Given my levelling instincts, I’ve appreciated the recent “backlash” against the long-tail meme, particularly Tim Wu’s insightful look at the counter-virtue of standardization, and Rebecca Tushnet’s subtle sorting out of various long-tail themes. But I recently had an experience that made me think about how search technologies do not merely help consumers find “oddball” content–they may actually privilege it.
I’m often overwhelmed by my email inbox…it’s a farrago of work stuff, westlaw downloads, friends saying hi, etc. Recently I remembered I had to respond to someone I’d had many correspondences with in the past. But I needed to find a particular email. I didn’t want to sort through each one…but I did recall that he (rather improbably) began that email with the query “how goes the battle, admiral?” I made short work of it at that point…there were only two emails with the term “admiral” in them–one from him, and one (again improbably!) on the Veeck case.
I suppose many search services have been using “improbable word” searches for a long time. The classic trademark spectrum (ranging from fanciful/arbitrary to generic marks) also rewards uniqueness. But I’ve rarely been so viscerally reminded of the privileges of oddity.