Like many of you, I suspect, I'm eagerly looking forward to Chris Anderson's upcoming book, The Long Tail -- partially because his pre-book blog has been so interesting, but also because Chris is one of the sharpest and least doctrinaire thinkers that I know. I've been following the Long Tail debates from afar, in much the same way that I followed the original power law debates that Clay Shirky started. But I've put together a new column for Discover that looks at the long tail question in the context of cities. This is an angle that I haven't seen explored to date; up to now, in fact, I think the long tail premise has a tacit anti-urban bias to it, since it used to require big city scale to find obscure long tail books or albums that are now readily available to anyone with an Internet connection. But some long tail services can't be Fedexed or downloaded -- people, for instance. I started thinking about all of this thanks to the ingenious Dodgeball service, created by two former students of mine. (I had nothing to do with the idea for the company itself, which is too bad for me, since it's just been bought by Google.) At any rate, you can read the whole article, but the main argument is this:
Dodgeball suggests an intriguing twist on long tail theory. As the technology increasingly allows us to satisfy more eclectic needs, any time those needs require a physical presence –– whether it's sipping your cold soup or meeting your crush in a bar –– the logic of the long tail will favor urban environments over less densely populated ones. If you're downloading the latest album from an obscure Scandinavian doo-wop group, geography doesn't matter: It's just as easy to get the bits delivered to you in the middle of Wyoming as it is in the middle of Manhattan. But if you're trying to meet up with other fans of Scandinavian doo-wop, you'll have more luck in Manhattan.