Friday, September 09, 2005

The forest, the trees,
you and the internet

When planning your startup or growing your enterprise, you've got to first decide who your customers are and what value you can bring to them. Where are those potential customers hiding? What are your best market opportunities?

When you look at the overall economy, it looks pretty daunting. In fact it looks downright chaotic. You can look at a million details so hard and so long that the forest disappears. You can be left with nothing but a pile of details and nothing to act on.

Good. That kind of confusion keeps out the under motivated.

Where the rest of us can draw motivational breath is in the numbers. The large numbers that produce the apparent chaos are also your opportunity, seen in the right light.

The September 2005 issue of MITs Technology Review includes a book review by Mark Williams of two new books about internet search theory and practice. The first is, The Search: How Google and Its Rivals Rewrote the Rules of Business and Transformed Our Culture, by John Battelle. The other is The Long Tail, by Chris Anderson, the editor in chief of Wired magazine. My summary will be too short, but the basic idea behind the concept of long tails is that carefully searched and sorted, patterns can be pulled from the chaos. Your opportunity is in there, hiding behind the big stuff.

What does this mean for you friend? Here's how Mark Williams describes it in his review: "In the context of e-commerce, long tails have three implications. First, via the Internet, products with little demand can, collectively, create a market exceeding that of the few best sellers. Second, in the same way, that it enables a proliferation of markets, the Internet enables a proliferation of vendors. Finally, thanks to search, a shift from mass to niche markets is likely."

Or to quote directly from Chris Anderson's blog directly, "The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of "hits" (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-target goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare."

Yes, yes, yes. You can create and grow your own enterprises despite the headlines, despite the apparent odds, and despite the naysayers. No generation in the history of the world has had this kind of access to knowledge, tools, markets and opportunities.

Tip your approach upside down. The forest is there. The trees are there. Your path through this opportunity awaits.

MITs Technology Review

Chris Anderson's Long Tail blog

John Battelle's blog

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