Eclispe and the long-tail
With Chris Anderson's book The Long-Tailfinally out, it's the season to talk about the subject at length. Ifyou aren't familiar with it, a one-liner might be: consider all theniche products or niche uses of your product(s) that you have ignoredbecause they were not a very feasible source business, until thelowered cost of Internet distribution and cataloging has changedthings. The phrase 'long-tail' refers to the hyperbolic demand curve ofproducts, with the top hits near the head of the curve making largenumbers of sales, and "rest" of those that are not hits, in the tail.In fact, this tail can be quite long (and hold a lot of businessopportunity). It counters the long-held aphorism the "80/20" rule,where 80% of your business comes from 20% of your products usingtraditional physical distribution and inventory.
To me, the Eclipse project is an example of a technologythat demonstrates how it can work. The first related idea from Eclipseis that it is an industry de facto standard for application userinterfaces (although primarily focused as a development environment).This means that there is wide access to the technology, and commonapplication to many operating systems and application needs. Then thereis the well defined open interfaces and APIs, and detailedcustomization options that allow anyone to create and add plugins tothe base system, allowing users to customize the system in greatdetail, each for their own niche areas; while still maintaining adegree of usage compatibility industry-wide. Finally, it's developmentenvironment, enabling users to bring new ideas into realization.
It only allows niche development of the base environment to eachperson's needs, but it also serves as an enabler to create other newtools. So it is a "long-tail" enabled system and you can use it tocreate yet more.