Remember back when everyone saw Batman?
I mean everyone. Science Fiction Fans watched it; thrill seekers and horror fans watched it (it had a very dark “joker”); kids who played with action figures watched it – though they probably should not have. Mom watched it (romance and drama), Dad watched it, teenagers watched it – Batman had mass commercial appeal.
Batman came out in 1989 – just before the onrush of the Internet and the influx of cable TV stations – back when, for the most part, MTV played music videos.
Back then, people simply had less options. Today, thanks to the Internet, cable TV, and satellite, each and every niche can find exactly what they want, and not have to settle for “good enough.”
That means market segmentation – instead of going for everyone, the disney channel can aim for children aged 4-15, and be very profitable; and NickJr can under-cut them for the 2-6 market.
At the same time, as people demand better and better special effects, blockbusters will cost more and more to produce – but return less and less in results. Sci-Fi fans will watch the sci-fi channel; drama fans have the soap opera channel; thriller fans will watch the thriller channel – and the list goes on.
This means there are less opportunities for a $100 million opening weekend (as GodZilla proved in 1999 and Casino Royale is proving right now), but there are more opportunities for the tiny niche provider.
Then again, less money is just fine for a 20-person cable channel.
While I don’t know the cost of a cable channel, I do know the cost of a blog, and I know that there are plenty of people who are self-employed thanks to blogging, and a few who are self-employed pod casters. (But most of those have mass appeal, such as credit card sites or reviews of digital cameras. Bummer for me, eh?)
What this means for the world of software testing is that the day of the 900-pound gorilla “we provide everything” software testing company is probably going to go away. The big body shops will continue to want to place 20-people on-site for an 18-month contract when we just have one interesting problem to solve, and the big tool providers will continue to make big testing suites when we only want to do one thing and do it well.
For the small company, this is the smell of opportunity.
I haven’t seen many product companies adopt this model — yet. Last year at STAREast I met David Gilbert, a software tester who owns a tiny little company called Sirius-SQA and makes a product that enables exploratory testing called TestExplorer.
He is trying to do one thing and do it well, and I wish him the best.
I have seen some individual consultants adopt this approach – Scott and Mark, the performance testing guys, Johanna Rothman does software management, Ron Jeffries does agile coaching.
Each of these niches is so small that the 900-pound gorilla companies can’t compete – it just is not worth the time and investment to develop expertise in a market for three people when you are trying to place three thousand.
Even people in the Ruby/Rails community are talking about this strategy; last night I heard Chad Fowler recommend it at XPWestMichigan. Chad wrote “My Job Went to India” and, more recently “Rails Recipes.” He’s also a pretty smart guy; as soon as the video is up on the web, I’ll link to it here.
More on this tomorrow …