The Long Tail means Fewer Heads

(It’s Diwali, the least I am allowed is a Ramayana pun)

long-tail.jpgAnyway, so as you might have guessed, I just finished The Long Tail by Chris Anderson (downloaded the audiobook illegally on eMule and heard it on my iPod, but since I wanted to write this blog post, and as a consequence, refer back to the book – I had to go and buy a paperback. Damn Blogging !). I am now raring to sing my tune on the topic, and considering we are talking the Long Tail here, it is totally warranted. Here is some top of the mind stuff in Guy Kawasaki’s Top-Ten (or whatever number I can reach) format. I think it’s a great format both from a readability and writability perspective.

1. At the end of the audiobook, there is an interview with Anderson himself, and the interviewer asks him the a question about YouTube, which at that point was evidently only 6 months old. The interviewer notes that YouTube, even though it’s a ‘tiny start-up that makes no money’ (smirk), has been getting more eyeballs than the likes of Yahoo, AOL and Google and asks Anderson why such companies can create traffic that big media companies can’t. Anderson notes that really interesting innovative ideas tend to come from the fringes, and while earlier they had to go through the traditional media which had a stronghold on the channels of distribution, but now thanks to democratization of distribution by the internet, that idea can get out there a lot more easily. He thus attributes the success of fringe ideas (and thus YouTube) to this democratization. So I think he missed the interviewer’s point, which I think was a lot less about YouTube’s success in isolation and a lot more about it’s success inspite of other video sharing services such as Google Video.

I am sure there are many thoughts around this, but I was wondering if one of those reasons could be – the 10 minute video limit. Anderson himself talks in his book about short form content in the context of Google Video and iPod, but he doesnt make the connection. Admittedly most of the content on Google Video and YouTube, before it imposed the limit, was shorter than 10 minutes anyway, however actually setting a real limit was an important difference in my opinion. Knowing that what you could upload was only 10 minutes, you would upload content which is edited and thus has more substance. Plus, all the viral content I have seen is typically shorter than 10 minutes. It also means you would not have TV Shows/ interesting documentaries and so on so forth to draw your attention. So consider if you had an hour to kill in office (and a corner table obviously), – which service would offer you the greatest exploration of content – YouTube or Google Video? Assuming the short content is equally available on both, on Google Video there is also some of the longer content which you might find interesting.

I just went to Google Video, refreshed the window 5 times and I have the following popular content longer than 20 minutes – 9/11 Press for Truth – 1 hr 24 min, Mission Possible 2 – 24 min, ModiBombay1 – 1 hr 2 min, Jeff Dunham – Arguing with myself – 1 hr 9 min, Something in Urdu/Arabic – 1 hr 36 min, weld_L7mria Film marocain – 1 hr 32 min, Tragger Hippy – Seizoen 2 – Aflevering 2 – 21 min, Something in Chinese – 25 min. So out of 40 options, 8 are longer than 20 minutes and 5 are longer than an hour. It’s highly likely that you might find one of these long pieces of content interesting, and there ends your content exploration. On YouTube however you can quickly move from clip to clip, possibly like 2 out 8 you managed to watch, making the YouTube experience better and stickier and thus getting you back to YouTube and not Google Video the next instance you are free.

2. The idea of the ‘Long Tail’, while being brilliant in itself, doesnt warrant a book (maybe like 3 magazine articles at most). Some things get repeated far too often – after the first few chapters phrases like “extending the tail further”, “hit to niches” and “pushing demand down the tail” were buzzing in my head. But later on into the book Anderson does shift his focus around and makes some interesting observations – I like the part where he breaks the myth that too much choice is overwhelming and underlines the importance of choice filters and his analysis of the 80/20 rule. Noticed how Anderson has collated criticism of similar kind on his own blog – “High concept non fiction books whose whole argument is laid out in the subtitle”. (Ha! maar lee)

3. Isn’t is a bit ironic that a book about the Long Tail, which is littered with obituaries to the ‘Hit’, turns out to be a big one itself?

4. An extremely catchy title and phrase in general – nice little anecdote in the book about how Anderson arrived at it. Definitely entered my lexicon and it seems the world at large for times to come. Reinforces my disbelief in “What’s in a name?”

5. Some interesting things I picked up from the book – Machinima – movies made by controlling characters in video games by using the game own engines, How used textbooks are a model of an efficient market, Alibris – a database of the inventory of some 12000 used book stores in America which Amazon and use, – publish your own book with an ISBN code, The Zipf law (similar to the 80/20 rule) applied to marriages – 70 % marriages in a 21 block area in Philadelphia were between people who lived less than 30% apart (Good Luck with finding the ‘One’), Lonely Island, The Black Swan problem, The book Fooled by Randomness, and Solidscape – A 3D printer !. Have to lookup some of these in greater detail.

6. A large part of his argument is based on the atom vs. bits efficiencies – the inventory costs of bits is effectively zero. Obviously someone is paying the server costs – agreed that the cost is spread over thousands of items, but will that minuscule cost become significant in the future?

7. I am sure you have seen ads of Radio One all over Delhi. The taglines go like this ‘Hit pe Hit pe Hit pe Hit pe Hit’; ‘Only Hits No Khit-Pit’. I just noticed them more as I was listening to this book. Plus when you think about their pitch – what do they think their competitors are playing? (I think Kawasaki talks about the Art of Pitching)

8. Chris Andersen gave an interview about his book on Second Life. Impressive. Rightly placed on a blog subtitled ‘Rethinking Marketing’.

9. Lawrence Lessig and Chris Anderson have been in conversation at the New York Public Library. Can’t wait to read the transcript.

10. Both The Long Tail and Free Culture by Lessig talk about TV content being unavailable – (More details on this some other time). But can’t help wishfully thinking that every clip on TV, once the VCR came in, must have been recorded by someone somewhere, and thus technically it might be available sometime into the future.

One thought on “The Long Tail means Fewer Heads

  1. Peter says:

    Brilliant Website. Please take a look at my website. Let me know what you think.
    Maybe you will link to it…Thank You.

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