I was just perusing some blog feeds in the downtime on Christmas Day and came across a link on Brand New to an Economist article about the hit aspect of the Long Tail debate.
More and more articles about the Long Tail tend to devolve the theory into a general comment on the state of industries affected by Internet economics. Whereas Chris Anderson’s original argument is very ‘niche’ and specific – describing a set of circumstances that result in a specific outcome rather than a large, generalized theory of everything Internet related.
As I see more commentary on the Long Tail, it’s like a Long Tail of the Long Tail – arguments that tend to twist and turn the original idea to suit a set of observations or opinions. Sometimes interesting, sometimes a stretch.
But alas, that is the destiny of many a theory. Maybe the best ones tend to devolve to this kind of reference state – their specifics long ago forgotten, but their general idea intact well enough to guide curious minds who happen along their path.
The Tipping Point is another one that has achieved this ethereal status – although I can’t but help wonder if that was the point all along.
I can’t also help wonder if, by reducing the original Long Tail argument to a reference point, a lot of the original intent and usefulness is lost.
The Economist article has a section on the success of hit TV shows despite falling ratings from wandering eyeballs. The argument being that even with reduced audiences numbers, we are still gravitating towards these ‘hits’ – as if there is comfort still in broad and common social discourse based on shared entertainment experiences. Yet network TV in the US is in no way, shape, idea, structure, form, construction, similar in anyway, at all, to the basic tenants that underly the Long Tail theory.
The Long Tail adds nothing to the argument other than a reference for the general idea – that TV is generally full of more choice, that some of this is useful, but we still tend to choose similar things.
Chris Anderson has largely given up the fight to defend different interpretations of his theory. I think this is a good thing.
It’s time to let the Long Tail go silently into the night. With the realization that in death, it’s infinitely more powerful than in life.
The Long Tail, I predict, will truly become the Obi-Wan Kenobi of Internet theories.