DIY in context

I booked my first DIY airline flight online in 1986 . The Sabre airline reservation system had developed an interface where Compuserv subscribers could log in and create their own itinerary and then pick up the ticket at the airport. What followed was NOT a tidal wave of DIY airline bookings. Instead the travel agency industry grew dramatically. There were suddenly many more little agencies that functioned as middlemen (intermediaries, go-betweens, instructional designers) for the customers.

Electronic reservations made it possible for the airlines to change their fares everyday and for travel agents to shop around like never before for the lowest fare, most direct flight and best departure times. Travel agents were not cut out of the deal until Expedia and Travelocity empowered to customer to shop around for themselves with far greater sophistication than my first venture into a DIY airline booking.

The Sabre reservation system is an aggregator of all the seats on all the flights of almost every airline. Fifteen years ago, Sabre was worth more than any US airline. Likewise TV Guide would have sold for more in 1990 than any US broadcast or cable network. Since then the "big brands" have mostly been aggregators -- not providers, manufacturers or content developers. Before the current: Google, Apple, YouTube, Wikipedia, Starbucks -- there was Home Depot, Best Buy, Walmart, eBay and amazon.

Aggregators provide "one stop shopping". They dramatically improve the DIYers finding what they are looking for - regardless of how specialized, unique or idiosyncratic their interest is. Aggregators also create a web of reciprocities with the suppliers and the middlemen they aggregate. Every provider of goods that appear on Walmart shelves is in a continual conversation with the Walmart distribution system about which product is selling, how fast it sold and how soon another shipment will be ordered. Amazon has similar networks of conversations with publishers, associates and marketplace sellers. Starbucks relates to coffee growers like family.

Similar to the favorable impact of the Sabre reservation system on travel agents, most aggregators increase the number of middlemen - not cut them out. Once it's possible and easy to DIY, lots of customers choose to use an intermediary. Home Depot has fueled a dramatic increase in the number of home repair and remodeling entrepreneurs. Best Buy has spawned the proliferation of home theater installers. eBay has nurtured the growth of "eBay stores" that do all the work for the seller.

Home Depot has not spurred the growth of small forged steel foundries where homeowners make their own hammers, screw drivers and wrenches. Starbucks has not turned suburbanites into coffee growers or roasters. Best Buy has not increased the number of home owners shopping for DIY kits of appliances, computers, game consoles or home electronics to assemble themselves.

Meanwhile iTunes has increased the number of indie music labels, bands, albums and fan sites. YouTube has created an avalanche of digital camcorder and desktop editing aficionados. Starbucks has magnified the number, and probably the quality, of P2P meetings (most of my mentoring entrepreneurs happens there). Google, eBay and amazon have created an explosion of sellers and resellers. There's more DIY creatives and entrepreneurs than ever before.

So the question for those of us who are excited about DIY brands rising to the top is: how much of our instructional design expertise, content development and delivery of modules -- is like forged steel hammers (that will remain controlled by centralized production), and how much like the handyman who gets called in to do it better, faster or cheaper after the homeowner discovers a professional can get it done better than DIY can do?

1 comment:

  1. I wonder if the answer to the question of "how much" is time related or choice related?

    If you can do it quickly and easily, you may do it yourself, but if it is time consuming you'll ask someone else.

    Similiarly, if there is too much choice involved, you may hire the middle man to limit the choices for you. Today, I think that this is a large part of what travel agents do for us. There is just too much choice out there, you need someone to sort through all the options and make a short list ... I guess that comes down to time too ...