The Long Tail

                      …statistics…numbers…graphs…Oh My!!

I loathe statistics as much as the next guy, but don’t worry, this blog isn’t about quantitative research, number crunching, and data analysis.  What is this entry about?  The loss of “hits,” the backlash against all things mainstream, and how culture, business, and entertainment are capitalizing on selling less. 

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I recently finished reading, The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson.  In 2004, he wrote an article discussing how the “new economics of culture and commerce” rests in the tail-end of the curve, and “why the future of business is selling less of more.”  At the core: the Long Tail is the collection of niche, non-hit or anti-mainstream products that fall beyond the head of the curve.    


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The New Marketplace.  

Notice the shape of the curve.  The popular/most frequently used items are found at the head of the curve (green & yellow).  The long tail represents the red area.  Variety adds length to the tail and increased access builds-up the tail.  

Once upon the time, we lived in a world of hits.  During the Golden Age of Hollywood (1920s-1950s) movie-makers made money under the studio system and pumped out cinema classics like 42nd Street, King Kong, Wizard of Oz, Citizen Kane, It’s a Wonderful Life and Casablanca.  The aura formerly surrounding movie-stars – the icons who “once carried our culture across space, time and generations” no longer exists.  As a culture, we shy away from mainstream epics like, Titanic, and fall in love with indie-flics and foreign films.  We focus less on the small number of hits at the head of the curve and are moving towards the huge number of niches in the tail.  There are several elements I could pull from Anderson’s book, but I’ll keep it short and simple…here are four points I think captures the essence of the Long Tail.

1.  The long tail levels the playing field:  WEB 2.0 technologies continue to democratize communication and participation among people and companies.  Those with Internet access can write and share with each other on a global scale.  What’s interesting, is power of the Long Tail allows small businesses and niche products to compete successfully.  Film, music, unique items, web development software…etc. has never been easier or cheaper to create and share.  Everyone is an expert and everything is available. 

2.  The long tail provides consumers infinite choices:  Anderson says “choice” separates present and future generations from those of the past and offers consumers unlimited and unfiltered access to everything, from the mainstream to the fringe.  Bottom line – generations of today are presented with the amazing privilege to choose among pretty much anything they want.  We are no longer bound by geography or the mainstream.  Choice, fueled by the Internet, brings us added options and access to more products than ever before.  

3.  The long tail brings us a new economy:  Access and choice allows consumers to shift from being bargain shoppers to becoming unique taste-makers.  In “actual” stores, storage and shelf space is limited, so it’s only wise for managers to focus on selling popular products.  People who crave hard to find items turn to the Internet.  Sites like Netflix, Amazon and iTunes, survive by offering the public a wider range of products.  To make matters better, peer recommendations, search intelligence, and sampling tools make it much easier to find products.  This is all really good news for us because a democratized playing field, more choices, and a new economy makes it easier and cheaper to start a new and possiblly very profitable type of company.

Taking into consideration what Anderson so persuasively conveys about the profound cultural shift towards the tail, it’s easy to recognize how news consumption, entertainment, music, and small businesses…etc. are all trying to appeal to consumers shopping within the tail.  We really do live in a “Niche Culture ” – the era of massive access and choice, but what does the loss of hits hold for the future?  I’m not sure, but I do have a few questions. If we are all participate in unique niche communities, how do we form collective culture and what does “common culture” look like?  Will providing unique items help rescue failing businesses?  Will we revert back to bargain/generic products or will we see an expansion of niche products?

As you all know my research this term is about how people Cope with HIV/AIDS in the Digital Age. I have networked with several organizations and very helpful people, as well as found some articles on Internet-based prevention programs…etc.

Interestingly, much of the correspondence is peer-to-professional and not peer-to-peer. When I first began this process, I really wanted to gain insight into how social networks and developing sites like Twitter were opening up new venues for people to talk to each other. It just so happens, according to Eric Krock, who receives several thousand emails through his great video prevention program, AIDSvideos.org, people mostly want professional or medical advice.  Similarly, AIDS.gov, who launched a series focusing on social networking sites, also show themes of peer-to-professional communication.  Carleen Hawn, also provides evidence that although social networking sites are giving doctors the opportunity to engage more fully with their patients, conversation remains peer-to-professional.

Don’t worry, I’m not giving up…I will continue to search around for, and ask people about peer-to-peer dialogue concerning HIV/AIDS.

 I still wonder if the “youth” Twitter makes researching and monitoring conversation difficult.  

Furthermore, will these micro-blogging sites, and other SNS change communication patterns with those living with HIV/AIDS?  

Until next time…happy researching!!!

I have recently begun researching what online activity/conversation looks like on the Internet regarding HIV/AIDS.  I came across this great blog and podcast and would like highlight and share them with you.

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The blog is really informative, BUT the podcasts is absolutely amazing – take a listen to one about Twitter:

New Media Convos on AIDS.gov – Twitter

Each podcast discusses how patients, healthcare professionals, government officials, and ordinary people like you and me are using emerging technologies to respond to the changing needs of those living with HIV/AIDS.  It is actually really fascinating.  Each podcast lasts about 3-5 minutes and offers some great insight.  If you are at all interested in the HIV/AIDS issue I would highly recommend taking a look and listen.

The bad news is school has finally caught up with me and I have entered crunch time.  Projects are piling up and my readings are interfering with TV and my fun books.  The good news – I’m really excited to begin researching my paper topic for this class (JHU – Intro to the Digital Age).  

This is the beginning of a conversation about how people living with HIV/AIDS are using the Internet for social and medical support.  I’m planning to explore how coping with HIV/AIDS looks in the Digital Age.  I say the beginning or start of a conversation because throughout the research process I will ask you some questions, post new findings, link to interesting websites/blogs/tweet convos, and perhaps invite you to join advocacy groups.  I hope you will participate!

First and extremely broad questionWhere are people talking about (living with, coping with, and treating) HIV/AIDS (blogs, medical websites, Facebook groups, Twitter..etc)?

Just in case you were wondering here is a little tid-bit about my topic:

Although discovered nearly 20 years ago, HIV/AIDS remains among the most serious disease pandemics of our time.  No health crisis compares to HIV/AIDS in its need for emotional and informational support.  Individuals living with HIV/AIDS have utilized traditional means of support (i.e. family, friends and community-based or faith-based organizations) when coping with the illness.  However, as we enter the digital age, the Internet has become a valuable means of support. We are experiencing a shift in the way people are connected – we now live in networked societies.  Since the Internet explosion of the 1990s, much of social support networking takes place online.  Internet technology advances continue to revolutionize medical/health education and support.  The Internet is becoming a major source of information and support for people with chronic medical illnesses, including HIV/AIDS.

Scholars, health groups, and policy makers are working to better understand how the Internet contributes to or detracts from social support.  Research continually reveals people living with HIV/AIDS use the Internet for research, finding information, making social connections, advocacy, and emotional escape. Studies show Internet activities (i.e. sociability, entertainment and information seeking) correlate with the elements of social support.  Most studies argue people living with HIV/AIDS may experience health benefits from using the Internet.  Men and women living with HIV/AIDS frequently use the Internet to access health-related information and for social functions.  Early findings suggest a relationship between using the Internet for health-related information and health benefits among people living with HIV/AIDS.

The increasing need to deliver time efficient and effective patient care and social support provides strong evidence for the development of eHealth applications and online networks.  Internet support groups have emerged because of individuals’ need to know more about health conditions they are confronting.  The rapid increase of these online communities provides an opportunity for health educators to reach target populations with specific messages.  Overall, little is known about how and what types of various online resources are being used.  The proposed purpose of my study will investigate how individuals living HIV/AIDS use the Internet when coping with their illness.

 

 

Alrighty so, YES it is my birthday today…and YES I do appreciate everyone’s Bday wishes…and YES I do admit I am a bit cinical about pretty much everything, especially the politics of FACEBOOK, but come on!

I don’t want people to misinterpret what I am about to say.  If its one person who likes to see that little red box in the lower right hand side of my facebook page fill up with numbers…its me, HOWEVER….I really dont want people to feel obligated to wish me a happy birthday.  I think its simply ironic that the people who FB me – I either havent seen in years, or were mere acquaintances.  Its as if we have this unwritten rule – #1 check the handy-dandy FB calendar #2 post something like Happy B-day, I love you!! Hope you have a great celebration…etc #3 feel good that we are keeping in contact with all our 600+ friends.  Hey even facebook sends me a little Bday wish. picture-31

Dont get me wrong, like I said…its great to sign on this morning and have like lots of things to read on my wall, BUT it still astounds me to realize how the digital age, Facebook and other social networking sites have truly redefined our sense of connection, our relationships, our friendships, and our ability to keep in contact with everyone.  The politics of Facebook stretches well beyond the scope of this post, but I wanted to hear some insight from you guys.  What does it mean to have 600+ friends, probably about 40 of which you are truly friends with? What are the long-term implications of never being able to lose contact (potentially)?  How will our (millenials’) future relationships look like compared to our parents who don’t use online social networking sites?  Has peer pressure reached an all time high – we feel obligated to send a Bday wish to someone we saw about 19 years ago or to accept every friend request we receive?  I admit, its not that big of a deal…it is what it is…its navigating life in the digital age…but it sure is “interesting.”

 

twitter

So I was asked assigned to start a Twitter account.  Of course, I’ve heard of the platform from friends and on the news, but I really had no interest.  My life already seemed unmanageable with online news feeds to organize, email,  facebook…etc.  I thought to myself, can I really handle another account?  Then again, it didn’t matter, I was forced to “adopt.”

Dare I say, (and I apologize to all the Twitters, Tweeters out there) Im failing to understand it.  Recently, I found the courage to admit my lack of enthusiasm to very few…in response I usually get a slight eye-brow raise, a pause, and then…”but it’s like 140 word blog, it’s in real time, it’s great to keep in contact with people, it’s more than Facebook status updates, it’s…it’s great Domin…just give it a chance! And with the search feature…it’s just great!!”  Ok, I dont disagree with all of this, I really don’t, but still…

There is all this controversy over Google and Twitter (I would provide some links, but honestly, it would take up my whole page).  Basically, most people are saying that  if Google fails to buy Twitter, they don’t get it, and if they sell it, they could be part of the future direction of the web. I admire Twitter for giving Google a run for it – Google falls behind in its posting of current news items and apparently Twitter does rely on major traditional news sources who provide more than just simple 140 character eye witness posts and quickly posted photographs.  Hey, I even agree Google should be concerned with Twitter’s influence on the future the internet and not think of it as a “poor man’s email.” But still…

Bottom line – even if I don’t quite get the hoopla about Twitter, shame on me, and it is about time I try and understand it, BECAUSE the term ‘twittering’ is probably going to become the next “googling.” 

And hey I’m totally open to hearing what you have to say (really, I am!!  I am very curious).  Tell me why Twitter is so important to you and what you use it for!!!


storytelling

People share stories to preserve culture, to create order, to explain the universe, to teach societal values, and to entertain.  The Narrative Paradigm Theory, proposed by Walter R. Fisher claims all communication is a form of storytelling and all people experience and interpret life as a series of stories.  Each narration, with its own conflict, plot, intentions, characters, beginnings, middles, and ends, help us comprehend reality. 

I admit, I’m a communication theory geek.  My ears perk up when I read about language, society, identity construction, semiotics, and cultural narration. Don’t get me wrong, I have enjoyed learning about digital technologies and social media advances, but I have been waiting for the day where it all comes together and I have an AHA moment. 

booksThis past week I read The Search.  In a single breath, the book is about Google and the history and future of search technology (but it’s so much more).  Right away, author John Battelle audaciously claims Google can tell us what our culture wants and answers any question we ask.  Google solves the riddles of business, politics, pop-culture and just about anything.  I asked myself…really?  Have we entered the Google Age? I thought, Google is great for email, organizing my RSS feeds, and Google scholar allows me to bypass some complicated scholarly sites, but can a search engine really know what our culture wants?  Until reading Battelle’s book, I hadn’t given much thought to Google as a cultural indicator or a “database of intentions.”  I continued to read past the intro and then it happened…my AHA moment of sorts.  Battelle talked about culture, storytelling, even semiotics…I was hooked.  I was ready to learn the story of Google and how we as a society have entered…the age of SEARCH. 

Google has the story everyone wants to read – a small unorthodox company, led by two egomaniacal guys, fight over power and money (with sites like Ask and Yahoo!) and basically find a way to gather the world’s information, organize it and make it universally accessible.  The story begins when Stanford students, Larry Page and Sergey Brin began dabbling with search technology in the 1990s.  In the end, the nonconformist company, with a “Do No Evil” philosophy has become the premier search engine.  Google has redefined business relationships, marketing, and philanthropy. 

I believe two major players can help make sense of Google’s story – search and intent.  Google offers the public, pure and organic search results.  We type in a key word and search allows us to navigate through an infinite amount of resources and find some answers.  Search can give us anything we want in the context of specific intent.  And there is the magic word – intent, without it search results would be disconnected, impersonal, and perhaps irrelevant.  Intent is the secret, the power, and the magic of Google search.  We search with specific intent, it’s a means to an end.  By typing a few words into the search engine we declare our desires and our questions.   Basically, the web has become a place to hold and analyze the world’s intentions.   

Search has become a mechanism to understand our world, our culture, and ourselves.  Searching with intent is how we journey through knowledge.  Now, we can see not only what people are looking for, but why.   You can imagine the endless implications for marketing, business, and technology.   The DEMO 09 conference discussed the future of intelligent web services.  Although most of technologies like Primal Fusion and Gazaro are far from being ready for distribution, they display the emerging, more understanding future of web technology.

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So here is my interpretation of the Google story: Google’s complex algorithms give the web its language, search queries and clickstreams come together and give the web its culture.  Just like Ancient Mesopotamian tablets crystallized the story of Gilgamesh, and Gutenberg’s printing press immortalized our stories, Google and search allows us to hold language in our hands, read it and make sense of it.  

A narrative thread refers to certain elements of a story that guide the reader to the center of action or conflict.  The author will strategically thread each narrative together to create a powerful and meaningful story.  Battelle’s The Search not only offers us an exhaustive history lesson about Google, it also tells us the story of Google – the story of the our “search” culture.  With each search and with each clickstream we are creating mini-narratives when threaded together tell about our culture’s intentions. What does your narrative thread look like?  How do your queries mirror global search trends? What do your clickstreams and Google searches say about your intentions?  Does Google deliver useful answers?  I would suspect, most of the time Google does, and if it doesn’t, don’t worry the guys at Google are working tirelessly to figure out your intentions.  

And the story continues: see what Google should do in the future 

Google Stockpiling Cash: Storing Nuts for Economic Winter or Just Plain Nuts?

6 companies Google should buy right now

and follow The Official Google Blog



 


     

Zeitgeist:  the spirit of the time; general trend of thought or feeling characteristic of a particular period of time.

 

510739969_f86276811f1While I was waiting for this weeks screencast to post, I checked out Monte’s link to Google Zeitgeist. I have always said I really like Google and am constantly amazed at its “intelligence,” but I think “like” just transitioned into utter amazement.  Basically, Google aggregates the of millions of searches received every day and provides the public with several tools to gain insight into global, regional, past and present trends. Its incredible how quickly you can examine these trends on just about everything. Google offers a glimpse (probably more than a glimpse) into our society and cultures abroad.

academyawardstatue2I wish I could have thought of something more profound to experiment with, but the OSCARS were on this past weekend (I’m film obsessed) so of course I searched winners, directors, filmmakers…etc. and was quite shocked at my findings.  For example, searching “Academy Awards” reveal predictable patterns (i.e. searchers increase right before the show airs), but there was hardly any searching in Europe.  Many filmmakers/academy members come from Europe and producers heavily campaign over there (especially during award season).  Also, Hollywood “celebrities” are searched far more globally when compared with the US.  However, US populations search entertainment websites much more than in other countries.  

I’m also thinking about doing a paper on the shifting public rhetoric surrounding LGBT civil rights.  The Google Trends Lab will be a great resource.  A quick search revealed public interest in “gay marriage rights” has dropped from 90 to 15 since 2004.  However, searching the film MILK (staring Sean Penn, also the winner for Best Actor), which focuses on Gay rights and the life of Harvey Milk, dramatically skews the findings about LGBT issues in the other direction.  

Anyways, I’ll stop my rambling about movies and let you give it a try.  I’m excited to see what John Battelle has to say about in his book The Search and what our class discussions will cover.

We have all experienced it…the dream. You are riding the metro into work, sitting at your desk, going to an important meeting, shopping at the local Target, speaking at a conference, and then suddenly you realize…your NAKED! At some point, almost everyone has awakened after dreaming of being naked. The events surrounding the unforeseen nudity are as varied as the interpretations and feelings associated with all too common dream. Sometimes nakedness indicates freedom, vulnerability, fear of exposure, guilt, or rejection. Psychologists argue nakedness symbolize the experience of living life with complete vulnerability. For many, especially for Americans, no one feels more exposed than when they are naked.

So what does my rambling about naked dreams have to do with social media, the digital age, and blogging…oddly enough, quite a bit. Recently, I launched my fist blog, Bippity Boppity Blog. Since then, I have felt extremely out of place, awkward, vulnerable, and naked in the vastness of the blogosphere. It’s easy to get lost and feel completely clueless. Fortunately, for me, it seems this is exactly what blogging is all about. Engaging my readers with what I am feeling, what I am thinking, and listening to their comments.  Blogging does not require I filter my posts through formal writing and traditional format. The blogosphere is incredibly liberating and requires I fully engage in an honest and open conversation. I’m given the freedom to learn and express my apprehension and confusion, while also (hopefully) offering some insight about the digital age. The more I read about and explore the blogosphere it becomes very clear, blogging has taken us from the digital age to a participation age. Blogging forces writers to become vulnerable, open, and willing to listen and participate with their readers.

The book, Naked Conversations use the concept of “nakedness” to describe how blogging transforms communication between businesses and their customers. Simple press releases, company memos, and monthly newsletters do not cut it.  Authors, Robert Scoble and Shel Israel urge businesses to become open, passionate, vulnerable, human, and naked! Company blogs (if used appropriately) can be an impressive tool, engaging the whole world into conversation. For businesses, blogging adds a human element and gives readers/consumers a glimpse into the everyday life of the company. A well-crafted, passionate and authoritative blog improves consumer relationships and increases customer trust and company credibility.

Blogging compels companies to become transparent and naked. This means allowing customers to see the good, the bad, and the ugly.  There is no need to appear perfect, guarded, and formal. It just so happens, engaging in naked conversations can have a huge pay-off. Scoble and Israel cite numerous case-studies displaying the positive feedback attained from starting a company blog.  A simple, focused, engaging, accessible blog can greatly improve company reputation, empower employees, and build public trust.  Blogger, Chris Brogan offers advice for business using social media tools to reach their customers. He urges businesses to think from the perspective of another, keep the conversation focused on the customer, and reminds businesses that the most important people in our lives are the ones who will ask the questions.  Writer, Jeremiah Owyang believes companies must use social media and learn to better apply these technologies when communicating with their customers/clients.  To compete in today’s digital market, blogging is essential.

Ironically, in most dreams no one other than yourself realizes your naked. Psychologists believe the dreamer is magnifying the situation and making an issue out of nothing. Many companies believe vulnerable or naked conversations pose great risks.  However,  Scoble and Israel provide a compelling argument, that naked conversations is what customers are craving.  The public is tired of guarded, inhuman, coporate talk.   So, dream psychologists, Scoble and Isreal, and myself are in agreement…if you are afraid of engaging in naked conversations, take the risk, you may not have anything to worry about.  In fact, stripping down to the basics of nakedness (remember: open conversation, not actual nakedness) may be exactly what your customers are looking for.  

The growth of advertising investment within the press influenced the commercialization of the news. Many argue, and I agree, corporate ownership and the increase of commercialization within news reporting limits news stories to what sells.  Market-driven newspapers refine journalism practices and cover stories that increase business investment. Significant interest gaps between mainstream newspapers and readers result.  Mainstream commercial newspapers do not provide readers with immediately relevant news.  The Project for Excellence in Journalism reveal in the State of the New Media Report 2008, that people believe mainstream commercial newspapers’ fail to report the “bread and butter” issues of community.  In the book, Blog!: How the Newest Media Revolution is Changing Politics, Business, and Culture, authors argue mainstream newspapers present homogenized news stories leaving readers “thirsty for real, unfiltered information.”

People turn to independent online news sources, such as news blogs, for information they believe Big Media fails to present.  In 2006, 37 percent of all Americans went online to read and engage with user-generated content.  The Project for Excellence in Journalism indicates a significant increase in the number of people creating web pages to report on issues affecting their cities, communities, and neighborhoods.  Blog writers have the freedom to report on issues they believe the mainstream press neglects.  Online news blogs provide an alternative to mainstream newspapers and give writers the ability to remain relatively independent of commercial pressures.  

The business model of national and city newspapers are failing.  Newspapers’ three revenue sources: sales, subscriptions and advertising, are weakening.  This week’s Screencast ignited some class conversations related to the influence of the dollar on news quality.  Dan Gillmore discusses “business models for tomorrows personal journalism” (chapter 7).  Gillmore believes blogging not only provides readers with an alternative news source, but a refreshing change to the vertical, highly regulated business structure of Big Media.  Blogging presents a horizontal structure.  Blog writers are motivated by the creation of a participatory conversation with their readers, not the dollar.  Gillmore argues, freelance writing strengthens one’s credentials, and validates their authority on a niche topic.

Blogger, Scott Karp asks what will happen to the ad dollars that once flowed into city newspapers.  Karp points out that newspapers are not only competing with websites for money, but also for survival.  He asks great questions that Big Media needs to answer if they want to compete in the digital age.  TIME magazine also covered the financial crisis facing newspapers.  Although more people read newsmagazines and newspapers, fewer and fewer people are paying for news information.  Traditionally, newspapers have relied mostly on advertising for revenue, but as ad dollars leave newspapers, not only are business investors in jeopardy, but so is the news itself.  The traditional business model supporting newspapers must adapt to stay afloat. 

Despite the original intent of blog style journalism to remain non-commercial, I wonder about the sustainability of a commercially neutral blogosphere.  Will news blog content change as advertising dollars spill into the blogosphere and as marketers recognize the growing appeal of popular blog sites?  How will Big Media begin to compete for ad dollars in the digital age?  How are advertisers interpreting and reacting to alternative online news sites?

A shift towards commercial ownership may jeopardize writers’ ability to remain relatively independent of commercial pressure and may affect the news stories found on blog sites. Although, the future for print newspapers and newsmagazines seem dismal, the changing business model may offer writers (professional or freelance) liberation.  Journalists will have the opportunity to serve the public reader not the ad dollar.  If bloggers really are writing to bolster their credentials and increase reader credibility (like Gillmore says), maybe bloggers really can escape the effects of commercialism and keep a genuine conversation going.  

Also check out what Jeff Jarvis thinks about news, post-print at  http://www.buzzmachine.com/2009/02/04/newsosaurs-roar/