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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?

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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.

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.