The Long Tail, Open Space: those who understand the concepts might wonder if there can possibly be a connection between the two. For them and for others let’s explain the linkage.
The Long Tail is the easier concept to understand. It’s a term developed by Chris Anderson and his book explaining it all will be on sale within 10 days. His theme is that many markets are not mass markets with everyone having somewhat similar needs and wants. Instead a good part of a given market may be made up of people with very dissimilar tastes. What seems like a single market may be made up of a multitude of micro niches with very different people seeking very different things. The beauty of the Internet is that a person in such a micro niche can still possibly find a supplier given the way search engines such as Google work. Very different searches can still wind up at the same place, where the supplier is. So the Internet can be seen as a space where connections can be made.
Open Space would seem to be very different. It was an approach invented by Harrison Owen in 1985. A large group of people meet at a physical location and with the minimum of structure try to explore complex issues and see what develops. Others are now providing help for this process. For example OpenSpaceWorld.org offers the following:
Open Space Technology is a simple way to run productive meetings, for five to 2000+ people, and is a powerful way to lead any kind of organization, in everyday practice and ongoing change.
You can even meet up with other practitioners in particular fields and use the Open Space approach. For example Identity Open Space will take place on July 20/21 in Vancouver to explore the notion of Internet Identity. If you all prefer not to travel to the same physical location, then Change Facilitator Gabriela Ender and her team from Germany has developed an Internet real-time methodology OpenSpace-Online®, which they say promotes autonomous, responsible, respectful, and results-oriented collaboration, while overcoming the limitations of time and space, and at the same time saving on travel costs. That seems to be the way the concept is going with software to provide technological support. One powerful technique here is the use of a Wiki, which can allow a group to develop and refine a body of knowledge.
That would seem to be moving away from the simplicity of the original Open Space approach. It was really very low-tech and relied on the natural tendency of people to get together with others with similar interests and see what emerges. In an Open Space process, a subgroup may wander together that wants to handle a particular aspect of the problem and away the discussion goes. Others see the subgroup and wander over to see what it’s all about. Perhaps it’s not for them so they wander on to another subgroup until they find something that strikes their fancy.
A new kind of very simple support for that ‘getting together’ process is now available. It allows different people in the long tail to come together and see where it goes. For example microbreweries or craft beers are often quoted as very typical examples of long tail products. Zimbio is a network of public portals that have been created by whoever wishes to do so. So one has sprung up on craft beer for example. A similar framework for creating and sharing platforms for social groups is grou.ps. These platforms are very appropriate in applying the original Open Space concept. If you’re dealing with long tail products, you may well want to consider how these new-style Open Space online groups may help in the diffusion of ideas process.