?
One significance is it offers a kind of answer to the situation described by Naomi Klein in NoLogo. Klein understands that "brand" is the key to companies shedding earthly responsibilities and virtualizing themsleves. For companies can only get out of the business of owning and managing factories and employing people, if they can assure their status within the web of relationships. What does this? What makes VirtualCo the fixed, central player in a shifting network of suppliers and retailers, is VirtalCo's ownership, and exclusive right to use the brand.
And if this is gonna be enough to make VirtualCo rich, the brand has to be big, a mass media phenomenon. But the rise of mass customization suggests a countering pull. The mass media is fragmenting into multiple niches. The web, notoriously, puts this process "on steroids" (But http://www.gonzomarkets.com/). But.) it was happening anyway.
The mass media are being replaced by micro-media. And mega-brands by micro-brands. Mass customization essentially allows everyone to act like a VirtualCo, putting the shifting web of suppliers and services at the disposal of the smallest media. A tiny cult comic such as DieselSweeties can supply a range of T-shirts as easily as Disney. (And probably made in the same sweats... Sorry. You know what I mean.)
This suggests an alternative playing out of the virtualization scenario, one that large corporations might not find to their liking. Sure they may dematerialize themselves, but instead of holding on to an existance as densely trafficed nexuses, they might find the whole system rapidly disintergrates, their brand value evaporating as audiences flock to micro-brands associated with micro-media. And without physical assets to maintain them, the most virtual might find their brands and themselves as redundant as last year's fashions.
Note : the people who are cementing themselves as nodes into web are the relatively low profile, Cafe Press. Another example of the Odlyzko's principle that connecting people, not content, is king. (ContentIsNotKing)
The end game here is personal customization which leads to the DesignersDilemma
On the way ... http://www.onedayonebag.com/de/
Fabjectory : http://www.fabjectory.com/
See also :