Somehow my store now has CBC Newsworld running all the time now, instead of music. As such I’ve been exposed to a lot of news lately – on the one hand it means I’m a bit better informed than usual, and on the other, it exposes me to three hours of balloon boy coverage, which no one needs.
But it’s gotten me thinking about a quote I heard I can’t recall where, that went something along the lines of
Businesses need to begin thinking in the scale of the internet, because anything smaller is already outmoded.
Don’t quote me on that quote. It’s a sentiment, not even a paraphrase, but it did hit me pretty hard. Something as large as the internet, with no set borders, and an ever-diversifying infrastructure (whether it’s able to scale itself at pace with itself has yet to be seen) is about as intangible as it gets. How do you measure something like this? It’s all well and good to think in the scale of the internet, but if you try to encompass the Net in your head, it’s going to explode.
So how can we narrow it down and make it concievable without threatening the scale of the thing itself?
You don’t. And there’s the problem. The information explosion began a lot earlier than the internet. Ars Technica ran a piece the other day about the menace of content copying (pursuant of course to copyright debates, which I’ve addressed before) that has a quote regarding the beginning of Big Content:
In 1906, famous composer John Philip Sousa took to Appleton’s Magazine to pen an essay decrying the latest piratical threat to his livelihood, to the entire body politic, and to “musical taste” itself. His concern? The player piano and the gramophone, which stripped the life from real, human, soulful live performances.
“From the days when the mathematical and mechanical were paramount in music, the struggle has been bitter and incessant for the sway of the emotional and the soulful,” he wrote. “And now in this the twentieth century come these talking and playing machines and offer again to reduce the expression of music to a mathematical system of megaphones, wheels, cogs, disks, cylinders, and all manner of revolving things which are as like real art as the marble statue of Eve is like her beautiful living breathing daughters.”
The piece is long, but well worth reading. Still, the primary example is that innovation kills copyright, which was instituted to foster innovation. It’s all very Greek myth, really, and it’s a bit much for me to handle. But this is what traditional media is trying to convince me the internet is doing.
How much impact does the trading of culture for technology have on us, after all?
I have to wonder. So here’s an experiment. In my iTunes right now, there are 2401 songs, which total 7.4 days of continuous music, taking up 16.09 GB of hard drive pace on my computer. Now, about 80% of this comes from discs I’ve ripped out of my own collection in the last eleven years I’ve been collecting music. A further 10% is directly from the iTunes store, and the remaining 10% I can’t lay a direct cause to. We’ll say pirating, because it’s as likely as anything else.
Now, if I sort my iTunes by play count, I get 9 songs with counts over 50. A total of 34 songs have been played more than 25 times, 312 songs have been played once, and 1552 songs have never been played at all.
Never. Not once. This means more than 3/4 of my iTunes library I’ve never even heard.
Now, further, I checked which songs I play the most. Just about all of them are new music, things I’ve gotten from the iTunes store. Of the 9 songs with counts over 50, 8 of them are iTunes+ songs, actually. And every single song I’ve purchased has been played more than 10 times.
This means that the 3/4 of my library which I’ve never played is just about entirely made up of my old albums. Having looked into the things I have which have been played between 5 and 10 times, that makes up the entirety of the Mystery 10%, which I can’t account for having paid for any time in my life. Not one of these songs has been played since about ten days since it was added to my library.
My iTunes library is an analogue for how I see the internet scale.
I visit, consistently, 48 sites on the net every day. Some, such as Google Reader, get massive amounts of visits – this is because I suck all f the good content, the blogs I like reading, into my gReader and never visit the main sites again unless I want to make a comment. Mark Dykeman recently asked on his blog a question about how much impoetus we’re giving people to involve themselves with our internet presenses (post: Do you need to read this?) and it’s a damned good question. How much of the internet do we really need? How much of it is expendable?
And that’s the lie right there. Because the answer is none of it. I don’t care that 4chan exists on a day to day basis, but it’s there, and someone cares. I couldn’t pay less attention to Ground Round’s exquisitely designed brouchureware website if I was paid to do so – but someone visits every day, I bet, because they care. Search explosion or not, content explosion and overload or not, it’s all there for a reason; someone cared enough to put it there, and someone cares enough to keep it there.
How can businesses – and worse yet, people – think in internet scale effectively, when the long tail is so visible it hurts? Especially when my long tail is not your long tail is not Clay’s or Bill’s or Tim’s?
Convince me to care. That’s the internet scale in four words. Otherwise, I’ll keep racking up the play counts on things I already access regularly, and you’ll end up like the pirated music on my iTunes; neglected, discounted, and neither making money nor losing any. From me, anyway. I can’t speak for anyone else.
What are you going to do to convince me to care?