Tuesday, July 04, 2006

New Yorker's review of The Long Tail

Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail has been reviewed by John Cassidy for the New Yorker. Let me excerpt the part that puts the Long Tail pheonmenon in perspective:

All this is snappily argued and thought-provoking, if not quite as original as Anderson’s publishers would have us believe. Back in 1980, another futurologist, Alvin Toffler, anticipated the “de-massifying” of society in his best-selling book “The Third Wave” (Bantam; $7.99), which is still in print. “The Second Wave Society is industrial and based on mass production, mass distribution, mass consumption, mass education, mass media, mass recreation and entertainment,” Toffler said in a 1999 interview. But no longer: “The era of mass society is over. . . . No more mass production. No more mass consumption. . . . No more mass entertainment.”

Not only did Toffler, writing a decade before the advent of the World Wide Web, recognize information as the basic resource of the modern economy; he also discussed concepts like knowledge workers, customization, peer production, and several other “big-think” concepts that are still providing stories for magazines like Wired, Fast Company, Business 2.0, and, indeed, The New Yorker. The Internet has accelerated the trends that Toffler identified, but that’s not news, either. In 1998, Kevin Kelly, a technology writer who also worked for Wired, published a book called “New Rules for the New Economy,” in which he described the emerging order thus: “Niche production, niche consumption, niche diversion, niche education. Niche World.”

The real novelty of Anderson’s book is not his thesis but its representation in the form of a neat, readily graspable picture: the long-tail curve. For decades, economists and scientists have been using this graph, which is formally known as a power-law distribution, to describe things like the distribution of wealth or the relative size of cities. By applying the long tail to the online world, Anderson brings intellectual order to what often looks like pointless activity. ...

The best sentence in the review:

Even in the online era, to be human is to follow the herd.

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A quick summary of the Long Tail phenonmeon is available at Anderson's blog. The original Wired article is here.