Tuesday, October 18, 2005

BlogOn: The Oft-Mentioned Long Tail

"The long tail" was mentioned at BlogOn 2005 several times by presenters and overheard in the hallway as well. One of the first to talk about this concept as applied to the Blogosphere was Clay Shirky.

Basically, this is the idea that most of the traffic in the blogosphere is coming from a very small number of authors and a very large number of authors (the long tail) are creating on average a small number of posts each.

This idea is tied to Zipf's law, named after George Kingsley Zipf, a Harvard linguistic professor. Jacob Neilsen also recently wrote about Zipf's curves.

However, it was pointed out by presenter David Weinberger that the area under the long tail is larger than the area under the large head, as it were. Which means... what exactly?


David said...

I'm not sure what it means, but that's how it was explained to me. I'm bad with the qualitative OR quantitative display of numeric information. But I think it means the total number of link-to's is greater in the long tail than in the head. And it's presumed that the number of link-to's is an indication of the number of visitors. So, you can reach more people by addressing the long tail than by addressing the head. That's what gets marketers excited about the long tail...although I think they're mistaken about it in several dimensions.

glennfan said...

I think David's right. The volume of posts by the masses is much greater than the volume by the "head" (?) of the tail. This means it's a treasure trove of marketing data just waiting to be mined by those savvy enough to do so. The problem is the tail keeps whipping around -- in that the churn there is tremendous -- so it's hard to pin down.