20 March 2008
In my novel, a major record label conspires to sell computer-generated music, tailored for each customer's taste, by using spyware on fans' computers. Over the course of the writing project, it seemed the story was slowly coming true: first Sony BMG was caught putting software on music CDs which was widely considered to be spyware, and then I found Trust Media's ecommerce system that enables fans to create and buy unique mixes of songs.
Mass customisation, or industrialised personalisation, is something I've been following with interest for many years. When I first wrote about it in 2000 for Personal Computer World magazine, a lot of the applications were quite gimmicky. You could have a few letters of your choice put onto training shoes, for example. In some cases, you got the impression that the web was used as an interface for specifying the product, with mostly manual work going on behind it later.
Now, mass customisation technology is widely used and highly automated - if you buy a Dell computer, or a t-shirt from cafepress, or upload photos for printing and delivery by post, you're using a kind of mass customisation. Indeed, my novel is printed using a mass customisation technology, where each copy is printed on demand, even if they're not personalised for each customer.
Frank Piller, professor of management at the Technology & Innovation Management Group of RWTH Aachen University, Germany, has been documenting and defining the area of mass customisation and co-creation for over ten years. I'm delighted that he's conducted an interview with me about the customisation aspects of my novel for his blog. The interview reveals more about what happens in the story than previous interviews have, and also looks at how mass customisation has been applied in the music industry already.
While you're there, check out the other stories on Frank's site: he reports regularly on new applications for mass customisation, and publishes a free email newsletter.
University of Death:
Download the first two chapters | Author interview | Buy now