My friend Seth Godin, CEO of human-powered search engine Squidoo, has been reading the press on the search debate between huge range and high quality and wonders if the Long Tail has something to say about it. Along with Squidoo, human-powered search companies include Jason Calacanis' Mahalo, Barnes & Noble's Quamut, the New York Times' About.com, as well as HubPages and many others who are aiming to use a "less is more" approach to competing with Google.
In a sense, they're all proudly leaving the long tail to algorithmic search and seeking success by relentlessly editing down to a human-edited short head. They argue that the search engines reward them for such relentlessly paring down and filtering (they're all at least partly search engine arbitrage plays). And better search results ought to attract better page creators as well...
Seth's question: does this make sense?
I'll answer, as I always do, with slogans half-remembered from Econ 101 ;-)
"Every abundance creates a new scarcity"
- An abundance of information can create a scarcity of context
- An abundance of choice can create a scarcity of advice
- An abundance of content can create a scarcity of time
- An abundance of people competing for your attention can create a scarcity of reputational ways to choose among them.
In the old model, distribution bottlenecks made most of those choices for us--we could only watch what was on and buy what was on the shelf. Now, in a Long Tail world, everything gets out there--choice is abundant. This creates an opportunity for new and better filters to navigate that choice (Chapter 7 of my book!), which I would argue describes the examples below.
How do you compete with the Long Tail? One way is by making the short head more attractive. So when Borders goes from 100,000 books to 80,000 books but turns twice as many of them cover-out on the shelf, they're competing with the Long Tail by making it easier to browse and search and discover new books in a physical setting--doing what a physical store and do best.
So in short, there's a market for both. As I've said many times, the Long Tail doesn't kill the blockbuster, it just kills the monopoly of the blockbuster. And the same is true in reverse: Google's Long Tail success creates demand for more curated search. One size doesn't fit all.
But if you edit the range of entries down too much, are you really a search company anymore? Or are you just a collection of semi-random pages of human-created content, hoping to be noticed (and rewarded with traffic) by real search companies? If it's the latter, you risk getting it wrong on which pages to focus on, and thus losing out to Google's whole-web agnosticm. If so, you're just like every other web media company, trying to anticipate demand and otherwise stand out in a crowded marketplace. Which is fine. Just don't call it "search".