processes that are similar in name between businesses are actually often highly customized
there exist a large number of processes unique to millions of small clusters of industries.
means that there is a combinatorial explosion of process problems to solve and, it turns out, little software to actually support them. Said another way, there is a long tail of very custom process problems that software is supposed to help businesses solve.
In the past, software’s long tail has been generally inaccessible because software has been
Too difficult to write
Too expensive to write and distribute
Too brittle or expensive to customize once deployed.
It just hasn’t been economical for someone to create a custom software company to help architecture firms. That’s why, in the software business, the traditional focus has been on dozens of markets of millions instead of millions of markets of dozens.
So, my tip for entrepreneurs? It’s all about the long tail. Whatever business your starting, think about how to serve millions of markets of dozens instead of dozens of markets of millions. Serving the head isn’t a bad strategy. You can build a great business. But, figure out how to serve the tail of your market efficiently and you’ve got a blockbuster.
The Economist reports on Softwide, an example of a business exploiting the long tail in software on the demand side. But the software in this case is not limited to just business/utility software, but educational and entertainment software as well.
Softwide is a kiosk-based approach to selling software on the high street that makes obscure but useful titles available to a far larger market. Set up by Daniel Doll-Steinberg in 2002, this long tail business is a hyrid of electronic storage (online as well as on local hard disks) and online as well as offline distribution through physical stores. Here's how The Economist describes Softwide's business.
Mr Doll-Steinberg originally set out to increase the range of software that could be sold in existing shops. With limited shelf space, most shops stock only a few dozen titles. So his firm, SoftWide, devised a kiosk-based system that can store thousands of pieces of software on a hard disk, burning a disk only when a customer wants to buy a particular title. The first kiosks were tested in WH Smith, a British retail chain, and in Fnac stores in France. But having some titles in boxes on the shelves, and others provided by kiosks, was confusing. So Mr Doll-Steinberg decided that SoftWide should open its own chain of shops. The first two opened in London in 2002, and have since been followed by three more.
In computer superstores, 60% of software sold is games, and about 35% is business software. In SoftWide's stores, in contrast, 50% of the software sold is educational and reference software (much of which is otherwise only available by mail order), 30% is business software and only 20% games. More than half of SoftWide's customers are women, and many are pensioners.
SoftWide's unusual model has a number of benefits over superstores and online downloads, Mr Doll-Steinberg insists. It makes it possible to offer customers advice, which is hard to come by in big superstores where shelves must be kept stocked. Users feel more comfortable with physical disks than with downloads, which can go wrong, cannot be resold, and are unsuitable as gifts. And popular products cannot sell out.
Mr Doll-Steinberg believes he has discovered a huge untapped market. In Britain, the educational and reference market is worth £50m ($96m), and has been in decline since WH Smith pulled out in 2000. Its stores stocked only 50 titles; SoftWide's kiosks hold more than 2,000, including programs to help people learn yoga, stop smoking, design a garden, prepare for a driving test, write business plans and complaint letters or fill in government forms. "Most of the people who come into our stores have never bought software before," says Mr Doll-Steinberg. "They say: 'I didn't know you could do that on a computer'." Such software, he says, should not be relegated to an obscure niche. He estimates that the market could be worth more than £600m.
The article does not say if business/utility software is also sold through Softwide, but it certainly can be, and its quite likely that it is already happening.
Specifically, in a market like India, apart from educational and entertainment software, business/utility software targeted at the large number of very small businesses and homes will require support for installation and help in teaching the users how to use the software.
I think Softwide's model can be suitably adapted to build the software distribution network for SMEs in India with the kiosks serving as both demo outlets as well as sales outlets.
I came across an interesting discussion Group named ZESTCaste that started in September 2004. Here's how they describe themselves.
ZESTCaste is a no-holds-barred mailing list to reflect contemporary discourses on the subject, promote new thinking, and make accessible the research done on caste over decades. It is also a platform for caste activists and academics to network amongst themselves.
ZESTCaste will also give space to news reports about caste issues, as well as the academic research by scholars who hide themselves in universities.
The list begins at a time when India is debating the issue of caste-based reservations for 10 million jobs in the country's organised private industries. ZESTCaste is run under the Human Rights Initiative of SPACE or the Society for People's Action, Change and Enforcement.
More such discussion groups are needed to think about complex issues like caste and how we can deal with such issues in today's age.
While reading about ZESTCaste, I also came across another discussion group named ZESTAlternative which looks at alternative ways of being. Here's how they describe themselves.
What do Mohandas Gandhi's spectacular asceticism, Masanobu Fukuoka's
natural farming, Ivan Illich's appropriate technologies, Noam Chomsky's
political pacifism, Vandana Shiva's eco-feminism, Black Elk's visionary
shamanism, Chinua Achebe's novels and Isaac Newton's occultism have in
common? They can all be understood as attempts to provide alternatives
to a reductionist, scientific world-view, one that is so dominant today
that it is inconceivable that there could be alternative ways of being.
We all have misgivings about the modern age. And we have been
made to believe that science, and only science, has the answer to the
problems it creates. Members of ZESTAlternative hope to give voice to
such misgivings by exposing each other to important critiques of the
modern world, and providing alternatives to the existing systems -
systems of education, medicine, technology, agriculture, language,
media, art, culture, history, and, why not, even dissent.
Lets regain our diversity - start with one Alternative article
every alternate day. Members respond to articles but don't initiate new
discussions, because ZESTAlternative is like a study circle which
spends more time listening than talking.
After watching the movie Fahreheit 9-11 (I watched it well after the 2004 presidential election), a bunch of thoughts struck me:
It is a one-sided movie that leaves no doubt about what Moore wants to convey by presenting only one side of the story. John Berger writing in The Guardian termed it in the same breath "cunning and moving." Moore isn't trying to present both sides of the picture and let the viewer make up his/her mind - he's out to convince the viewer of the truth of what he believes to be right.
It is a powerful movie - most folks who watched the movie couldn't but start to wonder if Bush deserves four more years after all one saw in the movie.
How many Americans never watched the movie because they felt it was too anti-American, when Moore's intention I thought was to be pro-American but anti-Bush?
Have there been any studies on the impact of Fahreheit 9-11 on voters' choices in the 2004 election? The movie's influence on the voting decisions of those who watched the movie and those who didn't watch it, but heard about it in the press and the voting decisions of pro-Bush, anti-Bush and the fence-sitting voters. What are the results of those studies, if any? (I haven't been able to find any mention of a study online as yet).
Wondering about the veracity of Moore's presentation, I came across a list of 59 deceits in Fahrenheit 9-11 published by Dave Kopel, who lists himself as a lifelong Democrat who voted for Ralph Nader in 2000. Koppel says
In this report, I number Moore’s deceits. Some of them are outright lies; some are omissions which create a false impression. Others involve different forms of deception. A few are false statements Moore has made when defending the film. Judge for yourself the credibility of Michael Moore's promise, "Every single fact I state in 'Fahrenheit 9/11' is the absolute and irrefutable truth...Do not let anyone say this or that isn't true. If they say that, they are lying."
Kopel has also published a detailed item by item explanation of each of the 59 deceits in the movie along with Moore's response to some of the items. Reading this drove home the power of the visual medium to influence people's views by selective presentation of facts and opinions and towards what one wants them to believe. The medium leaves little room for critical thinking, if that is the intent of the producer.
An article in the International Herald Tribune (before the 2004 election) argues that it still holds true that people go to the movies to be entertained, fully aware that they are seeing artifice, even if it is nonfiction artifice.
Polls have already shown that the impact of "Fahrenheit 9/11" has been minimal or nonexistent. Most of its audience was anti-Bush before entering the theater, and the other folks are as likely to be repelled as converted. One of the wiser political consultants, David Axelrod, noted that while many swing voters are disappointed with Bush, few dislike him. For them, Moore's blunt polemic could prove counterproductive.
It seems to be dawning on the Democrats that Michael Moore might actually be a double-edge sword they've cut themselves on. An article in The American Prospect suggests that Michael Moore and his movie had more of a negative impact on the Democrats than positive to the extent that some
Democrats are even blaming Moore for Kerry's loss and have called for Democrats to surrender Moore to the same gods to which Bill Clinton sacrificed the controversial rapper Sister Souljah in 1992.
Back then, at a conference of the Reverend Jesse Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition, candidate Clinton caused a small ruckus by repudiating earlier comments from Souljah that some had construed as condoning black-on-white violence. The genius of Clinton’s rebuke of Souljah was that it was geared not to the assembled black leaders seated in front of him but to moderate whites, who needed to see that Clinton was not some patsy of narrow left-wing interest groups. It was cold, calculated, and effective.
“You have to recognize that Clinton was the only non-accidental Democratic president elected in 40 years,” one high-ranking Democratic operative told me, suggesting that Jimmy Carter won by virtue of Watergate and Lyndon Johnson by virtue of succeeding a slain president. “With that in mind,” he said, “Democrats have to be prepared to recognize the utility of some of the tactics he employed to get into office, including the ‘Sister Souljah moment.’”
Of course, “Sister Souljah-ing” Michael Moore would only be tactically useful for Democrats if they can plausibly argue that Moore scares away more voters than he attracts. According to University of Virginia political scientist Larry Sabato, who has been poring over polling data from the election, this remains unclear. “While it is fair to say that he contributed to additional turnout on both sides,” Sabato says, “data specifically analyzing the individual impact of Moore does not yet exist.”
To the extent that voters associated Moore’s politics with that of the Democratic Party, it is because Democrats are not effectively articulating what it is they actually stand for.”
By contrast, the Republican “brand” is strongly recognized, and voters can easily distinguish mainstream Republicanism from its extremist impostures. Ronald Reagan made the distinction clear in 1966, when he mused that the endorsement by the McCarthyite John Birch Society of his candidacy for governor of California meant only that “they’re buying my philosophy; I’m not buying theirs.” More recently, no one seriously thought that the über-conservative author Ann Coulter represented the views of the Republican Party when she suggested in a column soon after the September 11 attacks that the proper response September 11 was to “invade [Muslim] countries, kill their leaders, and convert them to Christianity.”
The Democrats, meanwhile, make no such distinction. Indeed, some Democratic leaders have appeared publicly with Moore, and when he appears with members of the party, it becomes ever more difficult to deny that he, at least in some way, represents them.
Just ask Virginia Schrader, a progressive Democrat who in 2004 narrowly lost the congressional race for the 8th District of Pennsylvania, located in suburban Philadelphia and the Delaware River Valley. Early in her campaign, Schrader hosted a fund-raiser at which she screened Fahrenheit 9-11. Months later, as the campaign was getting down to the wire, the Republican National Congressional Committee targeted the district with a flier that read “The Hate America Crowd has found their candidate. Ginny Schrader raised money by showing the anti-American movie Fahrenheit 9-11.” The flip side featured a chubby caricature of Moore’s face, above which read “Now there’s a running mate that will slow you down.” The flier was nasty, but effective. Polling data Schrader relayed to the Prospect after the race indicated that 12 percent of the flier’s recipients claimed to have been affected by it one way or the other. And for 8 percent of those 12 percent, the flier helped persuade them to vote against Schrader.