Tuesday, October 11, 2005

Cultural Fragmentation, The Long Tail & Your 15 Minutes

The Long Tail theory espoused by Wired editor Chris Anderson is finding new adherents who don't even seem to know about it. Witness this interesting article in the Boston Globe today: the reporter is talking about how it is pretty much impossible to keep tabs on Popular Culture anymore. It's too fragmented.

Who has the time or mental energy to keep up on everything from Japanese anime to the Simpsons to Jessica Simpson's on-again, off-again love affair with hubby Nick Lachey? How many car accidents has Lindsay Lohan been in this year? Why is Ms. Lohan's pappy writing her a love song from prison? Why is Quentin Tarantino dating the ex-wife of Britney Spears' current husband? Will Universal pull the plug on its John Carter of Mars movie, which is being helmed by uber-blogger Harry Knowles of Ain't It Cool News? How will Sirius Satellite Radio's subscriber numbers be boosted by Howard Stern's debut? Will it be enough to swamp XM's current lead?

Why do I know these names? Why do I know this crap?

How much more crap do I not know about?

The answer to that is "A LOT. " And that's okay.

That's the Long Tail at work, folks: the fragementation of media is happening because there's an audience for each fragment. The quality (i.e., fanaticism) of these audiences makes up for the shrinking quantity of pop culture consumers.

Fanatics (a.k.a. "fans") spend money on their niche area; they click on the contextual ad banners that speak to their cultish interests; they keep the dialogue going in as many forums as possible, creating a virtuous and self-referential cycle that ultimately leads somebody to capitalize on this narrow band of consumers.

As this fragmentation continues it could have interesting ramifications on the users who make up these slices of slivers of splinters of pop culture. Since the communities-of-interest grow ever-smaller, the prominence of those people who make up the audience grows! The 1,000 people who are utterly and shamelessly obsessed with "Jessica & Nick" will cultivate their own leaders - those who are most opinionated or in-the-know. The 15 Minutes of Fame we each have come to expect in our lifetimes may not come on the evening news but rather among a tiny group of like-minded zealots...

Not sure whether that's good or bad, but damn, it's cool to think about, eh? (For me and my peeps, anyway - all 50 of 'em.) ;)

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