The Long Tail – and it isn’t what you think

I got home from having a couple of beers with a friend the other night to a ringing telephone.

The Caller-ID said “Unknown”, and I usually don’t even answer those calls – that night I did.

It happened to be a large local company (actually large by any standards, but they are based locally).

They wanted to “chat” with me for a few minutes, and I asked if it was a paying gig, or something they expected for free. (Thanks Bruce – just an hour before we had this conversation and you told me not to give anything away, and not to be greedy – basically to set expectations.  So I did, and it worked well!)

They asked some pretty simple-sounding questions, like, “What exactly is this “new Internet” (actually I WAY oversimplified their question, but it really doesn’t affect this post that much).

Let’s focus on just that question, since it’s been asked (and answered) by so many people.  I don’ think it’s been written about as a direct question from a fortune 100 company – one I honestly believe was just looking for an answer.

I didn’t record the conversation (but I bet they did), so this is from recollection of a 55 minute call.   It’s mostly accurate, I think.  If I am wrong, and they read this and want to correct me, I will fix any mistakes I have made.

<DISCLAIMER – I *was* paid for my time with them!>

First, I asked if they considered the Internet a mechanism to converse with their customers (blogs, live chats, etc), or just to broadcast to them (online presence, advertising, etc).  Their answer was that they would like to do the former, but were basically afraid – mostly because they hadn’t been able to get much benefit from the latter.

This is interesting – a company that probably spends more money than all of the “Web 2.0” sites combined in one year of “Internet costs” admits they are not making effective use of those dollars.

Now don’t get me wrong – I wasn’t talking to any idiots.  I was talking to some bright people that were handcuffed by rules that were written for the world they “knew”.  They know there is nothing I can tell them that they can actually change – at least not quickly.  But they are trying – they are at least educating themselves (or trying to – one might argue I was a poor choice!)

The next big issue happened to be online bill payment (something I have used for almost ten years, and I do have thoughts on it) – but I haven’t ever blogged about that here, and don’t really need to go into detail on this segment right now… maybe later.  It was mostly boring, but sometimes interesting (whenever privacy issues come up, I get interested).

Believe it or not, this all took well over thirty minutes. 

The last issue we discussed was basically based on “privacy expectations”.  I made a few earlier posts tonight on this topic – and I have been preaching/studying the issue for a long time.  Now I am really interested, because this is one of my passions.  I tried to explain my views on online data, personal data, etc – but I can tell when I am just not getting through – they were not hearing me.  I stepped off of my sandbox for a few minutes and realized I was preaching to them – not conversing with them.

I shut up, and started listening.  After another 5 minutes or so I realized they didn’t really want/need to talk to me.  Not because I couldn’t help them, but because they were unable to accept help.  They are stuck in too big of a machine – one they have no control over.

After I realized this I decided I had no reason to not tell them exactly what my opinions on “Web 2.0” were… and it went something like this:

First, I don’t believe in anything one can point at as being “Web 2.0”.  It is more of a change in relationship between the web site and the consumer.  Basically, I think the consumer  is now as valued as the programmer’s that wrote the code – if not more.

It’s not about what you write, as in code – it’s about what you build – as in community.  And I am not talking MySpace size networks – it’s about building small networks that are absolutely in to what you are building.  It’s about building fans.  Whether it is a calendar or a portal – you need fans.

I have a washing machine – it washes clothes, that’s all it does.  It does it well, but it developed a leak around the glass (it’s a front loading washer).  Five minutes after I realized this I went online to see how to get it fixed – and I found a third party forum of owners of this machine – a passionate group of customers that quickly responded to me, not just with the solution to my problem, but who I needed to call to get the parts… and the number they gave me was a special number that was only for members of this forum – now THAT is connecting to your customers!  Two days later I had the simple fix to the problem – and an offer from the manufacturer to send a service tech to my house if I couldn’t figure this out.  Is this normal?  Not yet.  Will it be?  That depends – how much POOR customer service are you willing to tolerate (hint – if you say anything besides NONE, you are wrong).

You may question that attitude, but every time you accept a lower standard you are in effect setting the new standard – and that makes you partially to blame.

*WE* now control the Internet, the companies that do business here, and eventually HOW they do business here.  THAT is Web 2.0.  It’s a simple power shift, and through vocalization, communication, and communities we now have the power to not only change the politics of the nation, but the attitudes and actions of the companies we deal with every day – even the old brick and mortar companies.



  1. Great post, great conclusion. This power shift you are explaining is enormous, and will be cataclysmic for businesses and organizations that don’t get it. Keep up the good work–and congratulations for not giving it away.


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