Following up on my comments about meeting Chris “The Long Tail®” Anderson and talking about the complexity in the slope of the curve describing the power law of all media, an excellent post from Anderson, Microstructure in the Long Tail, pointed to by Christian Crumlish.
…the Long Tail is in fact made up of many “minitails” (below), all adding up to the powerlaw (“Pareto”) shape we know so well.
This is important because it explains why a very effective network-effect (viral word-of-mouth) recommendation system, which is essential in driving demand down the tail, does not actually do the opposite: drive content up the tail to further amplify hit/niche inequality. The explanation, I argue, lies in the only semi-permeable membrane between niches and mass-markets. Popularity exists at multiple scales, and ruling a clique doesn’t necessarily make you the homecoming queen.
Anderson goes on to ask whether all the mini-tails look like the bigger curve they are part of, which is an important question. He finds an answer—one possible answer to the question—that suggests “no.” But the answer comes from a look at a single type of distribution, wealth, in this New Scientist article about econophysics. However, I’d like to point out that this suggests some continuity between the various mini-tails, but I believe it is the two-dimensionality of the curve that is most deceiving.
The different curves within the tail are not of a piece and we can understand them separately as being of many different configurations rather than being like or unlike the bigger curve of the power law. They aren’t aligned, they are an aggregate that is tossed and turned conceptually but still susceptible to being gathered into a single curve that describes a general distribution of market power. But each mini-tail is a case on its own and I stand by the suggestion that the best metaphor is a broad topology.
We’ve got such a long way to go in understanding all this. The long tail is a great start, but the reality is deeply convoluted and probablistic—we can’t make a blanket statement about all mini-tails nor suggest that one mini-tail will act the same way at all time—it’s an important view of the economy today. The reality beneath that grand theory is comparable to confusing quantum world that underlies our physical world (currently our Einsteinian world, but it is Newtonian in the terms most of us think), and that’s why I started working to build Persuadio’s analytics system.
It’s just going to get more interesting. Investors are supposedly clamoring for views into networked markets. Heck, call me.