Moving Your Niche

(Continuing the conversation started here.)

Long_tailmoveleft2About halfway through reading The Long Tail, I was cold-cocked by a thought…I’ve read this before, but in reverse. Back in the early-to-mid 90’s, there was a a book written by Kevin Kelly (who was, interestingly enough, Editor in Chief of Wired at the time) called Out of Control. (n.b. Out of Control has been one of the most influential books I’ve read, and directly drove my interest in artificial intelligence, genetic algorithms and other phenomena at the intersection of technology and biology.)

Kelly’s writing introduced me to the work of W. Brian Arthur, who is best known for his theories around increasing returns. Brian Arthur’s work on increasing returns explains why the blogging power law (and, in fact the Long Tail shape itself) forms. Arthur writes:

“Customer Groove-In. High tech products are typically difficult to use. They require training. Once users invest in this training—say the maintenance and piloting of Airbus passenger aircraft—they merely need to update these skills for subsequent versions of the product. As more market is captured, it becomes easier to capture future markets.

In high-tech markets, such mechanisms ensure that products that gain market advantage stand to gain further advantage, making these markets unstable and subject to lock-in. Of course, lock-in is not forever. Technology comes in waves, and a lock-in…can only last as long as a particular wave lasts.”

Put more simply, increasing returns can be trivially stated this way: “Thems that gots, shall gets.” So, based on that, I would posit the following: While following a recommendation down the Long Tail drives demand down the curve — to the right — increasing returns moves a niche to the mainstream — up the curve, to the left.

So, assuming that one wants to move his or her niche to the left up the curve, the big factors to success are driven by the following:

1) What is the “metric” that is being used to define the shape of the curve; and
2) How do I get more of it?

For example, Technorati gets slammed when they create their “Top 100” lists. Their list uses a single metric, “inbound links,” that turns the “Top” list into a raw popularity contest, without taking into account other dimensions that might define something as a “top” blog. (But, it is what it is.) Now, that being said, if the “success” of your niche is tied to its findability in the tail (and it almost certainly is), then there are compelling reasons to try to move your niche to the left. The closer to the “head” of the Long Tail your niche is:

  • The more likely a “direct” search will find your niche.

  • The more likely a recommendation will find your niche.

Increasing returns would suggest that both of the above items increase the chance that your niche will then be even more findable in the future, and move even further to the left. For example, this article by Dave Sifry (CEO of Technorati) gives his thoughts on how to make your blog more popular. His points echo the above sentiments.

Related:
Long Tail Thoughts
Getting found in the Long Tail: Direct
Getting found in the Long Tail: Recommendations

Getting Found in the Long Tail: Recommendations

(Continuing the conversation started here.)

While ensuring that searchers can find you in the Long Tail is good, being found by someone who is already predisposed to a connection is even better.

Long_tailrecsWhat I mean by this is the following: a visitor who finds your wares via a direct link already knows what he or she is seeking. However, the abundance of the Long Tail means that there are myriad things in the tail that someone might love, only if he or she knew it existed! How do enable this kind of discovery? Recommendations and collaborative filtering.

An example might be handy. So, I think Liz Phair’s first album, Exile in Guyville, is the bomb-diggity. (Also, although I now live on the West Coast, all Chicago natives, regardless of current residence, are required to love Exile, lest their 312 credentials be immediately and unceremoniously revoked.) Now, if I go onto Amazon and look up Exile in Guyville, I find the following:

Veruca

Liz takes me to Veruca Salt.

Veruca Salt takes me to Nina Gordon.

Nina Gordon’s last release incents me to go to her home page, where I find Nina Gordon doing an acoustic cover of N.W.A’s Straight Outta Compton. (Fantastic, and fantastically NSFW unless you’re wearing headphones).

So, our traversal down the Long Tail went like this:

Liz Phair > Veruca Salt > Nina Gordon > Nina Gordon’s cover of Straight Outta Compton

Now, never in a million years would I have gone to Google and done a search on “sultry-voiced chanteuse doing an acoustic cover of an anthem of gangsta rap.” Yet, that’s exactly what I found…and I love it.

The key point here: if your niche in the Long Tail is truly one-of-a-kind, it may be so unique that no one would ever even dream to search for what it contains. The only way someone will find it is through collaborative filtering (a la Amazon) or through word-of-mouth recommendations from a trusted source that traverse the tail.

Related:
Long Tail Thoughts
Getting found in the Long Tail: Direct
Moving Your Niche

Getting Found in the Long Tail: Direct

Per my earlier post, have just finished reading The Long Tail, and the book triggered a couple of key questions for me. Those questions were:

  • If what I am marketing is in a niche in the tail, how do prospective customers find me?

  • Being in a niche is great and all, but it would be nice to be closer to the head of the curve…how do I move my niche to the left?

Long_tailarrowThe first way of being found by prospective customers (readers, listeners, etc.) is the “direct” approach. That is, through some means, the customer drops “directly” into your site, or directly finds your product, most likely by way of some type of search engine. (This could be one of the Google-Yahoo-MSN search engines, or by some type of keyword search within an environment such as iTunes.)

This type of discovery has a couple of different traits. On one hand, it may result in the highest number of “raw” visitors coming to your website. For example, in looking at the referrer logs for this blog, a vast majority of the incoming traffic to the blog itself comes not necessarily from links from other blogs, but instead is “organic” traffic driven primarily from Google, where someone has searched on a term such as “Customer Managed Relationship” which led them to this post. On the other hand, this may not necessarily be the “best” traffic, where “best” is defined as “a visitor to the site who is philosophically aligned with the ideas here, and passionate about connecting with customers.” Rather, the visitors who arrive as a result of a “direct” approach may have significant alignment with the details or topic of a particular post, but may not necessarily be aligned with the overall gestalt.

Now, that being said, there is potentially significant value in having many visitors drop by a site, even if they are just “passing through.” (This is not a radical thought.) While some portion of the visitors who arrive via this mechanism may only be connecting with the details of a particular portion of the site, there will be some subset who could be classified as the “best” type of visitor, as defined above. As such, making it easy for even the drop-in type of visitor to find a site is important. The main way to help ensure that this kind of visitor can find you in the Long Tail is ensuring that all aspects of a site (or other online artifact such as a song, video, etc.) is set up to be search-engine friendly. That means writing well, ensuring that the keywords that a visitor might be searching on at a later date are included in the body and title of the pages, that posts or artifacts are tagged with keywords (if appropriate) and, in general, follows the tactics of successful search engine optimization (or “SEO,” as it’s commonly known).

Related:
Long Tail Thoughts
Getting found in the Long Tail: Recommendations
Moving Your Niche

Long Tail Thoughts

Just finished Chris Anderson’s book The Long Tail, and had a few thoughts. The “Long Tail” concept, of course, is defined thusly:

“What happens when everything in the world becomes available to everyone? When the combined value of all the millions of items that may sell only a few copies equals or exceeds the value of the few items that sell millions each? When a bunch of kids with no profit motive can record a song or make a video and get the same electronic distribution for it as the most powerful corporation?

The Long Tail is really about the economics of abundance, and entirely new model for business that is just starting to show its power as unlimited selection reveals new truths about that consumers want and how they want to get it.”

Overall a good, quick, solid read. However, while reading through the book, it triggered two primary questions for me:

  • If what I am marketing is in a niche in the tail, how do prospective customers find me?

  • Being in a niche is great and all, but it would be nice to be closer to the head of the curve…how do I move my niche to the left?

Some thoughts on those two questions in the following posts.

Related:
Getting found in the Long Tail: Direct
Getting found in the Long Tail: Recommendations
Moving Your Niche

Up And Atoms

SSPX0035 SSPX0034

Time for a brief diversion into the tangible world. When one spends most of one’s time being virtual, taking a few moments out every now and then to do something with wood and metal and paint…you know, stuff…is needed to recenter one’s perspective.

On that note, today was the maiden voyage of our current real-world-stuff construction project, a tiny little “teardrop” camper-trailer. After working on it in the off hours for the last couple of weekends and in the evenings, it’s getting close to completion. But, even in its current shape, the Department of Motor Vehicles has deemed it road-worthy, so here it is!

A few more things to do (add a couple of round “porthole” windows, get the back deck locks in place, one more coat of red paint on the curve, etc.), but we’re getting pretty close.

We now return to our regularly scheduled programming in the world of ones and zeros.

Flock U

Nellie Lide, on communities, social networks and marketing: “I think brands will have to go beyond a conversation – though that’s a good start – they have to be willing to develop and maintain a relationship/friendship with their customers over the long-term. And I think companies are looking at these sites all wrong. Advertisers, marketers, product-makers are trying to figure out how to exploit and use all the people on these sites – when they should be studying what these folks are doing and try to figure out how they can help these social sites be better for their users. Not more cluttered with their ads. If your product and brand don’t really fit in – stay out. Know your customer and respect your customer – that’s it.”

I Want To Have A Say

Dawn Rivers Baker: “Here’s the bottom line: this is my computer. I’m not going to use anybody’s software that take control of my machine away from me. If you, Mr. Software Producer, can’t write software without taking over my computer, then I’ll have to go find somebody who is a better programmer than you. I want to have a say. If you aren’t going to give me a say, I’ll go find somebody who will.”

Right on.