Sunday, August 12, 2007

Long Tail, Searching, and Libraries

The Long Tail is the essence of Web 2.0. Understanding how the Long Tail works not only helps in examining how social software such as blogs and wikis impact users and libraries, but ultimately in evaluating how future products (i.e. not invented yet) can be used more creatively and maximized to its full potential. Chris Anderson's concept of the Long Tail analyzes how the media and entertainment industries can succeed not by pushing only mass market hits that are popular among many but by also mining the collective of interest among a few in less-popular books, songs, movies and more.

In other words, although thousands may want to buy a hit song, if you add up all those who want to buy lesser-known titles, they might generate as much or more revenue than the hits themselves. Working in a library or information centre, it is important to tap into both the "head" of interest and the "long tail" that follows behind. Here are the major concepts if applied to libraries:

Rule #1 - Move Inventory Way In . . . or Way Out - Take out physical products and replace them with "virtual inventory."

Rule # 2 - Let Customers Do the Work - Have user-submitted reviews, which are often well-informed, articulate, and most important, trusted by other users.

Rule #3 - One distribution Method Doesn't Fit All - Some want to go to stores, some want to shop online. Some want to research online, others buy in stores. Some want them now, some can wait. Let the customer choose.

Rule #4 - One Product Doesn't Fit All - Allow for different formats of the same thing. A CD album can be "microchunked" into music videos, remixes, all in a number of formats and sampling rates. One size fits one; many sizes fit many.

Rule #5 - One Price Doesn't Fit All - Although this doesn't apply to most libraries, it's important to keep in mind that different people are willing to pay different prices for any number of reasons, from how much money they have to how much time they have. Whatever the library charges should reflect room for flexibility.

Rule #6 - Share Information - More information is better only if it's presented in a way that helps order choice, not confuse it further. Thus, information about buying patterns, when transformed into recommendations can be a powerful marketing tool.

Rule #7 - Think "and" not "or" - In markets with infinite capacity (virtual ones), the right strategy is almost always to offer it all.

Rule #8 - Trust the Market To Do Your Job - Online markets are nothing if not highly efficient measures of wisdom of crowds. Collaborative filters, popularity rankings, and ratings are all tools that reach this goal: don't predict; measure and respond.

Rule #9 - Understand the Power of Free - A powerful feature of digital markets is that they put free within reach; since costs are zero, their prices can be, too. Services such as Sktype and Gmail attract users with a free service and convince some of them to update to a subscription-based premium that adds higher quality features. Libraries need to use digital economics to their advantage: perhaps use free as a starting point for profits?

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