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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?

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.

 

 


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