The Beatles, Pachelbel, and total availability of the long tail

Listening to the Beatles and Pachelbel make me think about selection and availability from the long tail of data which is now so readily available to us all.

Why did so much of the 1960s UK revolution in music, style, fashion and attitudes start in Liverpool? Its an unlikely place: in the 1960s, a major port about to go into industrial decline, several social problems, no particular aesthetic appeal or history. I was watching a programme on a cable channel yesterday about the social history of the 1960s in which someone argued that Liverpool started this revolution because it was a seaport. Everyone who lived there had a relative in the Merchant Navy. As a result, many people had access to American records, particularly the US R&B artists. Of course you could buy Elvis in the big record shops anywhere in the UK, but for people like Muddy Waters and Howlin Wolfyou needed someone who could visit shops in the US for you.

Listening to baroque music on the radio in bed this morning made me think about Pachelbel. the German composer who most record shops know only for his Canon. In fact he wrote some of the most sublime church organ music I know. (If I hadnt heard a recital one evening in a dark half-empty uncomfortable church in Salzburg I wouldnt know, though).

But now of course you can find 971 results for Pachelbel if you search Amazon UKs music section. Most of them are the Canon, of course, but a lot of them arent. You can get a pretty good selection of his works.

My point is that the internet has made long-tail availability the norm. You dont have to be born in Liverpool or on a fortuitous visit to Salzburg. Its all there (well, a lot of it) and all as accessible to you as to me, whether you live in London or New York – or Queanbeyan NSW.

What changes will this make to our lives?

One, at least, is that it will make selection far more important, hence the blogosphere and RSS phenomena. If I can find anything (or as near anything as makes little practical differnece), then where do I start?

The key to the future has to be information management, not availability. Ive blogged about some developments in this field, eg the connecitivty map orsparse relation spaces or the scientific paradigm map. Theres also the possibility of using avatars (in this case, linked to bots) to assemble packets if information and to represent you and your interests. My avatar and yours could have an interesting discussion (in microseconds) and simply report back to us anything of special interest. Combine my avatar with an expert system that learns my apporach to and knowledge of a particular issue, and I could give you instant expert advice at no cost to myself in time or thought – without even having to be aware that I was doing it.

Rather like those silly people who put themselves on Stickam, so that anyone can watch them sit at their computers, without them knowing who you are or even that you are there. (there are 6380 online users as I write this.) As I write, Kiki Kannibal is online, despite saying on her page that: “Ive realized that the internet is full of retards who have no lives. I wont be on so much anymore. I will be on if I have nothing better to do. My work, my career and my loved ones come first. Not entertaining bored drooling monkeys. The number of views and friends wont matter in 10 years anyway.” Quite right. But if Ms Kannibal could interactively explain the Navier Stokes equation to my avatar as it helps me build a simulation, now that would be worth posting. and possible too.

(Actually, Ms Kannibal is no fool: theres a budding business empire here, and her use of Stickam is quite sophisticated.)

Ive also been peripherally involved in a debate about the curation of internet art works, which raises similar questions,. When the art work exists somewhere else, curation is less about physically fixing it up and preserving it than about selection, explanation, contextualisation (hate that word!) and presenting it in a way that draws attention to it. Perhaps our major role is to become curators of knowledge.

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