By now everyone reading this space has probably heard of the Long Tail, which began as a Wired article, is now a blog and will become a book. As my colleague described it this morning, it’s potentially “the most important and influential piece of writing in understanding the next emerging socioeconomic phenomenon.”
While the implications of this theory are broad, when I think of them in the context of software, I nearly always equate it to some sort of consumer play. As we hear time and time again around this time of year when the holiday retail numbers trickle in, consumers are 2/3’s of the economy. That’s why the IBM/Lenovo deal still puzzles me, as does IBM’s absolute refusal to play in the consumer space at all.
I’m certainly not a financial analyst, and don’t pretend to have a good handle on the marketing and launch costs involved in such an effort, but I tend to side with Jonathan Schwartz when he says that “true power in the IT industry is moving out of the enterprise, and into the hands of ever younger consumers.” The financial analysts tell us that IBM’s PC division was essentially a money losing or at best break-even proposition. That may be, but you’re telling me that consumers weren’t a massively untapped market for the Thinkpad?
If you accept the hypothesis that a consumer strategy is at least important, if not critical, it certainly would appear to give Microsoft an edge – depending on what you perceive Google’s ambitions to be. It’s also interesting how rarely you’ll hear Sun making noise anymore about how “we don’t serve consumers.”
Case in point, what do you think the familiarity and comfort levels are with new employees with Notes, which few employees will have seen, vs Outlook, which many have run at home for years? Several months ago, I had the administrator for a state archive tell me how much he wished Microsoft had a records management product. Why? Because, he said, everyone uses their stuff at home and I don’t have to explain everything to them.
This is by necessity (gotta head home to pack), a rather oversimplified analysis of the situation, but I do think it’s fair to say that if the Long Tail tells me anything, it’s that a good consumer strategy will be important, sooner rather than later.