Decentralization of taste and lowest common denominator choices

There is an obvious contradiction between hoping that the decentralization of taste (watch this video on the topic) leads to more diverse and better choices, and the obvious reality that the most popular choices in participatory platforms are not of the highest quality. Is hoping for the Long Tail therefore illusory?

Chris Anderson, responding to a New York Times article on this topic, has a convincing answer.

John Pareles of the New York Times had written:

The open question is whether those new, quirky, homemade filters will find better art than the old, crassly commercial ones. The most-played songs from unsigned bands on MySpace — some played two million or three million times — tend to be as sappy as anything on the radio; the most-viewed videos on YouTube are novelty bits, and proudly dorky. Mouse-clicking individuals can be as tasteless, in the aggregate, as entertainment professionals.”

Chris Anderson responds:

The key word there is “aggregate”. Popularity is simply a place where many roads–each one a single consumer’s path through culture–intersect. Each road is different, but for a brief moment many crossed that point. Hits are products that reflect the coincidence of our collective tastes, and the reality is that most of the things that we agree on are relatively banal (that’s why they call it the lowest common denominator).

Individually we may have excellent taste, but collectively we’re as low-brow as they come. This is simply an artifact of the statistics of the Long Tail–when demand is spread over a huge number of products, most things won’t be popular. And the things that are popular won’t necessarily define their consumers.

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