Famous for fifteen people

The piece I wrote last week on The Long Tail of blogging and the myth of attention scarcity has found some resonances in the blogosphere. Jim McGee pointed to my piece in a riff on the topic that extends to the question of attention scarcity and knowledge dissemination inside corporations:

Sure, [attention is] 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.

And Scott Rosenberg, while not explicitly referencing my piece, makes many of the same points and posits a future without blockbusters, but one in which more creators may be able to make a living:

For Klam, as for so many of us media pros, “the blogs that succeed” is synonymous with “the blogs that reach a wide audience.” But publishing a blog is a nearly cost-free effort compared with all previous personal-publishing opportunities, and that frees us all to choose different criteria for success: Maybe self-expression is enough. Or opening a conversation with a couple of new friends. Or recording a significant event in one’s life for others to find…

…[I’m] impressed by the unflagging explosion of memorable new blogging voices and contributions to the burgeoning pool of human knowledge online. This is the dark matter of the Web universe, the stuff J.D. Lasica is writing about in his book. Collectively, it outweighs all the “bright” matter of the more commercial Web sites with their vast traffic…

There’s an old saying in the land of the Broadway theater, where once I tarried, that you can’t make a living there, but you can make a killing. Perhaps the Internet’s fate is to transmute the worlds of publishing and entertainment and even global trade from the hit-or-miss nightmare of a Broadway-like lottery into something more hopeful — a world where it’s a lot harder to make a killing but a lot easier to make a living. Is there anyone, outside of a few boardrooms, who’d find that a loss?

Finally, I think, we get to the bottom line. Our society has been so warped by the “mass market” and the phenomenon of the “hit” that we think that everything that is not a hit is a miss, and that the only things that create value—whether in music, film, theatre, or online—are the hits. I would argue that that’s a destructive philosophy, and one that becomes profoundly untrue as the cost of production diminishes. I think Google shows that the value of “hits” to the general Internet user is a hell of a lot smaller than the value of all the “long tail.” And NetFlix and Amazon prove it from an economic standpoint. So at some point you have to take a step back and ask: If hits are an increasingly smaller share of the total revenue opportunity, why do they get all the investment? Isn’t the multi-million-dollar blockbuster, or the record album that never recoups its production costs, an unwise investment when you consider all the other smaller successes you could have invested in?