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June 15, 2005


John Frost

See Andy Hawks, assorted FutureCulture E-list and Tribe rants. Predicted this back circa 1993


I love the concept, I am following it and listening. Mostly, it seems very exciting, but there are these pressing Tower of Babel and Culural Literacy issues that concern me about maintaining some kind of harmony and purpose in an ever increasingly diconnected and foreign (to each other) population.

What are your feelings on these two ideas?


*forgot all about Bonzai Kitten and having a good chuckle over memories of showing that to horrified co-workers*

Eric J.

A quote from an article in, I think, the first issue of Mondo 2000 has always stuck with me: "In the future everyone will be famous to 15 people."


I kiss you!

Andy Baio

The whole thing was interesting, but I'm still stuck on the fourth paragraph... Nobody at Wired knows what Goatse is?!? That's mind-blowing.

chris anderson

Andy: Imagine *my* surprise. But just to be clear, some people knew (including me, of course); just not many.

Gen kanai

Chris, I don't disagree immediately, but for instance, let me push back on this- "seeing a shift from mass culture to massively parallel culture"

How do we know that culture was not parallel in the past?

Sure there was less communication in the past (say 1950's- no Internet, no FedEx, etc.) but I think a strong, workable definition of massively parrallel culture is needed to contrast it from what we may or may not have had in the past.


"How do we know that culture was not parallel in the past?"
I have to agree. (vague theory coming) If we see every human as a collection of interests, and the people they interact with as intersecting sets, you get the same effect. In the past one could only interact with humans in direct contact so the size of any interest group as it intersected was small (conventions, conclaves, church services, wars) being as large as a particular set would get. With the internet the size of any set of humans with a particular interest is now very large, and intersects within each particular human depending on their individual interests. Make any sense?

A practical example: In the past, guys who had a small home shop and made steam engine models would perhaps interact with a few other individuals in the same geographic location, and correspond with others via mail and through one or two magazines (see "Trustee From the Toolroom" by Nevil Shute). Now thousands of steam engine modelers can interact through the internet in various discussion forums, which leads to more physical interaction as well.
Each of these model engine nuts also has other interests which may or may not intersect with the other model engineers, other intersections of high probability include Ham Radio, Electronics, etc, low probability includes things like being an ordained minister or enjoying andean flute music. But there are still intersections with small groups of people.

Make some sort of sense? I only got several hours of sleep last night...


The 10% PR number says something important, because these are the folks advising businesses how to communicate with their markets.

See Gonzo Marketing (Chris Locke) for more on the micromarkets you are describing and why it is so important for businesses to understand that people (aka consumers) are aggregating around common interests - the shared cultures/tribal mores you describe.

This is SO important and so difficult for businesses to 'get' because they can't target and segment their markets the same way. You only really 'get' culture by participating in it. So businesses -- and their PR people -- can't media monitor micromarkets like they have been mass markets.

BigPR's thermometers are broken. They can't successfully take the temperature of the market anymore. They esentially need to climb under the tongue (or inside the anus) to understand. And yet their Madison Ave image forbids getting dirty.

So, as individuals who happen to work at x, y, or z, company join the conversation and immerse themeselvs in shared cultures, I am curious to see how PR practitioners will handle it, how they will continue to add value from the outside.

Me? I'm happy to be massaging the glands of business from the inside. It's a win-win.


Shawn Fumo

Yeah, I have a lot of different interests, many of which aren't mainstream, so I see this all of the time.

Something that's easy to forget, though, is that while this communication revolution has split us into "parallel tribes", it also has aspects to it which help bring different groups together. The parallel part can't be underestimated.

Here is an example I've seen firsthand. I got back into comic books lately, and for those that are familiar with the industry, you know it became a pretty isolated culture over the years. Specialty comic shops catering to particular readers, the overemphasis of superheroes over more varied topics, an aging audience, etc.

In the last couple of years, the wave of Japanese culture hit and suddenly manga (comics from Japan) hit huge. But it was mostly in bookstores, had a different demographic (skewing younger and over half the readers are female), and covered a wide variety of topics.

At first, this was met by quite a lot of hostility in the American comics circles. Any time manga came up on a forum, there'd be people chiming in about how they hated big eyes and robots and other stereotypes and would big debates on whether it was all just a fad that was going to go away soon.

But then something happened. People like me who liked both kinds of comics posted to the message boards, started up blogs, recommended titles people might like. Columns started to show up on the sites, and now it just seems normal to see manga mentioned here and there.

The ease of communication and tribes formed without geography doesn't just create more tribes. It means that members of the tribes are more likely to have different kinds of other interests. And when members of your own tribe are passionate about something else, you're more likely to heed their recommendations and get involved yourself.

Another example is in yo-yoing. A lot of people use their favorite music for freestyles at competitions or for clip videos they make and post online. There's even an online radio station with music and interviews. A lot of these people happen to like indy rock and eurodance happens to work well for certain kinds of freestyles, so The Mars Volta, Alkaline Trio, and Solid Base all seem like part of my "mass culture".

The internet is dangerous for me, because I'm a curious and open-minded sort and I find the enthusiasm of all the various tribes out there to be catchy. I don't think I'm alone in that. So, while we may be splitting into a million subcultures, I think we're also taking on MORE of them on an individual basis.

It used to be that you got exposed to things peripherally through the mass culture mechanisms. Now you find more things to have a deeper relationship with and you also gain another sort of mass culture from the other interests of people in these very same groups.

I also think that some of our notions of related niches are somewhat artificial. Some things will always be more mainstream than others, but as niches grow and the mainstream errodes, the division becomes much more blurry. What I'm getting at is that some things are grouped together because they are "nerdy" or "indy" or whatever. Like in comics, a hipster biography, a fuzzy animal story for little kids, an art statement, and a story about elves used to all be lumped into "alternative" comics.

When those barriers get broken down and everyone is a little bit nerdy about their particular hobbies, it becomes even more likely that individual members of a tribe won't have the same other interests. That helps diffuse the worries people are having about everyone being so isolated.

Obviously, some things effect more attributes than others: someone "goth" probably dresses a certain way and listens to certain music but even there, you'd probably be exposed to more intepretations of what "goth" means these days than just a particular local scene.

And for something less defined like yo-yoing, I've been exposed to tons of different kinds of people and cultures. Not to mention seeing stereotypes of anime fans be broken down by people that span ages, attractiveness and family life.

I agree that it does become a bit of a nightmare for PR people. It is like they have to market to every niche individually. I sympathise with them, but I think it'll also be good in terms of greater likelyhood that marketing will come from within and actually know what people want.

The real trick will be to see how much control anyone will have over how the "threads" overlap. If someone creates a new kind of product, how do you get the other tribes to take notice and have members from them come together to make a new tribe? It'll take more viral and community-oriented techniques instead of just throwing something out there.

And if you have a product that everyone needs but doesn't really have its own culture (deoderant, toilet paper), how do you market it to everyone? I'm guessing we'll see a lot more mini-PR groups that are active in each niche, know what they like, the demographics etc. Then the larger PR firms will have to delegate out to them. I'm sure this happens quite a bit already, but it'll have to be even more organized.

And in the end, it may create a greater divide in those mass-market products between generic and specialty. Cheapo toilet paper at Walmart and paper with your favorite characters printed on it from some specialty shop online. For the middle of quality brand names, they may have to rely on the peer recommendation networks and a couple of targeted approaches, since it'd just be too expensive for them to get their message out to everyone directly anymore.

I don't know... just some food for thought.


Paradoxically as you speak of an increase in parallel culture it is perhaps true that the reverse is occurring in academia, particularly in science as the work done in the former USSR becomes more widely known. The diagnostic criteria that now assist us to describe behaviour characteristic of the autism spectrum only became a possibility once the work of Hans Asperger was available in translation sometime in the eighties - prior to this he and Kanner discovered remarkably similar conditions in children within four or five years of each other ( in the forties)on different continents, wrote about them in different languages and were probably ignorant of each other's work during their lifetimes. ( Might have to check that last point...But this has happened right through the history of science).

Shawn Fumo

It also just occured to me reading that, that "parallel" probably isn't the best term either. That implies your US/USSR example of different things going on at the same time that don't "meet". I guess the woven threads anology works a bit better, but even that seems a bit rigid. Maybe a better way of thinking about it is a network like the internet itself.

Each person is a bit like a website, who is linked to all of their interests. Grouping websites on a similar topic is like a tribe of sites, but if half the sites also are involved in another thing, there's a big overlap, certainly not just parallel to each other.

I would think this means that our reliance on new kinds of communication are actually shaping culture to reflect what works well with it. Mass market gave us mass culture and networked communication gives us a more fractured culture but one that is also highly networked together into its own complicated web.

Kent Brockman

The lesson here is obvious. Hire more people at Wired who know what Goatse means.

Kent Brockman

"I for one welcome our new long-tail overlords. I'd like to remind them that as a trusted online personality, I can be helpful in rounding up others to toil in their underground sugar cubicles."


Very interesing site

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Mondo 2000 is a visual feast.Bart Nagel. He’s really good and gets better with every issue. He did the book (Mondo 2000 Users Guide). It really explodes, visually.It’s extremely readable and user-friendly.

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The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Notes and sources for the book

FREE was available in all digital forms--ebook, web book, and audiobook--for free shortly after the hardcover was published on July 7th. The ebook and web book were free for a limited time and limited to certain geographic regions as determined by each national publisher; the unabridged MP3 audiobook (get zip file here) will remain free forever, available in all regions.

Order the hardcover now!