The Launch of and Why Social Networking Sites are the Wall Marts of the Long Tail

14 March, 2005

On today's Daily Source Code, Adam Curry announced a new venture, that he is undertaking with Ron Bloom to "bring together the elements to create a marketplace" for Podcasting. He listed these: making it easier to find Podcasts through search and directories, enabling monetization through convincing big Madison Avenue types of the value of narrowcast advertising, and lowering barriers to entry for content creation by anyone.

I think these are all the right ideas, hip to the best current thinking in these areas like the Long Tail, etc. Something occurred to me in looking at the crappy temporary pre-launch page they put up (crufty with advertising-speak: buzzwords and catchphrases, and confusing non-compliant design): The big movers of the folksonomic/tagging/new whatever, Flickr and, have raised the bar for useability of site design. Both of those sites do complicated things that are hard to explain to people who haven't used the sites. It is a virtue of their implementation that "you really have to use it to get it" is both so often said of these sites and so true. What they do can't be reduced to buzzwords or a satisfying one sentence marketing statement. With, and so many other sites, on the other hand, I think that if you didn't already know what they were about when you got there, you would have no way of figuring it out from the site and no chance of figuring out how to use the site itself.

Right now, this is not such a big deal because we're talking about a parking page. But soon, when they launch their service, they better have a design of equivalent quality to and Flickr, one that is both self-explanatory and a pleasure to use. I guess what I'm realizing is that the excellence of these sites' designs may not just be a happy coincidence, but a necessity of operating in the Long Tail. Since, in Long Tail territory, people are following whims and whisps of their own taste, wandering around laterally to find new things that they might like and new people whose taste they trust, rather than searching for a specific pre-known thing, the "stores" have to be much more responsive to their desires, making it simple and obvious for them to navigate in whatever direction occurs to them at any moment.

Take the totally dominant sell-your-own-music site CD Baby as a example. Try to find At Dusk on CD Baby. It's easy. You just type the name into their search field and you get good results. But then try to navigate from there to any other semi-similar band, Menomena for example. It is next to impossible to do just by clicking on links even though we're in the same scene in the same city and, in fact, know each other a little bit.

The key to this kind of navigation is social networking. You don't want to browse other bands in the same genre or in the same region, you want to see what bands other people who like At Dusk also like. It's just like the real world: the best way to find out about music is to talk to people who you already have something in common with musically (say that you run into at a show or in a record store) and then explore what else they like that you might not know about yet. On the other end, everyone has a friend or two who they trust for music refrences, who is always listening to new things and has taste similar enough to your own that their recommendations will have a pretty high hit rate. The more people you find like this the more good music you'll find.

Sites such as and Flickr do a lot to encourage these kinds of interations. They're always pushing you down the Long Tail towards things you don't know about yet but might like rather than up to the most popular items that you already have an opinion on but that get bought the most.

I can't think of a medium that is more ripe for this kind of treatment than podcasting. It has the social networking element already built in by its relation to blogging and there really isn't anything narrower than the Tap Dancing News on or any of the 6 items in the subdirectory for "wine".

I don't know if it's going to be, but sometime soon, someone is going to build a great social networking site for podcasting and that's going to be the ballgame.

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