7.2. The Value of Being General Purpose

In describing the value of a particular type of tool, flexibility and the ability to handle new situations is often mentioned. The following essay looks at that in a deeper and more explicit way.

When The Long Tail Wags The Dog

There are "must have" application areas and data files that will drive adoption of products. Many of them are far down the long tail of popularity. Serving a narrow, most popular set is a losing proposition.

One of the hot concepts mentioned frequently when discussing Internet businesses and applications for the last year or two has been that of the "Long Tail." It was most recently popularized by Chris Anderson's October 2004 article in Wired[] called "The Long Tail." I've written about some of the value of the long tail, as have many others: See "Small Players Matter"[] from June 2002 and Jakob Nielsen's email there and his essays[] with data back to 1997.

From what I've seen, most of the writings derived from Anderson's article have to do with the additional value you get by serving the long tail of less-than-very-popular items made more financially viable by the Internet. In this essay I show why it is even more important to serve the long tail in some areas, and how systems that limit the ability to use inexpensively created custom content will have a hard time in the marketplace. I also relate the idea of the long tail to general-purpose authoring tools. The essay goes through the background that brought ...

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