Long Trip, Long Tail
I'm off to New Zealand and BlogHui.
Walking into the airport is always exciting: now you're home in Boston, but in a few hours you'll be somewhere else. But this somewhere is especially else: first Dallas, then Los Angeles, then Auckland, then Wellington. For Jack Aubrey, it'd be six or seven months. It's still half way 'round.
Last year, I argued that we need to take care to cultivate and nurture the long tail of weblogs that receive modest traffic.
It's really important to make sure we can glance at the other 5 million blogs when we want to. Adding one or two additional regular readers to every blog in the Long Tail makes a huge difference in the economy of the blogosphere: if everyone gets that reader or two, then most of the weblog reading that happens will happen in the Tail and the Tail will matter. If people don't generally get that extra reader or two, then all the reading is concentrated in the A List and, well, it'll be Mr. Murdoch and his five best friends, all the way down.
I now suspect I was completely wrong, and that the Long Tail was a mistake or a fraud. My worries about ensuring discoverability (and so an audience) for low-traffic weblogs ignores two obviously key facts about intimate or nobitic weblogs:
- Intimate weblogs recruit their natural readers. Your mother is going to find your weblog. It doesn't matter whether people link to you or not; she's been finding your stuff since you were two. And you'll find the weblog of your graduate advisor, your favorite writers, and of people who share your esoteric interests. Between Google and the telephone, intimate weblogs will find their natural readers.
- Valuable writing tends to seek the right readers, not merely a lot of readers. Whether we're talking about public policy or graph theory or scissor-tailed flycatchers, the audience that matters is the group of people who understand and care about the topic and who can do something with it or about it.
- Advertising is a good way to reward some weblog writers, but one advertising broker now owns so much attention that it distorts many people's vision of the economics of the blogosophere. Advertising is merely one of many routes to economic reward.
Journalists (and politico-journalism exiles) wanted to watch the Long Tail because, if you're financing public service news coverage through advertising, circulation makes everything possible and your rival's circulation can make everything futile.
The A-List likes to measure the Long Tail because it reassures them that they matter. The romantic myth of weblogs -- that weblogs succeed because we ourselves are so intrinsically wonderful -- creates a sort of redemption through blogging. When that reassurance stops delighting them, they give up and go home and the Technorati 100 shuffles slightly.
I got fooled because I spend a lot of time thinking about hypertext publishing -- especially hypertext fiction -- and fiction is anomalous.
- Anyone may read a story about a girl who died or the the plate that time forgot. The jump (just a few letters!) from "anyone" to "everyone" tempts lots of writers.
- A few fiction writers do get everyone, or nearly everyone. and that vast box office drove the fiction world in the 80s and 90s even though none of the hypertext people write the sort of work that can become a Hollywood blockbuster.
- The people for whom The Old Neighborhood or Sons and Lovers are going to make a huge difference are not a huge crowd but they could be almost anyone. And you don't know you need Ulysses until you've read it.
Anyone, everyone, someone, the right one. BOS->DFW->LAX->AUK->WLG.