I do believe that there is a connection between Critical Mass and the Long Tail. They are not separate, but part of the same continuum. You are right that if the long tail “GETS a critical mass, it ceases to be the long tail and becomes, instead, the Big Spike” except that there is an unnamed bridging area where the long tail merges with the big spike. I was talking about moving the more diverse elements of the conversation up the tail to get closer to or even a part of the big spike.
If it were easier to access the diversity of conversation it would be correspondingly easier to demonstrate the real value that is already present in the blogosphere. I like what you said that “My success from blogging is not dependant on having 45 people reading every deathless word. If nobody reads my blog, I still win.” The problem I see is that a major benefit of blogging is the opportunity to get diverse feedback for your thoughts and diverse access to the thoughts of others. If, in fact, you are the only one blogging there is no benefit beyond writing out your thoughts in a file on your own computer.
I see that Rovy took your post in a different direction, and he is also right in stating that “the critical mass is the entire population in the curve, including those on the high-end (most popular blogs) and those trailing out near the end of the tail.” The feature that distinguishes the members of the big spike from the members of the long tail is a critical mass in the readership of their individual blog. We do not need to cross that line for each diversant blogger, but we do need to introduce people not to blogging as a practice (because most people are aware of it) but to the richness and diversity of the conversation, we need to introduce them to the value that is present so that they can participate or appreciate the richness of ideas that are being presented through blogs. All the “ranked players” know the value of mixing ideas and distilling new insights from the mixture (that’s how they got “ranked”), what they ned to see is that that rich mixing is improved and accelerated through the medium of blogging.
I have been thinking about this a lot since yesterday and I realized one of the major problems with this conversation is that it is taking place in the blogosphere – we’re preaching to the choir. If any of the ranked players want to get started they should not email a blogger to get help starting, we should take the discussion to them through publications and presentations. We should be presenting this at AECT in October. We should gather a rich variety of blog feeds to introduce people to the diversity out there and we should show them how to explore for new ideas according to their interests and we should show them how to lurk. What we should do is make writing lower on the list of things we teach and emphasize exploring and reading as the first steps to participation.
We’re not too late for the second deadline for submissions to AECT this year. What do you guys think?