Has everyone been taking French lessons without me? That’s the feeling I get when I see the increasing chatter about “a la carte” for everything. Of course, these demands don’t come from consumers. Rather, consumer advocates, who hate bundling — the art of packaging several goods or services. Why? Because they claim bundles give us less choice.
Surely some bundling does result in lost choice, but the choices left to us are usually more affordable, better quality, or both. McDonalds is a perfect example. By standardizing, you’re faced with a big menu with numbers. “I’ll have a number six, please.” Turns out that number six meal is a whole heck of a lot cheaper, since the menu encourages similar orders and marginal costs decline.
The numbers have also stopped the guy ahead of me from stammering through the menu trying to what size drink he wants. Pick a number buddy, this is fast food.
If I only wished to abandon choice for simplicity I’d move to North Korea. Thankfully, I can see the wider implications of bundling. Like the improved products from Google, the latest target of the anti-bundler brigade.
Personally, I love Google. I get a GMail with a concert date in it from a buddy, and with one click it’s in my Google Calendar. Next email. Photos from my sister of my nephew with something novel on his head, you know, the usual. Click, click, click. It’s on my Picassa web album for the world to see. Simplicity itself (and without those pesky secret police).
The anti-trust crowd sees this simplicity as the latest incarnation of the bundling of Windows and Internet Explorer. Just as Microsoft was derided for integrating the desktop and the web, Google and others are now being chastised for making the online experience more palatable.
In both cases, however, unbundling is simply a matter of choice. 15% of Windows users now use Firefox as their browser, and GMail certainly isn’t a webmail monopoly.
Meanwhile, privacy advocates also look past the benefits of the bundle to see only the ominous future of Big Search. While Google’s data collection may be a honey pot, a collection so sweet that it attracts hackers and frauds, Google has taken steps to anonymize and ambiguate data older than 18 to 24 months.
More importantly, however, consumers can hit the eject button at any time. Export those GMail contacts. Download your Picassa photos. Uninstall the toolbar!
There are very few one-way-streets left in tech. Consumers are savvy enough to avoid being locked-in to proprietary systems. (DRM is being dropped in the music market after all). Companies have recognized this and realize that for consumers to adopt new services there has to be an easy way back out.