Post details: Slate Reviews Anderson's Book

Slate Reviews Anderson's Book

Posted by Andrew on July 24th, 2006

The Long Tail by Chris AndersonWith Wired editor Chris Anderson's book The Long Tail currently on the bestseller list, a casual reader might assume that my "blogging from the long tail" concept is intended as a riff on Anderson's meme. It isn't.

(This blog has actually been many years in the making. I published my own critical observations on the Web's long tail in the fall of 1996, contrarian thinking at a time when libertarian voices were dominating public discourse with sanguine claims about the Web leveling the playing field among speakers. So dominant was this flat-Earth thinking that the one-word domain names voiceless.com and voiceless.org were still available for me to purchase in January 1999. Before the dotcom crash, there weren't many people who believed that an enterprising Web publisher could end up in a state of involuntary voicelessness.)

I haven't even read Anderson's book yet, although I hope to do so soon. (From what I've heard, it supports what I've been saying all these years, much as Cass Sunstein did a few years ago.) But for now, I can at least review a review of Anderson's book.

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As it happens, Friday's Slate carried a review by Columbia Law School Professor Tim Wu. Wu credits Anderson with coming up with a "catchy" theory, but argues that the long tail insight "goes only so far" and that the book "threatens to turn a great theory of inventory economics into a bad theory of life and the universe." As a counterpoint to the long tail right in the concept's home territory, Wu cites the economic benefits of standard-setting in the information technology industries:

Do people want 10 different types of (incompatible) Internet connections? Or just the fastest one they can get? How about 30 types of (incompatible) Ethernet cables?

In my own scholarly work, I have studied both the long-tail phenomenon and standard-setting processes, examining silencing effects and voiceless communities in both contexts. I plan to report on this work in this blog. So Wu's review helps to clarify the differences in scope between this blog and Anderson's book: while my role is that of a blogger from the long tail, my purpose is to examine the legal and technological structures that keep almost all of us voiceless, whether they are amenable to "catchy" descriptions or not.

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