Monday, June 30, 2008

Social Web Market: The Long Tail, Skinny Head, and Beefy Middle

I read an interesting article by Chris Anderson entitled "Debating the Long Tail". In it he responds to an article by Anita Elberse, a Harvard Business School associate professor, who challenges his long tail theory's predictions.

The difference of opinions arises from the fact that they have different perspectives on where the head ends and the tail begins...which actually dovetails nicely with how I've been explaining to people where Ringside Networks fits within the Social Web Market Landscape.

I start off by drawing the standard long tail diagram. In my diagram, I refer to the Skinny Head which is where the "blockbusters" reside that Anita Elberse writes about. We also, of course, have the Long Tail which is where the large volume of niche offerings exist. I add a section, however, between the two that I refer to as the Beefy Middle.

The Beefy Middle changes some of the debate of where the head ends and the tail begins since it provides an area between the two. Let's look at a diagram of the Social Web Market Landscape to get a better feel for what the Beefy Middle entails. The # of Sites is on the X-Axis and the # of Profiles (i.e. registered users) is on the Y-Axis:

The Social Web's Skinny Head is the domain of the large social networking sites such as Facebook, MySpace, Hi5, Orkut, and LinkedIn. It also houses the most popular social applications such as YouTube, Flickr, Delicious, and Digg. These represent the major hubs of the social web.

The Social Web's Long Tail is the domain of personal blogs, websites, and simple social web widgets and gadgets. Google Friend Connect and Facebook Connect define the far left of the Long Tail since they are designed to bring social capabilities to the long tail of simple websites.

This leaves the Social Web's Beefy Middle. This area is where most corporate websites reside. This is the market area that Ringside Networks is focused on as well as solutions from companies such as Acquia (i.e. Drupal), Jive, and Lithium.

The websites that reside in the Beefy Middle already have their own database of registered users (thousands, tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands) along with some semblance of profile data (i.e. credit card info, newsletter registration, etc.). It is usually NOT desirable for these websites to create a social network that is separate from and does not reside on their existing web property. These companies want/need to integrate their existing users within a larger social context.

Moreover, these companies have their own systems that manage their own content and data which is further reason for using a social web solution that integrates well with their existing systems.

Finally, these sites typically have web applications (or are planning web applications) that they would like to enhance to have a social context that enables the applications to connect to and run on multiple sites including the major social networks like Facebook.

The market requirements of the Beefy Middle are challenging since it is almost a given that the existing registered users are already socially represented on two or three of the Skinny Head sites as well as countless sites across the Beefy Middle and Long Tail.

This means that these companies need to define a social web strategy that enables their website to operate as a spoke that can easily plug into the major social web hubs. They also need to give their registered users the ability to map their social identities to the social hub(s) of their choice. This minimizes duplication of profile data and maximizes the ability of users to quickly and easily engage their broad network(s) of friends.

So there you have it; the Long Tail, Skinny Head...and Beefy Middle. My guess is the term "Beefy Middle" won't be as widely used as "Long Tail", but hopefully it helps illustrate the portion of the market that Ringside Networks is focused on serving.

UPDATED: Seth Godin recently posted "The Long Tail and the Dip" in which he describes an area that exists between the Head and the Long Tail. He refers to it as "the second pocket" which is where successful, profitable niche products exist. It's cool that Seth sees the need to discuss this region of the market...but hey's called the Beefy Middle! :-)

If you'd like to learn more about how Ringside Networks addresses the needs of companies in the Beefy Middle, please check out the Social Business section of the Ringside Networks website for a range of examples and articles related to the rapidly moving business of the Social Web.

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