Platt Perspective on Business and Technology

Does the internet preserve or limit diversity?

Posted in business and convergent technologies by Timothy Platt on June 23, 2010

Yesterday I posted two items that connect as background to this question. One of them was a posting to my ongoing series Ubiquitous Computing and Communications – everywhere all the time that I offered as:

Some Thoughts on the Co-Evolution of the Internet and Globalization

and the other was as a reply to a comment posted to an installment in my series on online stores best practices at:

Online Store, Online Market Space – part 8 and search engine marketing your new online store – 2.

The internet serves to expand and even make universal, the opportunity to enter into a global conversation. Anyone can set up a web site or a blog, a Twitter feed or an online group, a listserve or other online connectivity and information sharing resource. At the same time, usage patterns and visibility, as measured by actual visitor/user connection to these resources closely follows a power law distribution with the vast majority of all activity in any given topic area or marketplace directed to a small percentage of sites and resources in that space, and all others in that space taking tiny, long tail shares of what is left.

A specific example might help here. On the one hand, there is growing evidence that the internet as a shared global forum is serving as an effective resource for preserving large numbers of languages in danger of extinction from active use, and on the other hand, the internet, by its very power law driven nature, is helping to propel English and a few other languages into global prominence, in effect squeezing more and more languages into a position where this type of rescue may be needed. And as I noted in the comment reply I cite above, this is largely search engine driven as that is where most people go to search and find online, and for both information content and for entering the online marketplace and doing business, B to B (business to business) or B to C (business to consumer).

And one of the most significant consequences to this adherence to the power law here is creation of ongoing pressure towards conformity and away from long tail diversity that would not show on search queries for more than just a small number of users. But at the same time, niche markets can thrive where there are legitimate market needs that are not being met in the more standardized larger markets, and when the market reach is potentially global even a small niche market space can still drive a lot of business, and gather a significant community. But arguments in support of the internet as a source of expanded diversity, and arguments in support of the contention that this diversity might be a bit hollow as to active visibility both have their limitations.

I raise this here as an open question, and it is one that takes on importance for any small or startup business that would seek to break into the online marketplace in the face of the ongoing momentum of current power law winners in public visibility. It applies to anyone or any group that would seek to open discussion on what would at least start out as a long tail idea, concept or approach, or long tail information that supports this. And here, online marketing is in a real sense all about breaking from the long tail to the other side of that inflection point in the power law distribution curve – and into inclusion in the favored and visited small number of top sites. Or if not that, it is at least about creating a sustaining, vital niche market that can be of sufficient scope and stability to sustain a business or a perspective and goals directed community.

So along with being an open question, this is also one with real and even significant implications and consequences. And as the old saying goes, this is one where the devil really is in the details and no broad-brush stroke, general answer can hold.

Tomorrow I am going to post my next installment in an ongoing series on best practices for succeeding in a new job probationary period and on building from that for long term success. I am sure to come back to this, though and to issues that connect with it.

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