There’s an excellent article by Glyn Moody in the Guardian today about online companies set up to deal with the physical, analogue requirements of people in the physical, analogue world – print-on-demand companies like Moo, Blurb, MyPublisher or Lulu.
There’s something ironic about the rise of the analogue as the acme of digital cool. As Richard Moross, the twentysomething who came up with Moo.com’s re-invention of the calling card, points out: “It’s 300 years old; and despite wireless and Bluetooth and mobile phones, it’s still here, because it’s the single most successful networking tool of all time.”
At first glance it might indeed seem ironic that web 2.0 companies can be based on something so analogue and physical, but actually it doesn’t surprise me at all. I don’t think cyberspace has ever intended to replace physical space, rather to enhance it. Moo cards are a lovely little product – I’ve ordered several myself – but without the rise of what we might call web2.0 they simply couldn’t exist – the effort involved would be too great. Happily, though, Moo lets Flickr do most of the work and Flickr are happy to do it. The same is true of Blurb – a company making individual tailer-made products based on content stored in a fairly universal archive. It’s a bonus for Flickr to be seen as such a useful service, and the other businesses could hardly exist without it – what a happy little economy we’re all creating!
Of course, such businesses are not just tied to Flickr. Back in the mid nineties Bernard Cache created a series of what he called ‘Objectiles‘. These were beautifully carved wooden creations, fashioned with milling machines and some rather natty software which not only allowed them to be ordered and manufactured from any workshop in the world, but could guarantee that each creation would be unique.
They didn’t catch on, unfortunately, but the idea shows that more distributed online organisational systems can not only be of huge benefit to the creation of physical-world businesses and artifacts, but also increase the individuality and variety of them. It’s not an ironic relationship at all- it’s a highly likely and highly useful one. As Moody concludes, “The interface between the web and the real world is alive and well and making money.”