The Long Tail: a 3rd & 4th Perspective

Both Tim Wilson and Will Richardson have commented on the Long Tail in recent days, each expressing a different perspective. Tim states (in Jargon watch: The Long Tail) that… (1st perspective)

…there are a lot of great thinkers out there blogging and working in the long tail. If you restrict your students to using a traditional textbook they will never find the gems out there in the tail where so many fresh perspectives and new ideas can be found. We don’t need to wait for information to show up in dead tree form anymore. This blog is great example of the long tail.

Will offers a more cautious view (read The Long Tail Problem in K-12 in full), and I snip viciously here. (2nd perspective)

If we are going to help teachers see blogs as “research safe,” we’re going to have to give them some tools by which to assess those blogs. Right now, I would teach teachers and students that they should

  • try to find out who the blogger is….
  • find out who is linking to the site…
  • spend some time reading a range of posts…
  • spend some time looking at the comments…

I want to offer two more perspectives. Although I agree whole heartedly with Wills cautions (see also Terry Freedman’s recent post on Evaluating Information) and equally with Tim’s enthusiasm over the growth of content and perspective, it seems to me that there are two levels of value here (3rd perspective). There is, and always will be, value in well founded and supported facts, information, and knowledge. Some problems, only the “truth” will solve.

However, in a time of rapid change, sometimes the test of trial and time are too slow. Often, the best ideas are going to come from thinkers who lack the perspective, credential, and backing that we would logically like to see. Yet the ideas, coming in from a backdoor (the basement, or upstairs window) is just what’s going to help us solve this brand new problem.

So I would urge teachers to pay attention to enthusiasts’ conversations in the blogosphere, and selectively expose their students to these ideas. Then ask the students to research the idea and its context and try to provide their own grounding as a knowledge building project.

Another angle (4th perspective), and the one that I most often approach the Long Tail from in my presentations is that this is a new market. That long tail represents information products that there were no buyers for five years ago. But with todays expanding digital bazaar, people, who could never write a best seller, produce a blockbuster film, nor perform a hit album (oops, CD), are now making at least part of their living buy producing information. This sort of cottage level information industry may play an important part in our students future, meaning that communication becomes much more than just a basic literacy skill.

Just 2¢ worth!

Author: David Warlick

David Warlick has been an educator for the past 40+ years. He continues to do some writing, but is mostly seeking his next intersect between play, passion and purpose, dabbling in photography, drone videography and music production.