The Longest Tail

Yesterday, I had a chance to meet with the United States Secretary of Commerce Carlos Gutierrez. He’s a very impressive individual, very up to speed on the issues facing not only the American business community (which one would expect), but also the specific challenges we face in the technology community (like the negative impact of our increasingly isolationist immigration policies).

My main motivation in attending the breakfast (which Intel kindly hosted, thanks Paul), was to discuss a topic I obviously care a lot about: the economic and social advances available to the American/global economy through an open, toll-free internet.

I referenced what happened with Katrina – that the network is a profoundly crucial tool for business and government services alike. Despite FEMA’s accidental prioritization of relief to victims that use Microsoft products.

I briefly touched on what was going on in Massachusetts, which to me is simply the other side of the same coin. Nicholas Carr and David Berlind make the point more eloquently than I. (Needless to say, I don’t always agree with Nick – to me, asking Does IT Matter? at the onset of the Participation Age is like asking if Electricity Mattered in the days following its introduction. But his points here are far better grounded.)

To mix a few metaphors, Bridging the Digital Divide is all about serving the longest tail – by driving down price, and driving up access and interoperability. What is happening in Massachusetts is the beginning of a global realization that governments have a productive obligation to serve the longest tail – their citizenry. By deploying open, accessible standards – not the technology of a single company.

Google clearly reaches a far broader audience than Windows Media Player. OpenOffice can reach a far broader audience than Microsoft Office.

But a well adopted open standard could, and should, trump us both.

From where I sit, that’s exactly the opportunity, and the obligation.

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