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Hardware Can Be Open, Too - page 2

Open Ideas to Open Source: Hacking Hardware

  • September 20, 2007
  • By Matt Hartley

Bug Labs, which combines community electronics with a working business model, presents what could be the future of open source hardware for the masses.

The modular device offered by Bug Labs is, at its core, a full-featured Linux computer known appropriately enough as a 'BUG'. Complete with all the abilities of a PC, the BUG allows budding computing enthusiasts to play hobbyist engineer so they can create a device with their own specifications in mind. A clever idea, considering most consumer products always seem to be lacking that one killer feature. Also a great remedy for those who tend to dream of how they would have built any given device 'better' or differently.

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 Bug Labs? 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, Bug Labs could see the Netflix effect fairly easily.

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