Business disruption that's 'good enough'

What does open source software have in common with the Flip video camera and MP3s? In terms of business disruption, plenty

There's an article in the current issue of Wired called "The Good Enough Revolution" in which author Robert Capps describes how various low-tech solutions have unseated much more complex products. He gives an example of how Pure Digital's Flip video camera managed to beat industry giants Sony, Panasonic, and Canon by offering a simplistic product with low-quality 640-by-480-pixel video.

It didn't even have an optical zoom. But it was small (slightly bigger than a pack of smokes), inexpensive ($150, compared with $800 for a midpriced Sony), and so simple to operate—from recording to uploading—that pretty much anyone could figure it out in roughly 6.7 seconds.

Within a few months, Pure Digital could barely keep up with orders. Customers found that the Flip was the perfect way to get homebrew videos onto the suddenly flourishing YouTube, and the camera became a megahit, selling more than 1 million units in its first year.

[ Also on InfoWorld: "What does it take to create business disruption?" | Stay up to speed with the open source community via InfoWorld's Technology: Open Source newsletter. ]

In the course of a couple of years, the Flip family of video cameras have become the best-selling camcorder in the United States with 17 percent market share. (Pure Digital was acquired by Cisco earlier this year for $590 million.)

Pure Digital's business model is a classic example of what Clayton Christenson describes in his book "The Innovator's Solution" as serving the underserved. The company focused on providing basic functionality and ease-of-use to appeal to consumers who want to get results without the complexity or expense of a full-blown camcorder.

Capps goes on to describe how the music industry has been disrupted by the same phenomenon: MP3s trump other media in convenience, even though they are "inferior" when judged by sound quality. More important, this trend is continuing in other areas.

And it's happening everywhere. As more sectors connect to the digital world, from medicine to the military, they too are seeing the rise of Good Enough tools like the Flip. Suddenly what seemed perfect is anything but, and products that appear mediocre at first glance are often the perfect fit.

The good news is that this trend is ideally suited to the times. As the worst recession in 75 years rolls on, it's the light and nimble products that are having all the impact—exactly the type of thing that lean startups and small-scale enterprises are best at.

I know, you're thinking this sounds familiar, and it is. Open source software is the "good enough" solution for many IT organizations. Open source doesn't always have the features (or complexity) of closed source software. But in terms of ease of access, use, and implementation, the table tilts heavily toward open source. For companies looking to reduce their IT budgets, that's a powerful incentive.

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