Failure and the Long Tail

I’m what the world considers to be a phenomenally succesful man, and I’ve failed much more than I’ve succeeded. And each time I fail, I get my people together, and I say, “Where are we going?” And it starts to get better.

Sports Night, “Quo Vadiums

I promise, this is a positive post. Although, I sometimes wonder what people think when they come to this blog if *any* of it is positive. It all is, I promise.

I’ve mentioned in the past, but a phenomenal book on the topic of legitimate impact on the way technology has changed how people think is Clay Shirky’s Here Comes Everybody. One of the chapters that stands out the most to me is on the topics of crowdsourcing online in an open-source environment. When there is no institution and the only tether is communication, it’s amazing what can be accomplished – you have removed the organizational fear of failed investment because there is no structure that needs to move forward.

Shirky started his point around the Linux operating system – what started as a hobby has become a lifeblood for many ITers out there. The development has been completely “What works stays, what doesn’t isn’t implemented.” You can’t afford to do that in an institutionalized working environment (as Shirky says many, many, many times throughout the chapter).

Great point, I like the idea of crowdsourcing software, but it’s just not practical to the rest of the world. Online communities makes it easy to communicate and work on large projects – but they also allow everyone to come together with an exceptionally low barrier to entry. That’s why blogging was revolutionary – not because the general public hadn’t been building Web pages for the world in the past, but because now it was easy to learn, cheap to setup, and free to host.

Think about things that actually matter to you – friends, interests, personal development. Ten years ago, I never would have been able to share my own music the way I do now. Recording, developing, editing and distributing would have been costly, ineffective and even more. But now, what do I have to lose? A large point of Shirky’s overall work is that in communities, most contributors actually add very little – in terms of content, new ideas, or views – some even only adding one thing and walking away. The majority of a work is delivered completely by only a handful.

My new band, The Greensides, are we going to get as many views as Lonely Island? No. We aren’t. No matter how much Pat and I put out there, it’s a pretty safe bet that we will not pass Andy Samberg and T-Pain in total watches. But, it didn’t cost us anything to try over the weekend:

Think about other things – the online community gives you a chance to try something. I’m really only beginning to understand, though, that this has huge implications on the Internet’s “Long Tail.” The reason the long tail got so long, to those really niche populations, is because the door is open to try something and see if the community exists. If there were only two other guys in the world who covered Pat McGee Band, it would have been a needle in a haystack for us to find them.

Cheap, easy, and accessible; these are the keys to online communities nowadays and these are what drive the fringe groups to find each other. Pat and I took a chance on some good ol’ PMB with this video. If die hard Pat McGee fans don’t find it or, worse, find it and hate it, is that failure? How many views constitute success? Tough to say. The point is that it costs us nothing – and the ability to stare failure down, get over the fear, is one thing that will always contribute to success.

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