For a recent speech to a travel company, we pulled together some data on the changing shape of travel due to low-cost carriers, online travel information and social-media driven word of mouth taking tourists beyond the usual top destinations. As in any industry that democratizes, you should see more diversity and the demand should be spread out over more “products”. In this case, that this would be driven by:
Did it happen? Yep. Check this out: data on travel from the UK, from 1998-2008. Over that period, the top 50 destinations from the UK (the “head” of travel” fell from 36% of the total to just 26%, while everything else (the “tail”) grew.
Some background reading:
--Travolution’s series on the Long Tail of Travel
--Orbitz’s CEO: Economics of travel’s Long Tail
This was one of those freaky moments when the future sneaks up and smacks you. I was on a plane earlier this week and took a break from work to watch the movie while they served dinner. It was Terminator Salvation, which once again tells us what happens when Skynet becomes self-aware and the machines take over. Then they cleared dinner, and I opened my laptop again and resumed work where I left off: programming unmanned aerial vehicles in RobotC.
Which is exactly, of course, how Skynet becomes self-aware. Have I learned nothing?!!
Seriously, it was a kinda weird moment. After all, if we ever do hit a singularity when the collective ability of machines (I won’t use the word “intelligence”, since we neither really know what that means, nor are we likely to recognize it in machines) exceed that of humans, it will because of lots of people like me doing just what I was doing.
And yet, I couldn’t imagine not doing it. I was programming UAVs in RobotC because I can—the technological opportunity was in front of me and I couldn’t resist taking it. Indeed, I was working rather than watching the rest of the movie because I was keen to finish the project faster, so nobody could beat me to it. My competitive drive was pushing to me to do what was possible, mostly just because it was possible and hadn’t been done yet.
In a sense, I couldn’t help myself. We are innovative animals. If something can be invented, we feel compelled to invent it. If I don’t do it, someone else will. That which can be invented, must be. It almost doesn’t matter how useful it will be or even if it might be dangerous. Matches must be struck, just to watch them burn.
I wondered if the inventors of the atomic bomb felt the same way. Atoms can fuse, so let’s fuse them. Chain reactions can take place, so let’s start one. They can happen faster with the right materials and conditions, so let’s create them. And so on. Each step of the way is just grabbing the natural opportunity in front of us, but the end result is a weapon of mass destruction.
Of course with the atomic bomb, it was eventually clear that the next step would lead to a terrifying weapon and wise minds considered whether or not to take that step (they decided to do so because they knew that others would get there soon, and with perhaps worse consequences).
But in the case of “Skynet becoming self-aware” (yes, I know that’s just a movie, but indulge me for the sake of the thought experiment), would that threshold be as clear?
Will it come someday with some guy like me fixing the last bug in his code and pressing compile? Will he even know what he has done? Or will it be more gradual, with loads of us building it bit by bit, with no single moment, technology or decision marking the point where we crossed the line?
Maybe that day will never come. But it stopped me in my tracks for a few minutes as I reflected on how amoral invention is. Technology wants to be invented and we are almost powerless to stop it. We are hard-wired to create the future, be it good or bad. Invention is its own master.
And then I went back to programming the robot. After all if I don’t make airplanes self-aware someone else will. And I can’t let them get the glory!
(Diagram of the real Skynet from the BBC.)
A team at Wharton did some Long Tail analysis on the Netflix ratings data the company released for its Netflix Prize. Although I don’t agree with many of the conclusions in their paper (like some other academics, they got confused over definitions of “head” and “tail” and fell into the common trap of doing percentage analysis in an absolute numbers world), the data was interesting. They kindly shared it with me before publication and incorporated some of my analysis in their paper. But for some reason they didn’t use the best part, which was this chart:
The vertical axis is percentage of total demand (with ratings used as a rough estimate of rentals), and the horizontal axis is the popularity rank of the DVD titles. Between 2000 and 2005, the Netflix selection grew from 4,500 DVDs to 18,000, and the effect on the demand of this increase in variety is shown above.
If you checked out today’s New York Times Book Review section, you’ll see that FREE made the list in its first week of eligibility. It’s #12, tied for #11 (that’s what that little asterisk means).
We expect it to dip in its second week due to the free versions of the book cannibalizing sales, then stay strong longer than usual as the free offers expire and word of mouth from all the free readers turns into sales. So far in the first two weeks the book was downloaded, in one digital form or another between 200,000 and 300,000 times (we’re still compiling stats). That’s a lot. Now we’ll find out what it means.
You can get FREE free on the Kindle (and Kindle iPhone app if you don’t have a Kindle) now. It’s been up for a few days and the free offer will end on Wed, Jul 22nd, so get it now. [UPDATE: the free offer is now over, and the book is now at the usual discount price of $9.99. It’s still available for free on Scribd, Google Books and Shortcovers, as well as in audiobook form on iTunes] As you can see from the above screenshot, it’s already the #1 Kindle book. (US only, I’m afraid.)
It’s also available for free on the Sony Reader, also for one week.
The book is also available for free (for one month) on Shortcovers, where you can link to individual chapters and pages.
For those of you outside the US, local free versions will be determined by the publisher in each region. Please stay tuned.
FREE is now available for free on Google Books, too. Like Scribd, this one is a web-based screen reading experience, but it has the added advantage of a live Table of Contents (see above), so you can easily get from chapter to chapter or pull up sidebars without having to page through the book.
Like the other free text versions, the Google Books one will be time-limted: one month. (The audiobook versions are the only ones that will remain free forever).
Next up, in the coming week: free FREE on Kindle and other ebook readers, including the iPhone.
[UPDATE: many of these versions, including Google, are US-only. This is just a function of the way global book rights work, and the fragmentation thereof. I wish it were different and we’re working to release free versions in other languages when those editions of the book comes out, but in the meantime my apologies to readers outside the US if you’re not getting full text.]
We’re going to be rolling out the free digital forms of FREE over the next two weeks. First up: the Scribd form, right here on the blog (and anywhere else you want—it’s embeddable). This is the whole book!
(click “full screen” for a better reading experience).
You can also get the audiobook from Audible.com in two forms
Why is the whole book free in audio form, but half the book is $7.49? Because, as the Audible.com listing explains,“Get the point in half the time! In this abridged edition, the author handpicked the most important and engaging chapters and points, cutting three hours from the length without losing key concepts. Time is money!”
Over the next week or so, we’ll be releasing other versions, including iTunes podcast and download, Kindle, Google Books and more. All free, for varying lengths of time (from a week to forever). I’ll be tracking the stats for everything and sharing the results of these experiments here over the next month.
FREE will be released in the US this week (July 7th in hardcover; July 9th in ebooks) and I’ll be updating this blog with the various ways you can get it for free as they come online. But in the meantime, here’s how we made the physical book free in the UK.
Above, you can see the UK hardcover on the right and a special sponsored paperback on the left.
Here’s the description of the paperback give-away from Random House, the UK publisher, which will kick off at the end of the week.
Adobe and Brand Republic
We have concluded a sponsorship partnership with Adobe - who, like Spotify [which is distributing the free audiobook, UK only], adopt a freemium model with both free and paid for goods and services. In association with Adobe we will be offering a limited number of abridged sponsored versions of FREE in paperback and e-Book through BrandRepublic.com.
The free paperbacks and e-Book will be promoted to an audience of over 689,000 unique users through Brand Republic’s website, the leading online business portal for the advertising, media, marketing and PR industries. UK users will be directed to a page where they will be presented with a choice to download their free abridged ebook, register and receive a free abridged paperback, or buy the full ‘premium’ hardback version (at a discount).
Brand Republic’s considerable user audience is a great fit for FREE’s target market, attracting consumers across the media industry. Through Brand Republic the promotion will be supported by over £30,000 of online advertising.
This special sponsored paperback edition is the entire book minus, if memory serves, the appendixes.
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!