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The Long Tail

Jan - 4 - 2007
Nicole C. Engard

I’m currently reading The Long Tail (I know I’m behind the times) and loving it. I want to share a few things I read this morning on the way to work (for those who haven’t read the book yet).

The first was on page 64. Anderson is talking about how we can all be producers now – how computer games are coming with the tools to create your own movies:

However, once you know what’s behind the curtain, you begin to realize that it could be you. It is when the tools of production are transparent that we are inspired to create. When people understand how great work is made, they’re more likely to want to do it themselves.

While Anderson is using movies, music and writing as his examples – what about programming? That’s what I first thought of. That sense of “I did that” when you look at a working application you’ve developed for your library. Plus, if we share our code (open source) people are more likely to see that they too can do what we’ve done. There is a fear of programming – and I guess computers (a little bit still) that people might get over if they had the opportunity to learn a bit of programming and then see the code behind our great works. Now that I understand what the symbols mean and the syntax is I can look at other’s code and say – “OH! That’s how it’s done” and I can duplicate it. So for me (and probably for other programmers) open source is part of that Long Tail – and it’s a way for people without massive skills to still produce great works.

Next up – blogging.

I know a librarian (no names) who doesn’t find blogs as useful as I do. We constantly “discuss” the value of blogs. I’ve also had a lawyer ask me about authority when it comes to blogs. My answer was that I’m not looking at blogs for authority necessarily – I’m not using them for research I’m using them for enrichment – for learning about what’s going on out in the library world and then doing my own research to further my knowledge. Anderson says (pg 69):

Wikipedia should be the first source of information, not the last. It should be a site for information exploration, not the definitive source of facts. The same is true for blogs, no single one of which is authoritative. Blogs are the Long Tail, and it is always a mistake to generalize about the quality or nature of content in the Long Tail – it is, by definition, variable and diverse. But collectively blogs are proving more than equal to mainstream media. You just need to read more than one of them before making up your own mind.

That’s a much better way of making the same argument I was trying to make ;)

Lastly, Anderson quotes Paul Graham (pg 70) who says:

Google doesn’t try to force things to happen their way. They try to figure out what’s going to happen, and arrange to be standing there when it does.

Libraries should think more like this :) Not that we’re forcing things to happen our way – but I also don’t think most of us are thinking to far into the future either. We all know that we’re going to have to let go of some of the control on our sites if we’re going to keep people visiting – I know I’ve had to let go a lot over the last 3 years – allowing anyone on the staff to make changes to the website without going through me first. While this has made my work life easier, it was a hard thing to let go of. And there are many similar situations that we’re going to be facing in our libraries and on our websites. Users want to participate and collaborate – that’s a big part of the Long Tail and we’re going to have to let go at some time.

Just my 2 cents after reading those few pages. Great book for anyone who hasn’t read it yet – I was a bit worried about it being too much about economics – but it’s very practical and easy to follow.

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