Posts tagged as the long tail

Attention Brings Service Online

Scientists from the RAND Corporation have created this model to illustrate what a “home computer” could look like in the year 2004. However the needed technology will not be economically feasible for the average home. Also the scientists readily admit that the computer will require not yet invented technology to actually work, but 50 years from now scientific progress is expected to solve these problems. With the teletype interface and the Fortran language, the computer will be easy to use. — Popular Mechanics, 1954

June 2006, Internet World Stats reports that more than one billion people use the Internet. That’s one billion people looking to connect, be entertained, discover something new, even learn something. As a result, the Internet has fundamentally changed how some of the most basic human needs are met. The problem is that the principles on which our society is built no longer apply, including the laws of physics and many of the established economic models. It’s an entirely different animal and it’s called The Attention Economy. 

One important aspect of how this attention driven economy works is known as The Long Tail. Simply put, the long tail means that in terms of business, small is the new big since storage, shelf-space and distribution no longer factor into the equation. When the product range is broadened the sales generated from small names, for example in books and music, starts to add up and the volume of low popularity items exceeds the volume of high popularity items. One thing remains constant though, it’s still all about giving people what they want, and herein lies the challenge.

The challenge can be outlined as follows:

  1. Assume an almost infinitely broad selection of products
  2. Attention is the most precious resource that the user has - for this reason consider it extremely limited
  3. Present the user with the most relevant products in the shortest possible time, and a minimal amount of work required on their end.

I’ve been focusing on how we spend money on music and books, but variations of this challenge exist anywhere we spend attention. We chose the search engine that provides us with the best results, subscribe to the feeds that have the best chance of keeping using up to speed. Or at least we like to think that’s what we’re doing. We can never really know what’s out there, if we missed that one important thing that would have made all the difference.

Hi, I’ll have the Usual / What’s Good?

We’ve established that we all spend attention. The challenge ahead is to maximize the “return of attention”. Ideally, I want relevant products and information at my fingertips. Products that are a perfect match for me, information I can use and enjoy. How can we achieve this? Logic dictates that in order to do this better, the source of these products and information needs to know more about me - my likes and dislikes, what I’ve done previously. This is where attention data comes into play.

As a consumer you can think of attention data as the relationship you’ve established with the seller of the product in question. A premise for this kind of relationship is trust, but once established the experience becomes more enjoyable for you and more profitable for the seller. A few real-life examples of this includes:

  • The staff at your favorite restaurant - they come to know how you like to be seated, the kind of food and drink you like. As a result they will be able to recommend new dishes you’re likely to enjoy.
  • The bartender at the place you usually hang with your friends - lift a finger and she’ll respond with an ice-cold beer of your favorite brand. Tell her what flavors you like and she’ll suggest new drinks for you to try.
  • The same thing goes for the staff at movie theatres, record stores, bookstores, you name it. Basically anywhere they get to know you through your returned visits.

Amazon understands this, and has been hugely successful as a result. Their technology essentially serves the same purpose as the bookstore clerks do in the real world. The big difference is that their servers know about all books and all other customers. They’ve taken some of the service that people enjoy in the real world, and made it work on a large scale online.

The bottom line is that we are all uniquely special, and we enjoy being treated as such, online or not. The use of attention data will play an important role and shows great promise, but in order to succeed we need to strike a perfect balance between too little or too much data in terms of privacy. One thing is for sure:

The fight for attention has begun…