Motive and opportunity

I like thinking about things. Savouring them as I roll them around my head, tasting them, mulling over them. Ruminating. Masticating.

I like thinking about things in themes. What do I mean? Let’s take an example. A recent Harvard Business Review article asked if we should Invest in the Long Tail. Apparently, research had shown that even in a long-tail world, blockbusters continued to exist and were of significance. Chris Anderson wrote a response pointing out the importance of getting the definitions right, and showed how, in his opinion, the research was consistent with the theory. And a whole conversation started.

Reading all that set me thinking. It made me go back to the oft-quoted Clay Shirky article on Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality, serendipitously referred to a couple of days ago, in a post by Hugh Macleod on, of all things, cloud computing.

And this is what I’m thinking about:

1. In a broadcast age where the power of distribution lay in the hands of a select few, there were blockbusters.

2. In the internet age, where the power of distribution is less narrowly held, there continue to be blockbusters.

3. The blockbusters are different. They come from different motives, give rise to different opportunities, form part of different business models. Let’s call the broadcast blockbusters Type A blockbusters, and the internet blockbusters Type B blockbusters.

4. When the power of distribution is narrowly held, someone else chooses the blockbuster, then uses advertising, availability and proximity to try and self-fulfil the prophecy. Sometimes that succeeds, sometimes not. We all have our Waterworlds to bear.

5. When the power of distribution is democratised, everything changes. Now the blockbuster is about power laws rather than self-fulfilling prophecies.

The moral of the story is this: You could game a Type A blockbuster. You can’t game the Type B blockbuster. [This is what I’m thinking about; this post is as provisional as any other post I write].

6 thoughts on “Motive and opportunity”

  1. As I put in in 2003:
    If you look at relative popularity on the web, using something like Technorati, you get a power law curve that goes all the way down smoothly, to the bottom where you see pages that got just a single link.
    If you look at popularity in the publishing world – movies, chart music or books – the curve starts out with a power law, but soon drops like a stone.
    That’s because in order to get a movie made, a recording contract or a book published, you have to convince somebody that you’re going to sell a million tickets, a hundred thousand CDs or tens of thousands of books.
    You end up in a zero-sum game, where people pour enormous resources into being number one, because number two is only half as good. The promise of the net is that the power of all those little links can outweigh the power of the top ten.

  2. Thanks for that, Kevin. I remember your post now, just couldn’t recall where I’d seen the “barriers to entry” argument. Age, I guess.

  3. A series of genuine blockbusters will motivate enough people to game the era( be it ad era, or peer-to-peer recommendation era) We are too early in the Type B era to conclude that Type B is characterized by not being gamed.

    Remember, radio broadcast( rather radio ads) also democratized businesses of that era. So is containerization( of shipments). In my opinion, gaming is inevitable progression. Indeed, it comes with the territory of studying/understanding any interesting system/phenomenon.

  4. Hello,
    I wanted to refer you to a website you may be interested in, especially if you like reading Clay Shirky. has a dialogue between him and Daniel Goleman available called “Socially Intelligent Computing.” It is quite good and available on DVD or digital download.

  5. You could be right, Balaji. I hope not. I have this hunch that there is an equivalent of Linus’s Law for Type B: ……given enough eyeballs…..

    Lewis, thanks a lot. I look forward to listening to the dialogue, I’m familiar with Goleman’s work.

  6. It makes you wonder how the “B” players become “A” players. All jokes aside, it really just comes down to persistence and staying power. A little luck, edginess or humor never hurt either. But if there’s one thing I learned about success online, it is this: The internet rewards persistence.

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