Is longtail in your future?

While Klaus Schwab and Esther Dyson work in different venues they have surprisingly similar goals.

Who is Klaus? He established and runs the World Economic Forum each January in Davos, Switzerland. It’s attended by chief executives, activists, political leaders and even rock stars. Anyone

who is anyone was there (we weren’t). A major discussion this year was improving literacy and communications with cheap PCs and wired/wireless networking.

Who is Esther? She has been the editor for years of Release 1.0, an extremely influential newsletter on technology that can help you make it huge if you are mentioned because it is read by everyone who is anyone in the industry. She also runs – among other things – PC (platforms for communications) Forum where the digitally elite gather in the Arizona sun to pitch and talk about technology that will change our lives.

Both are influential and extremely important – especially if you want to connect with the checkbooks that can launch your idea, your technology into space.

The highlights of PC Forum centered on the individual: How to find out more about him/her and how to deliver more of what he/she wants. The “”news”” of the three-day event was that everyone was now focusing on a concept that Chris Anderson, editor of Wired Magazine, had developed and written about last year called longtail.

Anderson’s brilliantly simple concept was that as products move into the mass market and become commodities (like PCs, TVs, media centers, DVD burners) people almost intuitively reject the idea of buying one-size-fits-all products. He ventured that they are willing to pay a premium for products/services that meet their specific wants and needs.

For example, people buy an HD-ready TV set, add a home theater in a box and upgrade it with Bose speakers (personal experience). They purchase a notebook PC like HP’s or Toshiba’s with InstantON home theater capabilities then add a TV timeshifting unit like ADS’ Instant TV that will tap into streaming media services and BAM! they can watch the missed Alias segment on their Treo Titanium.

The longtail concept is great at first blush. Everyone was talking about how they were going to find and deliver that personal experience and content. The problem is that somewhere all of that individualized personal information is sitting in databases around the globe just waiting to be mined. The big unanswered question was how these organizations are going to protect that longtail detail to keep it from falling into unscrupulous hands?

People rip off notebooks from government executives’ offices. Credit firms and financial institutions report that our information is regularly “”borrowed”” from their databases.

IDC notes that there are over 900 million users around the globe using the Internet and that we are buying/using Internet-centric content at an almost unbelievable rate. These on-line accesses include digital CE, content, pay-TV services, wireless voice and ordinary Internet services. With people using millions of mobile devices those numbers are pretty easy to believe.

But in this ecosystem, this global community, there are bad guys (and gals).

Somewhere along the line we’re going to have to realize that individual privacy is important and that we need to develop personal cocoons to protect the data we want protected, or we agree to abandon the idea that personal privacy is necessary. RFID implants would solve the problem from a technical perspective. Sure would make it easier for Google, Yahoo, MSN, Ask Jeeves and others to tailor responses to our individual needs. But that’s probably more transparency and trust than most people are willing to give just to be entertained.

Choices Are Out There

The hot – sexy – technology areas today are content development products/services and content delivery products/services. Best of all, they’re delivering content anywhere, anytime. The population is moving out Anderson’s longtail so quickly networks, Hollywood and independent content developers, stations (audio and video) and advertisers are struggling with formulas to document and measure their success in reaching you.

Over the past 50-plus years we have absorbed technology at an increasingly rapid rate because it was either more convenient, more efficient or it was simply a “”better”” replacement. But now providers (hardware, software, content) are slicing and expanding their offerings so finely it is almost impossible for the personal CPU (brain) to keep pace.

Take the example of Danielle Levitas’, vice-president of IDC’s consumer, broadband markets, and go to your favorite Big Barn store to buy a new TV. You can choose flat or curved; digital or analog; 4:3 or 16:9; rear projection – CRT, LCD, DLP, LCoS – or flat – plasma, LCD. Yes there are other choices also like standard, enhanced, high def as well as digital tuner, digital cable ready and the list goes on.

It’s enough to mumble Homer Simpson’s famous words, “”I think my brain is going to explode!””

Intel, Cisco, HP, Dell, Panasonic, Philips, Sony, Thomson and the thousands of other large and small firms in the industry are solving problems we don’t even know we have.

A few years ago Jon Peddie of Peddie Research asked CES conference attendees the rhetorical question, “”Just because we can, should we?””

IDC’s Levitas questions how people can accept our over-converged offerings when the user interface doesn’t scale, interoperability is still a struggle and issues such as the portability of content and rights have yet to be solved.

Despite the “”encouragement”” of standards groups such as the DLNA, UPnP Forum, Wi-Fi Alliance and similar collaborative organizations around the globe, they still have a long way to go to make their dreams your reality.

Nothing has beaten – or even come close – to how quickly people around the globe bought into DVD. It was immediately apparent that it was better than VHS and it rapidly become affordable as a replacement. But we’ve been much slower in adopting DVRs with global usage still below 20 per cent. DVD burners have an even smaller penetration percentage, which means there is still a huge sales potential in the recordable DVD arena – hardware, software, and media.

With DVD burner prices breaking $100, DVD recorder prices getting breathlessly close to the $200 price point, digital cameras and camcorders (yes and camphones) available at surprisingly lower and lower prices; its obvious that the DVD train is just barely pulling away from the station.

If you have just figured out DVD, why would you want to tackle Blue? Here’s technology that will deliver variety like never before – HD-DVD, BD, FVD, EVD, HVD. And in this new “”better”” arena there is exceptional focus on security -theirs, not yours.

Content At Home, Away

While Japan seems to consistently lead the world market in technology adoption, all of the PC/CE and content producers measure their success in the U.S. market. We used to think that was American ego until we saw the recent Forbes Magazine Global 2000 and Centris report on CE/Inet connected devices.

However, when it comes to HD-ready TV sets the U.S. is just getting off the ground compared to global sales. Most of us agree with the CEA and IDC that service providers will have a decided edge on which content delivery products most Americans purchase. But the early adopters will take the road less traveled with a combination of PC media systems and media servers.

Consumers will simply add the cable or satellite box that is “”offered”” because it means they won’t have to make many hardware or software decisions. If we had our druthers, we’d opt in for Internet content delivery as do a growing number of people in Korea and Hong Kong.

That would give us much greater flexibility as to where and how we view/listen to our content. It’s fast, it’s robust, it’s everywhere and it’s probably going to be inexpensive. In fact, if you visit and monitor the Internet Traffic Report (ITR) you’ll see that the infrastructure – wired and wireless – is not only built-out in most industrial areas of the world but it is very reliable.

It’s just that if we look at the categories of business and personal digital “”tools”” that are out there, more can be used via the Internet than the cable to the house.

And when you think about the potential of using internet-based entertainment, is similar to baseball’s Yogi Berra’s reply to the person who said, “”Hey Yogi, I think we’re lost.”” He answered “”Yeah, but we’re making great time!””

Today the industry is following multiple tracks and going faster and faster and faster.

If we’re lucky change will be so fast that the content police won’t catch up.

(Max Spindle is a pseudonym for an IT industry insider)

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