Chris Anderson has put up a couple of excellent posts recently (big surprise there). The first had to do with some poor guy’s misinterpretation of the long tail phenomenon, the second to do with tribal culture. What made the posts so compelling was not Chris’ clarification of what the long tail means, but rather his insight as to how consumers locate the signal amid all of the noise and how signal identification is a complex and often unintuitive process.
We have traditionally been defined by our commonality. And while commonality is still important (we are social creatures after all), we are beginning to find commonality with very specific groups on an ad hoc basis. Online, I can be friends with someone due to a single commonality and interact with them only in relation to that interest. I can compartmentalize my relationships very effectively.
Anyway, this has specific implications for the efficient location of long tail video. Niche content is hard to find without the help of those that have already blazed the path to it. But finding the ideal trailblazers can also be challenging. Because it’s not just in locating the individual with a common interest, it’s in identifying whether you trust that individual’s interpretation of relevance for that specific topic. He may be a master in his field, but his tastes and interests may still diverge dramatically from your own. You can have a common interest while also having a difference of opinion.
Chris sums it up nicely:
“Here's my take on what the Long
Tail is doing to pop culture. Rather than the scary fragmentation of our
society into a nation of disconnected people doing their own thing, I think
we're reforming into thousands of cultural tribes, connected less by geographic
proximity and workplace chatter than by shared interests. Whether we think of
it this way or not, each of us belongs to many different tribes simultaneously,
often overlapping (geek culture and Lego), often not (tennis and punk-funk).
What's interesting is that the same Long Tail forces and technologies that are leading to an explosion of variety and abundant choice in the content we consume are also helping to connect us to other consumers, whether through Amazon and Netflix reviews, blogs, p2p networks or playlist sharing. I've described this in the past, somewhat obscurely, as the rise of orthogonal trust networks, which are the new recommendation and word-of-mouth effects that will drive demand down the tail from hits to niches.”
“A tail without a head is too noisy and apparently random to get consumer traction; people need to start with the familiar and then move, via trusted recommendations, to the unfamiliar. Likewise a head without a tail is too limited in choice; the odds of finding a niche you want are too low to bother exploring much beyond what you already know.”
It is critical to start any relationship with some commonality. As it relates to locating content in the long tail, I need to have watched some of the same content and found some commonality in our views of that content. I don’t need to become the guy’s best friend. These relationships can be highly segmented and ad hoc, but without a sense of the individual’s “track record” with common experiences, it is impossible to form a trust relationship for the journey down the tail.
This is the problem I see with many long tail distribution services out there (especially in video). While each has the goal of providing a simple mechanisms for publishing media, few seem to have given much thought to how published content will be located by consumers. They seem to believe that long tail video has such inherently high value that people will spend the time to find those golden nuggets; they won’t (or at least most won’t). The whole point of long tail video is that a vast majority of it will be completely irrelevant, but some of it will also be highly relevant. But the simplicity of finding that stuff defines the ultimate utility of the network, not the simple aggregation of the assets.
In most services there is no commonality, there is no community. RSS is nice, but it doesn’t make any decisions about what’s delivered, it just tells you that it’s there. Tagging is certainly a methodology that can yield interesting results, but only once the network achieves a certain scale. Getting to that scale requires people to find the service valuable. Search is also a good tool, but it still requires scale in the network to deliver real value. Try finding really great video in many of these sites and it will take some time. It’s there (in many cases); it’s just not very easy to access.
The problem is that these networks not only lack the trailblazers, they lack any structure in the terrain. They start with no landmarks of any kind. Until these services begin to give people some reference points around which communities and conversations can form, they will have trouble reaching the critical mass that is a prerequisite to a vibrant long tail marketplace. Otherwise, it just a waste of our time and attention.