Open-sourced bar codes for crafts-people?

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Here in Helsinki I met up with Ulla-Maaria Mutanen, Researcher, at the University of Helsinki. She has some fascinating ideas about the “Long Tail“.

In part because of creating Hobbyprincess.com, which was about how you get girls developing technology and blogging about crafts, she got interested in the idea that the stuff which people make – perhaps a coat or a sculpture – will drop off the ‘long tail’ because it can’t be categorised digitally, unlike mass produced items which all have bar codes and unique product codes and identifiers.

She met Jimbo Wales from Wikipedia at a conference and has gone onto to produce a sort of product-code-generating wiki called Thinglinks.com.

“Thinklink.org is designed to test the theory about what happens when product codes are attached to things which are hand made,” she explained to me.

Currently there is no site that aggregates things which are non-mass manufactured.

So for instance Etsy.com has an item code for things which are sold on the site which are hand made, but once it’s sold, the item will drop off the digital map. It won’t be part of the Long Tail, where niche products can find markets.

Why is this important? Well, consider the small producer who normally has to deal with middle-men, retailers and wholsalers to find a market. Or even craftspeople in the developing world, who don’t have access to the ‘barcode’ market.

This is almost an open sourced, Creative Commons approach to bar codes, which could benefit small-scale producers.

Ulla is now developing the ThingLink database. It will be fascinating to see what happens.

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