Providing content to the long tail

The long tail is a revolutionary way to look at the economics of providing content. Rich Internet Applications have very little to do with the theory itself, but they provide a way to deliver the content to the long tail that can give companies a big advantage over competitors.

The Long Tail
Matt Voerman pinged me via Skype and told me that he had just finished The Long Tail and he thought I would enjoy it. I knew about the long tail, both the book and the theory, but hadn't really thought much about digging in. In fact, when I first heard about the book, I wrote it off (hah! pun!) as marketing mumbo jumbo. As it turns out, it isn't a marketing book at all, but an economics book, which happens to be one of my favorite genres.

The book is great, and I highly recommend it. I have essentially lived in the long tail all of my life. I've been using the Internet since middle school, and growing up in small town Wyoming, it was tough for me to find other people interested in RPGs and technology. All the content I had access to in stores was mainstream, so I was forced to go on the Internet to find content that fit my interests. I still remember the RPG chat on CompuServe which provided endless entertainment (and expensive long distance dial in costs).

So how do RIAs affect the long tail? If anyone can take something and spin it with Rich Internet Applications, I'd like to think it is me, but to be honest, there isn't a strong business relationship between RIAs and the long tail. That said, as I read the book there were a few things that jumped out at me.

One is that multimedia content is what makes up a huge part of the long tail. Video and music are increasingly feeding the tail. Obviously RIAs can be used to deliver that content, and as more businesses "discover" the long tail, they may be more likely to adopt an RIA strategy. Two, the long tail benefits from a standardized platform. Niche software that can be built and delivered on a platform that people are familiar with means that software will be more likely to be used. The web has so far filled that need, but as web applications get more complex, we need to find a better platform, and RIAs, existing between the web and the desktop, would provide that. Lastly, Chris Anderson (the author) talks about the rules of catering to the long tail, and rule number 3 talks about multiple distribution channels. You need to give people the choice in how they get content. Do they want small clips, full songs, streaming video, all of the above? RIAs give content providers access to a plethora of devices and mediums, something that is very, very important for the long tail to succeed.

I think the long tail is a great concept, and that more companies are going to begin catering to the people and content that resides in the tail. RIAs will not play a big part in that, but they do give content providers a way to reach the tail more efficiently, and that's important. The link is tenuous at best, but there are enough reasons to adopt an RIA strategy that I think we will see some great RIAs built specifically for the long tail.

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