The Bigger Challenge redux

David Harper left a great comment on The Bigger Challenge post that helps grok more of the value of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson.

Thanks Tom, I am new to the blog and your long tail application here is interesting but I'm not convinced that "regard" is the key issue, if only because your x axis is loaded. Of course learners should be highly regarded (indeed, "learner regard" correlates with distribution: as participation distributes, learner regard is equivalent to, and requires, self-regard). Isn't more regard just always better instruction?

Thanks David. Inside the frame of "receiving instruction" or "consuming educational content" you are absolutely right. The only difference from classroom instruction is how accessible the learning is and how convenient it is to the consumer. The value, uses and benefits of the product are unchanged by moving it online. Your awareness of how "regard for the learner" depends on the "self regard of the instructor" suggests you are a self-directed learner (free ranger, wild gamer) yourself. You're not dependent on instructors to teach you - you go out and find what you need when you need it.

I wonder if the key is still in Anderson's original conception somehow: the long tail comes into being due to lower production & distribution costs. That is, great learning delivered in new mediums. To me, technology enables channels for delivery of great instruction. Sure, participation, resourceful contributors, two-way communication ..but great classrooms always had those. What's new is the breakdown of time and space!

Using broadcast television as an example: you're saying the delivery of great content has only been altered by VCR's and TIVO. The entertainment value of TV is not effected by time shifting your viewing or watching the show in the a different room at home. What about YouTube and volunteers joining production crews through MySpace? Chris Anderson is saying something more than the escape of time and space constraints -- as I read him. He's using concepts like democratization and aggregation in addition to the lower costs you mention. He's saying the long tail (asymptotic) curve is a paradigm shift from the short tail (bell curve).

Seth Godin has captured this change with his phrasing: "small is the next big thing". Short tail economics seeks the big seller, the one thing that gets the most viewers, buyers or learners. You're right that great teachers, content, products or services come about by regard for the learner/customer which yields some participation. Think: one of the biggest shows on TV -- American Idol where the viewers vote. Long tail economics thrives as "the little guy with the small following". Think: microbrews, indie music labels, bloggers and each tutorial on

To be tactical about it, my own little business was inspired by For $30/month, I can view software tutorials from at, from the best software teachers in the world. I can learn CSS from Eric Meyer himself, watching over his shoulder really (and truly it doesn't get any better, short of sitting next to him). Before, that would have been impossible (too expensive, etc). What has changed? Not control or regard. He still controls and his (their) regard for me, as the learner, is quite high. What's changed is that technology rendered time (i can watch anytime) and space sort of irrelevant.

What you're saying about cost, space and time is accurate, David. But what has also changed is:
    • who can author tutorials and get a following,

    • how soon after learning something they can turn around and teach it - before getting recognized as an expert,

    • how much better the instruction is because the new instructor recalls the difficulties in his/her own learning this,

    • how easy it is to create a tutorial compared to using the short tail distribution channels of book publishing, college degree programs or broadcast networks.
Anderson is saying the tools of production and distribution are getting democratized. Publishing, multimedia design, audio/video production, social networking, sales/subscriber management and Web 2.0 start-ups are possible on your desktop. That home-grown, prosumer, free agent productivity is replacing big business, hardware acquisition, staggering payroll/ marketing expense and costly venture capitalization.

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