When the supersmart members of the Stanford MBA team that's helping with the book research don't quite follow my posts, I know I've gone down the rabbit hole of obscurity. (I think it was the signal/noise debate that did it). But their polite bafflement was a useful reminder not to get too abstract here. It also raises the question of what level to pitch the discussion in the Long Tail book.
Should the book be series of gripping narrative stories around a phenomena, like The Tipping Point? (If only!) A collection of historical examples and academic research to illustrate an overarching theory, like The Wisdom of Crowds? Or a relatively straightforward, data and anecdote-fueled articulation of a big thesis, like Out of Control?
I'm leaning towards the last of those, mostly because that's what comes
most naturally and fits with where my research is going.
I wish I were as good a storyteller as Malcolm Gladwell
and that my tales were as narratively rich. But I'm not, and they're
not. Instead, what I hope to offer is clarity, via data and a decent
grounding in economics, lightened with loads of fun case studies and
In the meantime, a slight explanation for why I've been indulging in so much theory here. I originally trained to be a physicist, in part because my hero growing up was Richard Feynman. One of the virtues of physics is that it's based on the concept of understanding the world via first principles, the underlying rules that explain all the complexity around us.
Before we came up with the chemical table of the elements and understood the underlying rules of valence theory and atomic structure, the properties of matter were impossible to understand. Likewise for the movement of the planets and stars before Newton's Laws. Today biology remains brain-meltingly complicated largely because we don't have a good underlying theory for it.
What I'm trying to do here is to establish the first-principle rules of the Long Tail. I realize that the search for a grand unified theory is usually a recipe for ending your days muttering at a blackboard covered in scribbles. But I do think that the economics of abundance
are poorly understood, and the Long Tail is as good an opportunity as
any to lay out some pointers to how they might work. With your help,
we'll work through some of that here and I'll find a way to make it
easier to digest in the book.