The Long Tail

If you turned on the radio in 1948, you could listen to anything you wanted, as long as what you wanted was being broadcast by your local station.

It was probably Bing Crosby.

Until recently, most of the media you had access to was created for a mass audience.

The internet turned this on its head. As a creator, your work no longer needs to appeal to the largest possible audience, because sharing is free and discovery is easy.

Instead, you can create for the long tail, which refers to the wide range of smaller niches that are now accessible. Here's a graph of what that distribution looks like:

Picture by Hay Kranen / PD via Wikimedia

The long tail refers to the yellow part above β€” the tail-like extension of lower frequency phenomena.

Though the term has been used in statistics for decades, Chris Anderson popularized it in a 2004 Wired article. He writes:

Forget squeezing millions from a few megahits at the top of the charts. The future of entertainment is in the millions of niche markets at the shallow end of the bitstream.

Today, in a world of nearly infinite information sources and entertainment options, you can find and listen to exactly what you want.

If you need the perfect soundtrack for sitting on your porch, look no further than Spotify's front porch playlist.

Need something for the back porch instead? They've got you covered there too.

The implications of this access to entertainment and information go far beyond music. By enabling niche communities to assemble online, the web allows people to find those who are similar.

For example, transgender teens living in rural communities can discuss their experience together. COVID long haulers can compare symptoms with people who have related issues. And if you need help building a hurdy-gurdy, a hand-cranked, 10th century fiddle, then you're in luck.

By connecting us with the long tail of communities that fulfill niche needs and interests, the internet shapes our identity and helps culture and knowledge flourish.

In other words, the internet makes us more human.


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