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Brendan Cooper is Editor-in-Chief at byyd, the leading mobile Demand-side Platform.

Great holiday reading material – The Long Tail

There’s nothing like a good holiday for a good read.

On mentioning I was looking for reading material, a colleague thrust a copy of The Long Tail into my sweaty palm. It’s a revelation. I know it’s easy to get excited by these things – especially when you come to them late, like I have, and tend be a bit over-excitable by nature and start seeing long tails everywhere – but, well, I keep seeing long tails everywhere. Particularly – and notably – in the PowerPR index.

This shouldn’t come as a surprise. I would have expected a few blogs to carry a lot of traffic and then for it, quite literally, to tail off, but when you chart the metrics – any of them, all of them, combinations of them – you constantly get a long tail. In fact, it looks exactly like this (from Excel):

longtail.gif

I’ve removed the figures because they don’t really matter – trust me, the curve looks the same no matter which figures you use, with the exception of Google Page Rank which doesn’t have the range of, say, Technorati Authority or Yahoo links.

This is interesting because it bears out my recent thinking on the latest issue of the index: that there are three ‘super blogs’ out there, the ‘superest’ being Micro Persuasion followed by Online Marketing Blog and the Center for Media and Democracy. Part of me wonders whether, by including them, I’m comparing apples with pears here because they seem to have a different nature from the rest. But then where do you stop? If I take them out, the next three or four will leap out and become the new heads, Hydra-like.

So, quick thoughts on this (it’s late because my body clock’s gone wrong after the holiday):

  • I love the way this works according to my rough understanding of what a long tail is. No score is zero: everyone has been read/ hit/ indexed so that someone, somewhere has given them a score. This is because it is equally easy to find anything. My PR feed, for example, is aggregating them all as we speak. Shel Holtz may be influential but that’s not to say that Spudgun doesn’t have something interesting to say too. We just need to filter out the noise to identify the tail.
  • Does this imply that I gain equal value from following the tail, as I would the three ‘hits’ of the head? If I look at the total figures there’s an equal divide between head and tail midway between the third and fourth plots on the chart. So, quantitatively this implies that I have as much ‘value’ in the tail as I do in the head. Given filtering/ aggregation/ indexing etc, does this work qualitatively too?
  • I strongly suspect long tails are fractal. I haven’t actually finished the book yet but I’m hoping somewhere this will be raised. For example, Teaching PR doesn’t come very high in the PowerPR index but if I built a blogroll of blogs concerned exclusively with PR studies I’m confident another long tail would emerge. So, for every niche there’s another tail: every niche can also be a hit. People will also have their own long tails. Perhaps I should finish the book first.
  • If we’re dealing with a long tail then this might account for why getting the figures to behave like a normal distribution didn’t work, because it isn’t one. However, this could just be a case of how you approach the plotting: longtail.com probably has the answers, if only I understood the question.
  • This still raises the problem of how to provide meaningful illustrations of these figures. This page might help, but then again I see the alphas, betas and brackets and get scared, like a tiny white rabbit.

The other two books I read were the God Delusion – in every way the real version of Oolon Coluphid’s ‘Who is This God Person Anyway?’ – and, an impulse buy, Riding Rockets, the best way to find out what it’s like to be catapulted into space while wearing a nappy without actually suffering the indignity. Neither of them are particularly applicable to PR, copywriting or tech but I thought I’d mention them anyway.

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11 Comments on “Great holiday reading material – The Long Tail”

  1. Karen July 6, 2007 at 11:03 am #

    Good morning, Ghost. I’m flattered by the link. But did you *have* to point out that nobody actually reads my blog?! :-)

    Oh well, maybe your mention will boost my numbers for next month.

  2. The Friendly Ghost July 6, 2007 at 12:00 pm #

    Exactly! :)

    Actually, that would be an interesting experiment – perhaps you could take a look at teaching PR resources and see if we get another long tail? For example I know PR Studies is an educational blog. Not only would it be an interesting exercise it would almost definitely push up your readership.

    Just a thought!

  3. Karen July 6, 2007 at 12:47 pm #

    Good idea. I’ll see if I can manage it.

  4. The Friendly Ghost July 6, 2007 at 1:44 pm #

    This posting might help with gathering the blogroll together:
    http://thefriendlyghost.wordpress.com/2007/05/28/i-think-i-think-my-blog-has-a-usp/

  5. mithum July 7, 2007 at 10:41 am #

    I haven’t read the long tail as yet, although my boyfriend keeps pushing it under my nose. I’ll have to give it a go. Does it talk specifically about connectivity, and hyperlinking as a driver?
    Mithu

  6. The Friendly Ghost July 7, 2007 at 10:50 am #

    There isn’t a specific section on this but the entire book really is about how connectivity makes the long tail apparent and possible. If you have a copy I’d highly recommend you read it! It’s fascinating.

  7. mithum July 10, 2007 at 7:36 pm #

    Thanks – will do!

  8. Erika the rabbit lover August 1, 2007 at 10:51 am #

    hey ur rabbit is the cutest bunny i ever saw keep it up!!!

    rabbit lover

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