A few months ago I finally got round to diagramming what I thought mobile applications development in the not-for-profit space looked like. I came up with this, and called it “Social Mobile’s Long Tail“. It was based on the original Long Tail concept, first talked about by Chris Anderson in a Wired Magazine article, when he used it to describe consumer demographics in business (something quite different).
(A larger image is available via the kiwanja.net site here)
My thinking was this. Looking at the mobile applications space today we have a number of high-cost, well-publicised, large-scale mobile-related projects which tend to cover national (and sometimes international) needs. These “large” systems play a crucial role in helping larger bodies, sometimes as big as government departments, provide mobile services to their target audiences. They are generally aimed at the higher-end of the market, where only the larger or resource-rich NGOs reside. Way out there on price, complex to develop (assuming you wanted to) and near-on impossible to replicate, they’re almost completely out-of-reach of your average grassroots NGO. These applications and platforms sit in the red part of the Tail.
In the orange section we move into the more mid-range systems – solutions developed by individual NGOs for a specific need, campaign or project. These are generally less complex, which makes their chances of replicability slighter better, but still difficult for many grassroots non-profits with few technical resources or hardware at their disposal.
Finally, in the green section – the truly long part of the long tail – we have the low-end, simple, appropriate mobile technology solutions which are easy to obtain, require as little technical expertise as possible, and are easy to copy and replicate. From my own experiences the number of NGOs present in this space is by far the greatest, making it the area to focus on if we want to create the highest amount of mobile-enabled social change. Add up all the value here, and it easily outweighs the rest along the higher (more lucrative) parts of the tail.
I use this diagram in many of my conference talks and presentations, and it seems to go down very well. It was interesting to see some of the staff at Nokia Research, where I spoke last month while I was in Palo Alto, grabbing their camera phones to snap a picture of it. I’m always thinking about ways I can refine it though, and Jim Witkin – a colleague – suggested adding an extra axis. This is now the one on the right, representing the number of NGOs in each of the Long Tail segments.
There are probably better ways of depicting this, but for now I’m happy with this. Suggestions, however, are always welcome.