Long tail creators vs. organizational control

Scoble’s message in a bottle to Bill Gates keys in on an essential truth; that the underlying reality of the wealth of new tools around the web is about creating:

I told him to understand the content-creation trend that’s going on. It’s not just pod-casting. It’s not just blogging. It’s not just people using Garageband to create music. It’s not just people who soon will be using Photostory to create, well, stories with their pictures, voice, and music. It’s not just about ArtRage’ers who are painting beautiful artwork on their Tablet PCs. It’s not just the guys who are building weblog technology for Tablet PCs. Or for cell phones. Or for camera phones.

This is a major trend. Microsoft should get behind it. Bigtime. Humans want to create things. We want to send them to our friends and family. We want to be famous to 15 people. We want to share our lives with our video camcorders and our digital cameras. Get into Flickr, for instance. Ask yourself, why is Sharepoint taking off? (Tim O’Reilly told us that book sales of Sharepoint are growing faster than almost any other product). It’s the urge to create content. To tell our coworkers our ideas. To tell Bill Gates how to run his company! Isn’t this all wild?

Obviously, this all ties into the recent flurry of commentary about the “long tail.” We’ve been indoctrinated for so long into the mythos of mass markets, that we’ve forgotten that human creativity preceeds and predates those markets. After you’ve created a mass marketing/distribution system, the system demands that you find or create hits to feed it. Change the economics of the creation and distribution systems and you open up the entire distribution not just the obvious tail. This is nothing more than Coase’s arguments about how changing transaction costs will play out. Tim Jarrett makes this point and also connects the argument to Clay Shirky’s Power Laws, Weblogs, and Inequality article.

Both Robert and Tim begin to show how the problem of attention may not be as big a problem as has been argued. Sure, it’s a problem to the mass marketer/distributor who thinks they are entitled to a portion of my and everyone else’s attention. And initially, it’s a problem for me as I learn how to find and connect to that unique mix of sources scattered throughout the entire distribution that warrant my attention. When it settles down, however, my attention ends up better spent with that unique set of trusted advisors than it does filtered through the classic lens of mass market distribution.

One of my particular interests lies in what all of this means for doing knowledge work inside organizations. The mentality of mass market distribution manifests inside organizations as a concern for control. In a mass market world or organization there is room for only one message and, frequently, only one messenger. From this industrial perspective, attention management looms as a grave threat. If I insist on routing all decisions about attention through a central node, then, of course, that node suffers from attention overload. But it does so at the expense of wasting potential attention capacity distributed throughout the organization. The only hope of tapping the available attention capacity of the organization is to give up the attachment to conventional notions of control. Put another way, the biggest obstacle to success remains the emotional needs of senior leadership to stay in control.

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