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August 21, 2006

Life on The Long Tail – A Better Mousetrap Still Doesn’t Cut It

In my last post about life on the long tail, I asked “So how do you establish a position on or move to the head end and off the long, hungry tail?”  Reader Brian Thomas almost immediately posted an answer in a comment:

“Only one possible answer, Tom: make a better product or service.

“With increased exposure, of course, the correlation between the quality of your offering and its success is a lot firmer, which to my mind is a win for all of us.

“My personal belief here is that given equal exposure, the good generally wins over the bad, and better communication makes it easier for the exposure to be equal, so even though the Internet enables many new ways to degrade, defraud, and deceive people, it also provides new ways to expose evils.” (full comment here).

Brian’s optimistic, I think.  A better product or service is usually (but not always) necessary for success; it is seldom sufficient.

As a nerd, I’m partial to the better mousetrap theory.  Good thing that I’ve had Mary to market many of my mousetraps or I’d still be eating stale cheese and waiting for the world to beat a path to my door. Even the Internet and the long tail of cheap-to-produce, less-than-hit products it enables haven’t changed the rules so that better products will always bubble to the surface unaided by a powerful marketing effort.

Yes, the Internet means that anyone with access can see your website.  But the increasing size of the Internet makes it less, not more likely that they’ll stumble upon you by accident.

The popularity of websites as judged by the number of incoming links apparently follows a power curve just as allocation among sales of products in a category and the distribution of wealth in a population.  This means that the second most popular website at any time has roughly half as many incoming links as the most popular, the third most popular website has one-third the number of links as the most popular and so on with the nth site having 1/n as many incoming links as the leader.  The long tail curve as expounded by Chris Anderson is a graph of a power law curve.

Bad news is that the more web sites there are, the less links there are to more of the least popular sites, even though more sites means more links overall.  Your new site for your new service is competing not only with other services like yours but with all the other new and existing services clamoring for valuable attention from people who have no more attention to give.  Even if your service is unique in what it delivers, it’s not unique in needing attention from people who never heard of you or it before.

For the rest of this series on life on the long tail, we’ll assume that you’ve developed a better product or service. Now the question is how do you get anyone to pay attention to it.

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