I've argued, again and again, that successful Long Tail aggregators have to have both a head (hits) and a tail (niches) to work well. It's not enough to just have the tail. People need to start with what they already know and then discover, via effective recommendations and other filters, niches that suit them better.
LiveJournal and Flickr disprove his theory. LiveJournal is an online journal community that has historically had a large population of young people. They congregate in social groups, often starting with people who are friends offline...Similarly, Flicker is an online photo sharing community, where users can share photos with their friends and the world.
Cultural preferences are social. When people like strange music, unusual fashions, or minority religious practices, they most often do so with a subculture of like-minded folk.
Until now, the smaller social networks in which people share culture have been largely private and noncommercial, with a small number of exceptions, like Tupperware parties and Amway.
So, the successful examples of social content-sharing are [also] based on non-commercial content, like LiveJournal and Flickr. There are also grassroots networks of cross-linked music blogs where people review and recommend music. And there are networks of cross-linked knitting blogs where people review and recommend patterns. Classic long-tail stuff.
Chris Anderson is right that catalog retailers like Netflix and Amazon need to have hits, which help draw users to the niche. Their recommendation engines serve as an automated proxy for the natural social recommendations that people make every day.
But that's true only when you start with the content. When you start with groups of people, then opportunities for "long tail" are abundant, and don't depend quite so much on mainstream content.
Busted. I'm guilty of two sins. First, as she
says, putting content before community. True enough. But are there any
simple principles that can explain why some of those community sites
grow and sustain, while most flit into and out of existence at the
speed of a teenage attention span?
I'd argue that what successful community sites like LiveJournal, Flickr and MySpace have is content on top
of community. There's something to do and see there, above and beyond
simply socializing. They have something the Friendsters of the world,
like the SixDegrees before them, do not. In short, Long Tail content creates a
stickiness that can take a social site beyond the lifespan of a fad.
I'm also guilty of considering Long Tail content aggregators mostly from the perspective of mainstream content, such as music and movies, where there are both hits and niches. But in the user-created world, such as photos and blogs, it's often just varying degrees of niche. There is no head to go with that tail.
Which raises an interesting question: We know that community sites can become user-created content aggregators. But is the reverse true, too? Are there any good examples of user-created content aggregators that succeeded without significant community?
I can think of a few examples, but none strong enough to suggest a rule. Technorati is a blog aggregator without a community, but I'd agree with Steve Rubel that its success is largely due to filling a need that will soon be considered a standard feature of any good search engine. Bloglines
is more of a tool to read feeds from blogs you've found some other way,
rather than a true aggregator. There are probably aggregators in every
peer-production niche you can think of, from fan fiction to
cross-stitch patterns, but I'll bet most of the successful ones have a
strong community aspect. Hmmm. I'll continue to ponder this one while hoping
that readers smarter than me can answer it.