I've had a lot of email and comments encouraging me to stick with longer essays here, which is much appreciated. I'll try to get in one or two a week. In the meantime, I'll satisfy my own target of daily posts by extending my "Long Tail comment elsewhere" format to the main bar here, making it part of the feed. (The Six Apart folks have not yet implemented RSS in TypeLists, which is what the sidebar is, although they say that's on the way).
I'll start with a fantastic post on RSS by Kevin Laws, a venture capitalist who helped me articulate and think though the original Long Tail theory. RSS, as you know, is a really big deal and an important step in maximizing the potential of the Long Tail. The key element of the publish-and-subscribe model is that it allows readers to indicate an interest once (by subscribing to a feed), and then get relevant content when it's published, without any thought or effort required.
Kevin describes this with the best analogy I've heard yet for RSS: Tivo for the Web:
One direction [in which RSS is expanding] relates to automating tasks for you. This is basically the return of agent technology. Now that a wider variety of web sites are available in machine readable format, it should be possible to tell your computer things like "tell me when an article about gnosticism appears". While this is similar to the stored searches on Google, the fact that RSS aggregators are closer to real-time makes this more valuable. The best analogy is "Tivo for the Web" - specify web sites to definitely "record" and the agent can also record a selection of potentially interesting web posts.
Unlike email, RSS feeds aren't mixed in with personal messages and subject to spam filtering, and there's no obligation for content to be written in the form of a newsletter. The atomic element of RSS is the single post, which works perfectly well in the context of a reader that lays out many posts on a page (like the fab Bloglines, which has just been sold to my friends at Ask Jeeves.)
The reason this is so important to driving demand down the Tail is that RSS feeds can provide a constant stream of links and suggestions for products and media that you otherwise wouldn't have heard of. Best of all, they don't have to be from conventional media and blogs; they can simply be notifications of availability or updates on what's selling where.
One of the best examples is Netflix's wide range of RSS feeds, which include a new release feed. It's a quick read, complete with paragraph summaries, of a hundred or so new DVDs a week. Two clicks on one that grabs my attention and it's in my queue, soon to appear at my door. They've also got RSS feeds for the latest bestsellers in niche categories that range from Independent and Foreign to Gay and Lesbian and Anime. Invariably interesting, and often useful.