The Long Tail and Web 2.0
I’m a big fan of Chris Anderson and his exposition of the Long Tail. He argues very cogently that, with mass adoption of new technologies like the Internet, “our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail”.
I was especially intrigued when he recently blogged about how the Long Tail relates with my other pet buzzword-du-jour, “Web 2.0”. However, I’m a little surprised that Anderson hasn’t focused on a central tenet of Web 2.0 that I think is also a strong driver of Long Tails.
To recap, Anderson describes 3 ascendant forces that are creating an era of Long Tails:
1) Democratizing the tools of production (e.g. the PC)
2) Lowering the transaction costs of consumption (e.g. the Internet)
3) Connecting consumers to drive demand to niches (e.g. Google)
I’d like to suggest that there’s a 4th ascendant force:
4) Increasing opportunities to reuse content/product/service in new and more convenient contexts
Let’s take the classic long tail example of music. Imagine the era when the gramaphone was popular, or even further back when people made an effort to assemble in parlour rooms just to listen to music. Because they had to expend a comparatively large effort to listen to music, I would be very surprised if users didn’t choose their very favourite pieces to listen to, and that there weren’t many different favourites from one house to another i.e. a large head and a short tail.
When technology allowed us to listen to music in many more contexts, from radios and cassettes in cars, walkmans and boomboxes – more and different contexts for consuming music allowed our choice in music to diverge and expand i.e. a longer tail.
Of course, with the advent of mp3 players, when we could listen to a random list of *songs* rather than a whole *album*, our music repertoire expanded once again. Very often, users like just one or two songs in an album, and now they can choose to just keep those.
Thus, widening the contexts in which music can be experience has a direct correlation with lengthening the tail of music choice.
I think this is an important driver and is really closely related to Christensen’s thesis of disruptive innovation. He argues that “new-market disruptions” compete against non-consumption (and hence not established products) and thus seek out to serve demand in new and more convenient contexts that are presently under-served. This makes Web 2.0 a potentially very disruptive force.
Another closely related concept that is on O’Reilly’s Web 2.0 Meme Map is “Granular Addressability of content”. This is a meme that is very related to my ClipClip project and thus close to my heart. More on this later, but for a preview think ring tones for music, or for a more esoteric example, think Lego