Hypoallergenic dining.

We were having dinner with a couple who are friends of ours last night at a fairly upscale restaurant in town. The husband is allergic to alcohol, and we were also talking about how so many kids these days are allergic to things like nuts. We then realized that a large number of items on the menu contained nuts of various kinds, so the place wasn’t exactly allergy friendly. And when we considered ordering a specialty coffee I realized that my friend couldn’t join me.

It occurred to me that it might not be that difficult to create specialty coffees that were alcohol free, not only for those with allergies, but also those who prefer not to drink for whatever reason. Does this sort of thing exist already, or is there even a market for it?

Allergies seem to have increased substantially from one generation to the next. In about 10-20 years it might be mandatory for all restaurants to be nut-free, just as so many schools are today. But for now, wouldn’t this be a great marketing benefit for a restaurant? After all, while it used to be acceptable to smoke in restaurants, nobody does now. This could be a new trend.

Build it and they will come.

Perhaps Firefox has proven that of you build a better mousetrap (or browser) the work will beat a path to your door.

Of course it probably helps a lot if people really dislike the company that makes the other mousetrap. Or, in a more appropriate analogy, if the other mousetrap tends to attract far worse pests than just mice.

Understanding the customer.

I spent the morning with my oldest son, now a college freshman, looking for a backpack that provided room for all of the stuff he carries. This isn’t particularly an issue of size or volume, but of accommodation for various things like laptop, PDA, cell phone, iPod, etcetera. We tried office supply, electronics, snowboard, and outdoor stores, but just couldn’t find anything that fulfilled all of his requirements. As we trudged from store to store, I wondered if he was that different from the average teen, many of who carry plenty of electronics.

We even tried the on-campus store, where there was not a single backpack with a laptop compartment, though given that his school is known form engineering and computer science I expect that some students do have laptops. Is my son that different, or are manufacturers that far behind the curve?

Can you steal something that is free?

Television executives are concerned about rampant file sharing of television programs like Desperate Housewives and West Wing. But these shows are freely available on broadcast television, commercials included. For years people have recorded them. Now PVRs and TiVo allow customers to record and timeshift them, deciding when they want to watch a show, rather than allowing the networks to control their time. “Must see tv” is now “When I feel like it tv”. What concerns the executives now is the sharing of these programs through the internet.

If something is free though, then how can I be “stealing” it? And since it is freely broadcast to everyone, the how is sharing really a problem. It does of course decrease the value of the rerun of a show. It also seemingly affects the resale of program seasons on DVD. Yet even with file sharing freely available, DVD sales of television programs are rocketing skyward. And I expect that most people still find it more convenient to have the commercial DVD of the shows with all the bonus stuff, rather than the downloaded copy.

It is more likely that if this trend continues, the networks cannot guarantee their advertisers a particular number of viewers in a particular time slot, so the value of a commercial slot drops in price. After all, it is all about the money, not the viewer or the show.

Warning: Canada needs exotic dancers.

A couple of days ago I mentioned the 25 year old Romanian stripper who was given permission to stay in Canada. According to today’s Globe and Mail newspaper, Canada’s “stripper visa program” was introduced to rectify a shortage of exotic dancers, granting more than 550 temporary visas to Romanians last year.

A spokesman for Human Resources Minister Joe Volpe indicated the program would be scaled back, stating “I can guarantee you it will change this time.”

This kind of thing probably wouldn’t have happened if the NHL wasn’t on strike.

The spread of an idea.

Along the lines of Seth Godin’s IdeaVirus, things seem to propagate around the blogosphere. It would be interesting to be able to graphically picture how an idea spreads, and who infects whom. BlogPulse attempts to do this, but requires me to find the initial link in the chain, or the carrier so to speak.

Why can’t I just type in my concept or idea, and have an engine of some sort (Google?) find the first occurrence, follow the path of infection, and then map it for me graphically?

Is it possible that the nature of the internet would make it ideal for modeling actual viruses? This might actually aid in the prevention of both computer and human viruses.

The long tale of the long tail.

The variegated interests combined with the self-referential nature of the blogosphere means that lots of cool new ideas get propagated quickly, then longer. The “long tail” is a spectacular example of this. Taken from an article appearing in the October issue of Wired, the long tail is in essence the ignored end of what we used to think of as Pareto’s 80/20 rule. The thinking was that we could get 80% of the revenue from 20% of the customers, so we could ignore the other 80%. The other 80% are the long tail.

The long tail is of course the talk of all bloggers today, as they give their views of the value of the long tail. It isn’t new though; it has always existed just by different names. Think hippies, or lunatic fringe. Think early adopters. Ross Mayfield took Robert Scoble to task today for confusing the long tail with the technology adoption curve, but that isn’t hard to do because early adopters are part of the long tail – they’re just a part that we now address thanks to Geoff Moore.

Fifty years ago Frederick’s of Hollywood made a pretty good living out of addressing a need for mail-order trashy lingerie, certainly not something any proper woman would want to be seen buying. More recently Victoria’s Secret addressed a need for more upscale lingerie and as a result became a cultural icon.

While the internet has certainly provided an incredible solution to the problem of economies of scale by allowing customers and sellers to have a very effective conversation, and eliminating the need for bricks and mortar stores, it is in no way new. Mail order houses of all kinds have made a pretty good living doing exactly this for years.

The long tail has existed since kids were buying x-ray specs from comic books. Many successful businesses have sprung up to serve parts of the long tail, like specialty bookstores. In the seventies, Saturday Night Live had a running sketch about a scotch tape store. Starbucks has made a fortune addressing the needs of upscale coffee drinkers who don’t mind spending $4 for a coffee – certainly not representative of the average 80% of Americans. eBay is the epitome of addressing the long tail.

The difference now is that it is possible for one company, like eBay or Amazon, to address and have visibility and measurement of the long tail. This is unlike what we saw as niche segments before – like La Perla, Victoria’s Secret, Frederick’s, or Sears lingerie – all addressing different needs for the same product. But Robert Scoble is right in saying that the next big companies will come from the long tail. Only they’ll come faster, like Google did, because they can see the whole tail and address it by moving and learning quickly. And smaller departments at Microsoft could too.

I started to write this because I was tired of hearing about the long tail. But look, I’ve gone and propagated it again.

My intellectual property rights.

Everybody wants to control the rights to their intellectual property, and ensure that I don’t copy it illegally. It seems that some people would even like to eliminate fair use, which I personally believe will limit our ability to innovate based on existing intellectual property. However, I feel that the desires if copyright owners, and especially groups like the Recording Industry Association of America (RIAA) and the Motion Picture Association of America (MPAA) might be more palatable if they considered my rights as well.

For example, I believe that when I buy a movie or a song, I should have the perpetual right to use the copy of the song that I have purchased in any format or any medium I desire. This means that I can listen to that song at home, in my car, on my iPod, and on my computer, wherever and whenever I wish. I will not be forced to purchase multiple copies for different media. Furthermore I am not limited to 30 days of use or 5 subsequent copies; in fact I have no limitations on making copies for my own use whatsoever. In exchange I agree to not copy the song for anyone else, keeping it only for my personal use.

In the case of a book I should have the right to both the physical and digital copies so I can read it wherever I want.

I can’t see the record companies agreeing to this because it means that since I bought the record once they couldn’t sell me the CD, and then the song over iTunes again. They probably wouldn’t willing to look past the immediate lost revenue to the increase over the long haul as everyone buys the perpetual rights to only the songs they want. And

In fact this mass customization of music to personal tastes probably would not have been possible in the past, but it certainly is possible over the internet. And I should not have to pay more than once for the right to listen/read/use something.

Canadian musicians want piracy protection.

A few of Canada’s top musicians are asking the federal government to update copyright law, claiming that the current situation has caused music sales to drop by a third – almost $500 million – in just a few years, as well as costing thousands of jobs and countless lost career opportunities. According to a Macleans article:

The industry tracked illegal downloads of Tragically Hip music for a month this year. Henderson said there were 2.8 million attempts to download Tragically Hip music, compared with 1,000 legal purchases through the on-line music store Puretracks.

“That translates to about a quarter-million records in a month,” said Henderson.

This of course makes the flawed assumption that every download is a lost album sale, which is clearly not the case. The musicians neglect to mention that Canadians pay a levy on a blank recording media, the proceeds of which go to Canadian musicians. The Supreme Court took this into account in their recent decision that copying was legal in Canada. Essentially every Canadian who purchases a blank CD is deemed guilty of copying music. There was no mention by the artists of removing this levy.

The musicians also noted that the three-year, $95-million Canada Music Fund expires this year. They asked the government to provide long-term sustainable funding to the music industry. So they want to limit Canadian rights, take away the ability to copy music, keep taxing citizens as if they are copying music, and also take a few million more tax dollars.