Could the combination of richness and reach no longer matter?

What if the applications of the future cater to the long tail model and the reach/rich combination we have tried to reconcile no longer matters...
Written by Ryan Stewart, Contributor

Steve Rubel has a good post on Chris Anderson's "The Long Tail" and one that has some implication for Rich Internet Applications. I hadn't taken this from Chris' book, but seeing Steve use the word "reach" got me thinking. In the web world, the argument has always been one of richness versus reach. The idea being that the "richer" your application was, the more likely that fewer people would be able to view it. It also went the other way, and many people chose to "reach" a wide audience and forego the richness that is usually associated with applications. In my mind, this was one of the dark points of the web, but I'll leave that for later discussions. Flash came along, and provided a way to give users rich experiences, with no detriment to the reach - and the Rich Internet Application was born. Now we have a variety of technologies, OpenLaszlo, Microsoft Windows Presentation Foundation, and Flash, that aim to provide that type of richness and reach.

But Steve's post asks us to "Rethink reach", to wit:

Reach metrics are the currency of the advertising community. We're obsessed with eyeballs, gross ratings points and page views. But in a Long Tail world, reach has entirely new meaning. Many niche sites, for example, can't hold a candle to the traffic at the head of the media curve.


If you take that statement and apply it to RIAs, the implication is significant. What if the applications of the future cater to the long tail model and the reach/rich combination we have tried to reconcile no longer matters. Let me put it with my typical company spin. Adobe is the king of providing both richness and reach. Flash is everywhere, and it provides a very rich experience. What if for a growing number of developers that reach was no longer important? What if your niche only uses Linux, or only uses a Mac?

Can we project the niches found in "The Long Tail" to platforms? Perhaps it is a bit of a stretch, but think of the increasingly fragmented world of devices. If I'm only planning to target an audience that uses Windows Smart Phones, do I care about Flash Lite? If my niche is people using Sidekicks, do I care whether or not WPF/E exists for the purpose of reach? If eyeballs are no longer the most important metric, what are we left with?

I think that in some ways, the long tail frees up RIA developers. You can use the technology you think is best for your market. I still think that a majority application developers are going to want their products to reach a wide audience, but in the enterprise, the long tail theory is very applicable. If all of my users have Windows machines, does that make me more likely to use WPF? What it comes down to is that each platform is more likely to be decided upon based on merit. I whole-heartedly believe that the cross-platform nature of Flash gives it a big advantage, but WPF will make some major inroads, and the long tail theory just makes that more clear.

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