Leveraging the Long Tail for Soundcloud



So you’ve probably heard of this concept of Leveraging the Long Tail from O’Reilly’s 8 patterns in what is Web 2.0 – but what exactly does it mean? Well the concept is that a high saturation of popularity is held in a small amount of products at the head of the marketplace. The tail is the other section – the low saturation of popularity per product across an immense number of products within the marketplace. The pattern, therefore, is how Web 2.0 applications and platforms leverage this long tail – this vast array of unique products built to satisfy vastly different wants and needs – for gain. I will also tell you how Soundcloud, a popular social sound sharing platform, applies this pattern.

One of the biggest challenges is how to make the tail fatter. The most common strategy is to allow your prosumers an easy method to share their unique goods. You let them become broadcasters which helps other prosumers know about these niche items. Soundcloud does this beautifully using their Share Button. Take for example Hey Champ’s Cold Dust Girl remixed by Gemini Club (awesome track btw). Not many people might know about this song, and I love it, so I click the share button and all of a sudden I have multiple avenues to increase the exposure of this niche product being provided through the Soundcloud platform.

Soundcloud Sharing

Soundcloud Sharing

I can tell all my Facebook friends about it, I can tweet about it, I can post it on Tumblr, I can send an email with a link to all my contacts, I can write up a WordPress post about it, I can add it to StumbleUpon, I can blog about it or I could share it on MySpace (if I went back in time and had a MySpace page). There’s also the option to embed the track itself (and in HTML5!) so that the entire Soundcloud platform (in a widget) including the share button can be embedded anywhere on the web; further increasing the reach of the niche product.

Another way Web 2.0 platforms assist in making the tail fatter is by using Algorithmic Matching (Demartini, et al. 2012, p.469) – the effort of “deploying scalable algorithms to perform the matching” across large sets of data – Soundcloud doesn’t utilise this technique very well (if at all really) unlike other platforms I have written about previously (Last.fm’s Recommendations) is a brilliant example of algorithmic matching and definitely leverages the long tail). Soundcloud doesn’t offer a Similar Tracks or Similar Artists feature so it falls down in terms of pattern application in this regard and fails to increase the value of those niche products.

So who’s benefiting from this participatory platform model? Well the content provider wins out (people get access to their products and in Soundcloud’s case it is listening to their music and buying it in some cases), the consumer is also winning (they get easy access and often free access to many, many niche products as well as hit products or songs in Soundcloud’s case). But the real beneficiary is the platform providers (the stores, or Soundcloud itself). The aim is to be a Web 2.0 participatory platform which allows demand to reach supply – and then take a cut. Even better, allow access to this platform in a freemium model (which Soundcloud have also done well) to take an extra scoop of the profits.

Soundcloud Premium Plans

Soundcloud Premium Plans

Now e-Commerce has been around for a long time (think 1985 with EDI as Vasters writes, 2001, p.7), but ordering on-line with confidence for the consumer has only recently been achieved. Web 2.0 would have been possible a lot earlier but it has taken a while for users to become creators (or to evolve into prosumers). We have moved along with the technology and the Internet has removed difficulties with geographic diversity. On-line commerce reduces distribution costs, removes the barrier of finite shelf space, and allows niche products to coexist with hit products. All this is possible by connecting the purchaser, the content provider and the product vendor; connecting supply and demand. This is also achieved by turning others into your ambassadors; by having your content producers create store-fronts. Allow other people to create niche shops themselves to help lengthen the tail. Soundcloud does this well by allowing content providers to sell their tracks via their own site, iTunes or Beatport.

Soundcloud Buy This Track

Soundcloud Buy This Track

If you are going to have a tail (a large amount of niche products) you need to have a strategy about making that tail longer. You need a system in place that helps content producers create. Using algorithmic data management as discussed earlier to match supply and demand is the first approach (and one Soundcloud should seriously consider implementing). The second approach is harnessing the wisdom of the crowds; enable this by adding like buttons and similar strategies to show which products are popular (in Soundcloud’s case it is which tracks are saved to favourites, played the most and downloaded the most).

Soundcloud Automatic Content Protection System

Soundcloud Automatic Content Protection System

There is also the problem of preventing fraudulent, obscene, illegal and otherwise inappropriate material – this can be achieved through Captchas, editorial review, user moderation, and reputation systems. An impressive method Soundcloud have implemented is to match the waveform of an uploaded track to its database of copy write protected tracks. If this automatic system detects a similarity in the waveform it will not allow you to upload the track and claim it as your own.

Another preventative measure to reduce costs is to encourage customer self-service enterprise by leveraging the online company status, (don’t provide a contact phone number make FAQ articles and how-to-guides and password reset features. All of this reduces costs and addresses IT’s long tail demand). The ultimate product is the digital product which can be copied an infinite number of times; leveraging the long tail is about increasing that exposure to the product.

So how does your platform leverage the long tail? Do you, like Soundcloud, enable sharing of content through embedded widgets? Do you provide your service through a freemium model? Does your platform harness the collective intelligence by using algorithmic matching to propose new products to your customers? If you haven’t answered yes to all those you have some work to do.


Apple. (2012). iTunes, from http://tinyurl.com/dug29

Beatport. (2012). Beatport, from http://tinyurl.com/rq7zg

Captcha. (2012). Captcha, from http://tinyurl.com/3pkrd

Demartini, G., Difallah, D. E., and Cudré-Mauroux, P.  (2012). ZenCrowd: Leveraging Probabilistic Reasoning and Crowdsourcing Techniques for Large-Scale Entity Linking. World Wide Web 2012 Conference, 469-478. Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/87awqc7

Denne, R. (2012). Elbo.ws is the Next “Intel Inside”, from http://tinyurl.com/88fcse5

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Denne, R. (2012). Last.fm – The benefits of harnessing collective intelligence, from http://tinyurl.com/7f5swkv

Denne, R. (2012). Perpetually LinkedIn Beta, from http://tinyurl.com/88avjo2

Hey Champ. (2011). Cold Dust Girl (Gemini Club Remix), from http://tinyurl.com/6we6j7z

O’Reilly, T. (2005). What is Web 2.0, from http://tinyurl.com/nx36fj

Soundcloud. (2012). About Soundcloud, from http://tinyurl.com/6b5pejs

Vasters, C. (2001). BizTalk Server 2000: A Beginner’s Guide, Retrieved from http://tinyurl.com/6mgqeuk