Wednesday, July 14, 2004

Mass customization

It turns out that a bunch of companies are in the business of manufacturing customized baseball gloves. Rather than going into Wal-Mart or a sporting goods store and taking a glove that has 80% of the features you want, you can order a glove that is exactly right. The manufacturers are happy because it guarantees a sale without adding much to overhead. High-end watches would also be a sensible choice for customization.

Cell phones, on the other hand, don't make sense to customize at the factory, since they are difficult to design and compete on price. Nokia hit on a brilliant solution by selling a phone with replaceable face-plates. For a while everyone had the same phone because they wanted to put Hello Kitty or the American flag on it. You see the same phenomenon in cars: everyone has the same GMs and Hondas with big exhaust pipes and extra running lights.

I'm tempted to say the one sort of customization is sensible and the other isn't. After all, a custom glove could make you a better ballplayer but you won't have better reception if your phone has Homer Simpson on it. Function versus style. The trouble is, I don't really act like function matters and style doesn't.

Exhibit A: my web-page. I spent untold hours getting everything just so, but beyond simple readability customizations, it was all about style. (Maybe not good style, but style nonetheless.) Humans seem to have a need to be different, even if they are different the same way everyone else is.

Exhibit B: I just wasted a bunch more time getting this post to look ok. It really bugs me to have lines wrap in strange ways.

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