Long Tail

Think Linear, Act Non-Linear (You Have no Choice)

There has been a lot of talk about the non-linearity of the world, and change. Quantum mechanics teaches us that change happens in bounces and stages, instead of increments. Chris Anderson talks about the non-linear long tail, and how disproportionate the different pieces are in terms of their share of the "pie". Seth Godin wants us to forget the tail, and focus on the head because of the disproportionate rewards and because "the winner takes it all".
I have personally observed that the road from becoming an F student to C student is shorter and easier than the road from A to A+. I have also noticed a jump in my skill in certain things that I am learning. All of a sudden, there is more clarity in handling the skill, and there is a distinctive difference in the amount of comfort and confidence in dealing with it.
We can easily demonstrate that, by observing the explosion in popularity of some of the biggest websites, that did not exist several years ago.
The immediate reaction might be to embark on a "non-linear way of thinking and operating" due to these facts and to the nature of change.
Although we need to take this into serious consideration we should remember that we are linear. We as humans have certain limitations that allow us to only do so many things at once, and therefore we should seriously consider that we are bound to act in a linear way.
You can only say one thing at a time, sell one customer at a time, and learn a certain number of words per day.
We should stick to the "old" way of improving our business and learning, and that is, by doing the maximum we can do per day - every day. Then every now and then, we will experience a jump (or a fall) in our performance due to the combined efforts (or lack thereof) and to some dots that became connected.
The point is not to be fooled by the hope of getting very lucky and forgetting about the importance of hard work and patience.

Why, How, and When to Quit

The Dip Book
Most of the business advice I've been reading in the last three years is really refreshing. More humanity, intuition, beauty, and self actualization are not only welcomed, they are increasingly becoming competitive advantages for people and organizations. Technology is creating almost everything for us, and we are to do the things that technology cannot achieve; beauty, style, design, creativity, spontaneity.
The dip, by Seth Godin is one more refreshing piece of advice, about (again the opposite of what is traditionally advocated in business) quitting. The main idea is that we should quit often, as a strategic tactic, and that we should choose when to persevere.
I also had this strategy, and I often use it in new endeavors. I focus on one thing, and almost isolate myself from many other things in life. This is to ensure enough focus is given to what I'm doing. Eventually, when things are stable, I can go back and include the other things I like to do.
The new thing for me in The Dip was paying attention to what is it that I want to quit, and what it is that I need to persevere at. Although I usually focus when I quit other things, I seldom make the effort to make sure it's the right thing for me.     
"Being the best in the World" is another key notion Seth goes on to explain. Of course "world" means somebody's world. It also means how they perceive their world, and being the best is about being the best for them (your prospective client / market) now.
The whole book, or "program" as Seth likes to call it, is around this one idea. That we should chose the things that we are the best in the world at, and abandon everything else. The main reason is that being the best has dramatically higher benefits than being second or third. The benefits are disproportionately higher than any other position in the hierarchy.
Not only is it advisable to be the best in the world at what you do, Seth argues that is also becoming necessary to be the best. I a long tail of micro niches, you are probably in one niche and need to be the best there, or else! "In a Google world, the competitor is only one click away." There is good news though. If you think seriously about your strengths, you probably are the best in the world at what you love to do, you just need to focus, make the strategic decision and go for it. This idea echoes the main strategy of Squidoo, "everyone is an expert at something."Sisyphus
The Dip immediately brings Sisyphus to my mind. This character is known for the frustration he has to endure every day. He was condemned by the gods to push a heavy rock up a mountain, only to find it roll back to the bottom on a daily basis. Albert Camus provides a fresh perspective on how to view Sisyphus. Although used as a metaphor for futile activity, Camus argues that the "struggle itself toward the heights is enough to fill a man's heart." He also explains how valuable it is to face the absurdity of life the modern worker has to live with, and to remember that "no fate is insurmountable by scorn." His article is also a reminder that life is a series of dips that we have to endure. Seth mentions in his interview with Guy Kawasaki that But the "book is about investment and effort, in doing things not just for the pleasure of doing them but because you expect something in return."
I tend to side more with Camus's method of learning how to embrace the dip not because of the gains you might get, but because it is an inevitable part of life and work. If you start embracing (and loving) the dip, you can easily use Seth's arguments to choose the right ones to engage in.
My criticism is that Seth says that we should choose which dips to engage in, as if it is always up to us. The dip is there, we always find ourselves in difficult situations, and we are always faced with challenges. He should have mentioned this also, while selling the reader on the importance of going into dips. 
I'm now faced with three ideas:
1. Chris Anderson's Long Tail, which shows that a large enough number of little niches, amounts to a total greater than the few hits.
2. Seth's dip, arguing that you need to be the best in the world (a hit not a miss) in order to really thrive. You have to be focused on the head of the graph instead of the tail.
3. My own idea that we should remember that small things amount to a considerable total, that being the best does have great benefits to it. But...
How can you be the best at something with out being average at the components of that "thing". More on that in "The Long Tail Person."

Conclusion:
Don't underestimate the little dots that can be connected to make a meaningful total, and don't forget that dots are what make shapes. So go on and draw the best shapes in the world!

The Long Tail

I'm the kind of person who constantly needs intellectual stimulation. I always need to have long tail booka major mental adventure going on in my life. The more the adventure requires me to learn and discover new things, the better. The most boring times in my life, are the moments spent doing or talking about something I really mastered. You can really drive me crazy if you can put me in such a situation. This book is one such endeavor, if I may say. It's the kind of book that gives you a totally new direction to move in, and I'm quite comfortable doing this. Not only does it show you the untapped direction in which to go, the books explains how to make use of totally new markets, and how to understand, capitalize, and ,most importantly for me, enjoy the new worlds unfolding to us. There are numerous new tails created, and existing tails are elongating.
What exactly is the "long tail"?
long tail picture

According to Hellen Keller,"The world is moved not only by the mighty shoves of the heroes, but also by the aggregate of the tiny pushes of each honest worker." This, in a nutshell, is The Long Tail.

Hits and Misses

The culture and economy we are used to live in, depends on the Pareto Principle, more known as the 80-20 principle, which basically states that 80% of the results produced are from the "mighty shoves" of the mighty 20%. If the hits are the products, songs, movies etc. that make it to the top lists, the "misses" are the ones that missed them. A closer look on these two types of products shows that they only missed the shelves, and not necessarily the value we give them. Many products are valuable enough for us to buy them, but we didn't buy them because they were just not available, due to the tyranny of geography and physical constraints, as Chris Anderson explains.

The culture and economy we are used to live in, depends on the Pareto Principle, more known as the 80-20 principle, which basically states that 80% of the results produced are from the "mighty shoves" of the mighty 20%. If the hits are the products, songs, movies etc. that make it to the top lists, the "misses" are the ones that missed them. A closer look on these two types of products shows that they only missed the shelves, and not necessarily the value we give them. Many products are valuable enough for us to buy them, but we didn't buy them because they were just not available, due to the tyranny of geography and physical constraints, as Chris Anderson explains.

The Three Forces of The Long Tail

1. Democratize Production: The means of producing goods and services have been dramatically made easy with the new technologies. And since it is easy to produce almost anything (especially intellectual property) the challenge is in the mind of the producer. If you are creative and hard working, you can do some cool stuff.
The means of producing goods and services have been dramatically made easy with the new technologies. And since it is easy to produce almost anything (especially intellectual property) the challenge is in the mind of the producer. If you are creative and hard working, you can do some cool stuff.

2. Democratize Distribution: Making the misses available to whoever wants them, is a key to pushing demand down the tail. Online sales of less-known titles is one of the key drivers. Amazon is one of the prominent examples on this, where they have millions of titles that sell less, but together, they amount to a significant total.

3. Connect Supply and Demand: The ways in which we are making purchase decisions are dramatically changed by these forces. We have recommendation engines, mainly fueled by the history of people's past decisions. At the same time, those "long tail aggregators" are giving the chance for people to share their reviews, and post their comments for whichever product they have tried. This way, we can get a good amount of information about a certain product in minutes.
I was really surprised to know that Sears had a very long tail of products and an affiliate program back in the beginning of the twentieth century. My initial thought was that such a thing can only be facilitated through the Internet, especially with physical products. There is a detailed explanation of this in the beginning of the book.

Anderson goes on to explain the details of the tail, and its relation to the head. How it behaves in certain industries, and where it might best thrive.

The great thing about this new phenomenon is that it's not only showing a new way of doing things, this new way is right in the opposite direction of where we were heading in the past. Going for small niches is a really new concept, in contrast to "think big". The fact that the customers down the tail are people who have special requirements, also means that they are willing to pay a premium to get what they are looking for.
Another important empowerment that these forces provide, is the empowerment for user-generated-content. Again, the first thing that comes to my mind when talking about it, is intellectual content; videos, text, design etc. but there is a great example about LEGO and how they are enabling this. LEGO is giving anyone the option of designing their own pictures or models, uploading them to their website, and getting a map of how the bricks should draw this picture. There is more; this "product" is shipped to the creator, with the picture on the box. This also becomes one of the products that LEGO offer through their website, and they even pay some royalties for the creator of the product if it sells well. Wow!
There is also a great explanation of the long tail of articles, and Wikipedia. An interesting analogy was drawn between Wikipedia and evolution, and the fact that they work extremely well on the macro level, and not necessarily that well in every incident on the micro level. The open source model, makes it a great encyclopedia in terms of flexibility, or more importantly, resilience. There are millions of people contributing, and constantly the articles are updated and improved on by all of us. It's a great system, and it has this wonderful mechanism that runs it, but, that doesn't mean that you won't find crappy articles with very low quality. The best way to use Wikipedia? It is the starting point in your endeavor to understand something, and not the final definitive say on that particular topic. This approach resonates with what Squidoo is actually doing. You provide some links and short summaries related to something you know about, and give the user a starting point and a guide on how to proceed with their quest.

Although these new phenomena seem to just negate our old thinking about the world, they actually don't. The only thing they do, is that they put some limitations to the theories that we know. Einstein did not negate what Newton taught us. He just proved that these theories apply on the physical level. They just simply are not descriptive of the world on the quantum level.
A paradox seems to pop up when discussing the long tail, and the rise of niches as opposed to hits. Anderson challenges the theory that says that abundant choice is oppressive and leads to less sales. This is based on a study that showed that when people are given six types of jam to taste, they buy more than when they are presented with twenty four. The solution to this, are the recommendation engines. People's reviews about a certain product give the new comers a glimpse about how well this product is performing. So, if you want to choose the best jam, you can just ask Amazon to give you top selling ones.
But, doesn't that mean that we are going back to the hits? We are actually asking for the hits this way.
Chris's answer? This is a hit within a very small niche. The best selling jam, is a hit in the jam category and has nothing to do with food, or general merchandise. Now, a hit is really a meaningful thing, within that niche.
My own theory on this attempts to utilize a group of niche skills, each being average, and maybe the aggregate of these skills amounts to a high quality "long tail person".

There's a video discussion done about this book by Anderson, hosted by Google, where he also has an interesting Q&A session that talks about his book.

The Long Tail Person

The Long Tail has become one of my favorite subjects in its different fields of applications. Maybe because I was never seriously fond of the popular things. I wasn't interested a lot in mainstream events and hobbies. I had my own set of special interests that very few people acknowledged as valid; calligraphy, ballroom dancing, languages, and culture to mention a few.
The Long Tail theory is based on the premise of a huge number of niches amounting to a significant number of results. The total of which is more than the few hits that used to make the big bucks. This is made easier by the Internet, although some applications took place long before the online world existed.
What if we took this argument to the personal level, to people who are passionate about many things, but are not world-class experts on any.
Would the combined effect of these passions make an important and meaningful total?
"A Jack of all trades is a master of none", they say.
I say, "a Jack of all trades is a master of some".
How can anyone master anything if they are not very good at the components of that "thing"? How can you be the best producer of soap in town, without being a very good salesman, and without being an excellent manager of your team? You can't!
If you want to be a master of your trade, you need to be a Jack of all the sub-trades within your niche. Many of these will be unrelated to your core competency. What does an excellent soap formula generation have to do with managing a sales team?
Nothing actually, but it is something you have to have.
So, if you are a Jack of all trades, group some of those trades in a meaningful way, and find that trade where nobody will even be able to compete with you, because as the best lesson I learned in strategy says, "to provide a value mix that cannot be imitated, and cannot be bought with money".
If your differentiation strategy depends on a technology or assets that can be bought, you are not securing a strong position.
But... If you speak Russian, French, and English, work at a division of a French manufacturer of air conditions in Moscow, have a BSc in engineering, and an MBA, how many people can really compete with you on your position as head of the division?
These are the different skills that you are good at. You could be acceptably good in all these areas, but if you are dedicated enough, you can be the best division manager in the world (for that division).