Friday, March 25, 2005

The Long Tail for mobile content

Last October, I read - with great interest - the article about The Long Tail written by Chris Anderson, the day where Russell Beattie told me about it, and I thought it was the one of the most interesting thing I had read for a while. Russell and I discussed about how The Long Tail could be applied to the mobile industry, and surprisingly I haven't read too much about it so I felt I should post something.

No, the Long Tail isn't only a buzz word you may use to catch the attention of a VC in order to get some funding, along with "vertical search", "tags" and "RSS". It is about opening your eyes to what the new economy has really to offer, and exploring the unknown boundaries of the digitalization of media and entertainement and the way they can be distributed. It is about being finally allowed to consider the customer as unique with his own taste and pushing away the idea of putting them in some kind of marketing categories. Market segmentation will always be there (TV commercials haven't got an unlimited duration as opposed to the Long Tail catalogue), but the marketing rules are no more driven by the physical world with its own rules.

Chris Anderson does a great job explaining how the Long Tail can be applied to digital media. But let's focus on mobile for a minute. We have two types of content for cell phones. Let's call them "basic content" - including ringtones, wallpapers, avatars, etc. - and applications which require programming skills, such as games.

Now what does make a difference between traditional digital media and mobile content? A huge part of this mobile content is actually not portable across devices. And it is especially true for applications since you have to deal with the platform, versioning, screen size, supported
APIs, etc. So what does that mean for our Long Tail here? It simply means that it is more complex to build up unlimited catalogues for mobile content than for more traditional media. Your mp3 song will be played anywhere, whereas your mobile game will only work with this specific phone... See where I am coming from?

Now let's think about the opportunities. As a service provider, the way you implement the Long Tail for recommending mobile content may have an even bigger impact than on the Web. Think about search. You may look into the top 10 to 20 results when you type a request on Google using your desktop, whereas you may not scroll down to more than 3 to 5 results when you use your mobile. Mobile search is more demanding than Web search, since you don't want to browse tons of results. For the same reasons, companies applying The Long Tail for mobile should better do a great job when recommending the relevent content to each user.


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