Where is the rainbow? (long tail, part 2)
Some of my friends are bloggers that look like America. Women bloggers, Asian bloggers, bloggers of color.
Lately, there’s been some wailing from this community. How come the democratic, open blogging community appears to be turning into yet another white male bastion?
I’m hesitant to wade in here, because feelings are pretty easily bruised, but I’ve been giving it a lot of thought because it doesn’t make sense.
Obviously, the problem isn’t that traditionally under-promoted communities aren’t talented enough to write a popular blog.
Also, it’s not possible that these communities don’t have access to the marketplace. Most of us have precisely the same access. If you’ve got $20 a month and a public library, you can do this.
I also don’t believe the problem lies with the audience. I don’t think people (or Bloglines. for that matter) screen content based on who it was written by. If the headline registers, you click and read. Then, and only then, do you bother to worry about the origins of the person who wrote it.
So what is it?
I think it involves the long tail.
In the old days, it mattered a great deal who you knew. If you knew the head of casting at MGM or someone at CAA or the right A&R person, you got the "break" you needed to find an audience. If you knew someone on Sandhill Road, you could get funded. Today, most of the winners work their way up. Boing Boing did, Scoble did and so did Doc Searls.
Working your way up requires a few things:
1. Persistence. Success comes slowly, and you have to stick with it.
2. Patience. Your peers won’t see success, so the fortitude needs to be internal.
3. Low overhead (access to resources). While dealing with #1 and #2, you need a day job, and more important, the confidence to keep going even though it doesn’t seem like it’s going to work.
It seems to me that some communities are better at supporting all three than others. One reason, for example, that Silicon Valley creates start ups is that the entire community, from the supermarket to the school to the church to the bank supports the process.
Many of the underserved communities I’m talking about can’t provide the support and expectations that many white men get. In other words, the blogosphere isn’t stacked against women and others, the real world is.
The real world doesn’t even know what you’re doing. All they know is that you’re not doing what they expect. And the curse is that once this new thing turns real, once the community expects you to go off and do it, it’ll be much much harder to succeed.
So, what I would say to the struggling entrepreneur or pundit or expert or consultant or musician or person spreading that important idea is this:
1. it’s okay if it doesn’t happen fast
2. don’t worry so much about getting the approval of those who came before and are farther along the curve
3. keep costs as low as possible so you can do this without panicking when it doesn’t work so fast
4. surround yourself with friends and colleagues who "get it" and root for you, even when it’s not going so fast
(variant: fire the friends and mothers-in-law who aren’t supporting you so much!)
5. realize that it’s not about you or the way you look or what you wear. It’s about the tail.
I started with plenty of advantages, but it took me a decade to make it as an entrepeneur. That’s a lot of macaroni and cheese. I was lucky–my network didn’t lose faith.
Obviously, this applies to a lot more than blogging. There are so many tiny businesses (like eBay selling) or bigger businesses (like designing stuff) where these same rules apply. I hope this new medium finally gets us where we need to be.