These two terms are currently being used interchangeably.  This was discussed in the MCPC09 Conference by Sunnika and Brage

They have found that “mass customization” referees more often to tangibles, while “personalization” is rather used in the context of “intangibles”. In other words mass customization is likely to be about products, while personalization is associated with information.

It seems that mass customization is the preferred term for  industries and personalization is the preferred term for for those who deal in the domain of the internet and marketing. While mass customization seems to lie in the domain of manufacturing, personalization seems lie in the domain of of choice.

Would it not be better to draw a line that divides the real from the virtual so that customization can be on the real size of the divide and personalization can be on the virtual side addressing issues that deal with matching personal desires with affordable, available and manufacturerable possibilities.


User generated content seemed to be something we take for granted as “content generated by users” . But is this really true ?  Few would dispute that less than 1% of visitors are actually generate content in most user-generated sites. Does this mean that about 1% of “ordinary visitors” generate content ?

Our experience is that this is untrue. Users do not generate content – enthusiast do.  Online content generation seem to be a direct product of:

  • Lowering of barriers to entry (eg. digital photography and vediography)
  • Availability of forums in which content is cricked and appreciated and sometimes monetized
  • New and niche content  opportunities

But the content creators are not users. Neither are they professionals. They are a  new category of people whose interest and expressive ability is being enabled by the web.

User generated forums have become welcoming places for those who harbor pet ambitions that were not fulfilled through their professional or carrier choices.  Very often they are self taught and self motivated. They are now being referred to as semi-professionals.

It is therefore, extremely misleading to call content generated by them – user generated content – as it implies that normal users generated content, which is not the case.  Its this extremely small, yet dedicated and passionate group of people who are creating content -not users.

User Generated Content may be then just a social network based  online content sourcing activity attracting a new breed of content creators.

An attempt here to classify the different types of personalization that we see online.

  • Text Only
  • Template – with uploadable Photo & Text
  • Upload Anything – some content provided
  • Design Collection


Seems to be the most popular and probably accounts for over 90% of customization. Very often the the choice is limited to font and size. The web tools for this is often a simple text box. An example from Personal Creations.


Often there is a preview that displays the end result


this is a simple approach that is easy to use with very little margin for error. Such an approach is suitable for applications such as engraving where what can be done is extremely limited. In many cases there is no big advantage in displaying how the end product will look like. Displaying the end prodcut entails risks and therefore there is often a warning message that states that this is “only a representation”.


Templates are useful in providing a good starting point that will allow non-designers to create good quality content just by changing a photo or text. This approach accounts for a wide variety of customization where the template enhances the personal content. An example from uprintinvitations.


This is the second most popular type of personalization as impressive personalization  can be created with low level of skills.


This is a very common approach adopted by many companies.  The intention is to give the users maximum flexibility. En example from foghorn.


There is little evidence that this approach is successful as it does not reduce the complexity low enough for non-designers to design or powerful enough for designers to achieve what they want.  The typical tendency of programmers to make the service powerful by allowing the widest range of possibilities may also be contributing to this.


Another way to reduce the complexity but to allow wider range of creative expression is by the use of collections. Where the design components are very carefully chosen by skilled designers with the intent of allowing non-dessingers to mash them them into personalized content. ScrapBlog seems to have pioneered this approach.


this approach both reduces the complexity for non-designers, but allows significant design changes. A similar approach is taken by JuJups.

Which is the Best Approach ?

This a difficult question. It seems that most amount of personalization is happening right now in the text only and template category. Even thought the creative freedom is limited it serves the purpose for most consumers. Most designers now work online with sophisticated offline design software such as Adobe and rarely use online tools to create content. The collection approach falls between these two categorize.

But this seems to be changing with a growing populations of younger non- professional content creators who do not have the training on online tools to create personalized content or those who enjoy creating content by mishmashing are aebging to create desing content. Ths is still a small portion of the online auidence. The  online tools and the design practices adopted by this group will determine the way design content is created online.

Veronicas Treats

Customised Cup CakesCustomised Cup Cakes
Customizing confectionery is an interesting area and one that is growing fast. The advent of edible inks and edible paper make it possible to print on cake.  Any individual or company can now get started with cake printing using off the shelf printers and off the shelf ink.

What is edible ink ?

Edible ink is ink that is safe to eat. It is used to decorate food, most often baked goods such as cakes, cupcakes and cookies. Novelty baked goods such as photograph cakes are made using edible ink.

Food colorings and dyes, made from natural and synthetic sources, have been used for centuries, and are the edible inks most people are familiar with. Edible inks for use in printers, those used to reproduce photographs onto baked goods, were developed in the early years of the 2000s. Commercial bakeries were first to adopt the technology, which is now available for home use.

Some models of Canon and Epson printers can print edible inks. Supplies needed to print in edible ink, besides a compatible printer, are icing sheets and edible ink cartridges. You can also buy software specifically designed for designing and printing images in edible ink. The icing sheets are made of sugar, or cornstarch and corn syrup. They are wafer thin and come in different sizes. Edible inks come in different colors, and the printer can use the inks to produce a variety of hues.

Once an image is printed on an icing sheet, the decorator places it on top of the frosted cake, cupcake or cookie. The icing sheet will seamlessly absorb into the frosting. Icing sheets and edible inks are made in the U.S. from non-toxic FDA approved ingredients and are usually kosher.

Another form of edible ink currently gaining popularity is the decorating pen. These come in a variety of colors and can be used to draw on any kind of food, plates, or to draw temporary tattoos. Their most popular use is for decorating cookies. Edible ink pens look just like regular ink pens and can last up to two years after opening. The pens work best when used.

Continue reading ‘Co-Creating Cake’

Co-creation is a new word. It is not even listed in wordcount which tracks and ranks words. The word customization  ranks as  61716 most used word  (did not know that I knew 60,000 words).

Now, this word Co-Creation is clearly new. Who created this word ?  Was it  co-created ?

Aren’t all the words we use co-created ? Isn’t Jazz co-created ? It seems that co-creation has been with us for a very long time, longer than customization, but no body seemed to have bothered to give it a name. No body seemed to have noticed it. Perhaps there was no need for such a meaningless word, as everything that was created was co-created.

I first heard the word “Co-Creation” speaking to folks at Philips Design about some of the Second Life technologies we are developing. Philips Design’s pioneering efforts in this area is something that I keenly follow in  Second Life.

Customization seems to be a more useful word, but is often confused with co-creation. The difference between the two was discussed by  Dew Hendriks

For me, co-creation is directly correlated to customization.  To the extent that the company and the customer share in the production, is the extent that it is co-created.  If the customer were allowed complete freedom to design independently of the company, then is would no longer be co-creation but simply creation.  For co-creation to exists there has to be some level of customization of pre-existing ideas, tools, etc., otherwise you just have creation.

So, Co-Creation seems to imply a shared production platform with pre-existing ideas, tools, etc. But then isn’t that the same as customization ? so what then is the difference ?

A much more comprehensive view is presented by Real Networks – Co-Creation as a spectrum, based on:

  1. Who controls the process
  2. Who is involved
  3. Who benefits
  4. What is the legacy

Continue reading ‘Creation of Co-Creation’

Jeffe Bezos rightly points out :

Before long, “user-generated content” won’t refer only to media, but to just about anything: user-generated jeans, user-generated sports cars, user-generated breakfast meals. This is because setting up a company that designs, makes and globally sells physical products could become almost as easy as starting a blog – and the repercussions would be earthshaking.

– in conversation with Kevin Maney USA today

This is already happening. Genometri is working on some of the technologies that will take this much further. The prosumer economy is taking shape as the result of convergence of 3 major phenomena.

1. Online Content Creation

2. Mass Customization

3. Social Networking

This is bound to change the nature of products. How they are conceived, created and consumed. This is already happening.

Cuusoo Design based in Japan is one of the first companies to crowd source designs and tie up with manufacturers to make consumer created products. Ponoko is another excellent example of a new network of designers, fabricators and consumers opening up very interesting possibilities. Philips recently Launched Shapeways aiming to crowd source product possibilities to be fabricated using rapid prototyping technologies.

There are other well known companies that are based on 2d Printing technologies Zazzle, CafePress, Threadless and SpreadShirt and a lot more are in the making.These companies are the beneficiaries of Direct Digital Printing (DDP) – which now account for over hundred products. Etsy is an excellent example of the rapid growth in user created (handcrafted) products – fueled by the growing disinterest in mass manufactured commodities at the tail end of the industrial revolution.

A more interesting phenomenon is Open Sourced Products. OpenMoko is an excellent example of this. Open sourcing products – is inevitable as consumers become the primary contributors in the creation of the product.

Prof.Von Hippel from the Sloan School MIT had identified long time ago the source of many true innovations – the users. So users have been shaping products from the very beginning. The web brings in a new new dynamic to this, empowering users to directly shape what they want.

So far, we have seen user generated digital content in the form of blogs, videos and artwork. Quite a few companies that built successful businesses by printing such content onto real world products. We are now beginning to see more complex user generated 3D products being made possible by 3D printing technology.


Fabidoo – launched July 2007


JuJups – launched Dec 2007


shapeways – launched Aug 2008

So then, ” user generated everything ” seem to have got started.