I have always been a music collector. My garage contains specially insulated cases for my large vinyl collection, which are an annual topic with my wife who would like to see them go away. But that's another story. Back in 1983, I purchased a couple records (Bauhaus and Depeche Mode, if you're wondering) because I loved the music and cover art -- and yet did not even own a record player. Not long after, I came across a coveted extended play (EP) vinyl record in mint condition (allegedly) within the pages of the collector's guide Goldmine magazine, and I remember contacting the reseller down in Malaysia from my home in California while my parents were asleep…because I knew they would never allow me to call Malaysia. I was able to secure a hold on the item, sent a money order later that week, and about a month or so later, my record appeared. Oh....I don't remember the details, but let's just say that my parents were not thrilled about the phone bill.
Fast forward a few years, when I became an early adopter of eBay. Suddenly I was finding multiple copies of the music I wanted, and could get things at a reasonable cost. And for a short while, I was even able to find rarities through local stores (San Francisco Bay Area) and sell them for a nice margin online through eBay.
But within 2 or 3 years, something happened: the market became saturated with what were previously rare items. That coveted EP which had cost me $120 plus shipping and handling (another $30 to $40) was now available for $20 or less, with many duplicate items ending their auction time without a single bid. From one perspective, the "long tail" destroyed my music side business. But at the same time, I was able to suddenly -- seemingly overnight -- find the entire back catalog of all of my favorite artists. The long tail liberated my purchasing decisions.
I use eBay as an example of the power of networked resources to reach into the long tail of a marketplace, or of an organization. People who previously had no channel through which to sell their wares or to find the specialized, rare items like my coveted EP, suddenly had a tool, a method, a way of connecting with people around the world to pool their resources, share their artifacts.
Within the enterprise, that is what the new breed of social tools brings to structured collaboration: social taps into the long tail of your content and end user expertise in way that your less social enterprise content management, records management, and file storage platforms cannot accomplish.
I find myself saying this over and over again in almost every presentation I give on the topic: social provides context to content, and helps surface information that would otherwise be buried deep within that long tail. Just like the eBay model, social accesses your vast network of people and data and allows you to more easily source the content you need. But without all the shipping and handling expenses.
Just thinking out loud here…
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