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May 08, 2009

My Long Tail is All Over the World

What the Web is for: Blog Visitors By Location


I'm intrigued at how do people come to the blog? (see the previous post on Google love), and I'm also intrigued at Where do blog visitors come from?. Here's a chart of the most recent visitors by location:


What surprises me is the wide/narrow distribution pattern. Primarily the visitors are global (potential future tagline: We Put the WORLD in World-Wide-Web!), with a smaller concentration within 100 miles of Pittsburgh. My uninformed preconception was that there'd be a larger node of Pittsburgh visitors, with a smaller node of national visitors, and very few international visitors.

The Concept of The Long Tail


I should have known better; what's really happening is this is a demonstration of the "long tail" concept of web distribution (and originally of power distribution).

The long tail was originally described in a Wired article by Christ Anderson, and he's also got a book out on it. The identification of the long tail curve may be as significant in economics as the identification of the normal distribution with a quincunx was in statistics.


Here's Chris Anderson himself explaining it:



There's a tightly grouped "head" of big business with a few primary customers (or locations), and a "tail" of low-volume, very widely distributed niche customers. The point of the abstraction is that the area of the (orange) long tail represents a significant, non-trivial percentage of the market (20% in a classic Pareto principle example). In previous models, marketing to the long tail was impractical because of the costs per contact. In a web model, marketing to the long tail becomes relatively free, permitting niche businesses to flourish in markets they wouldn't be sustainable in previously.


Anderson goes on to separate what type of business (or project, or community) will survive in three segments of the curve: the head is for physical stores, the middle of the curve is for hybrid "bricks-and-clicks" business, and the tail is for "pure-play" (strictly web) digital business.


Who's Profiting from the Long Tail?


Lots of niche businesses are profiting from the Long Tail and the way that the web changes the economics of business. In a competitive world, niche businesses break new ground, then Big Business co-opts and grows into the space. If the niche business is lucky, they get bought out - which was, of course, the business plan of most Dot-Com's before the bubble burst. They weren't there to make a profit, they were there to get bought out.

Big Business, of course, wants the Head and the Tail. Wouldn't it be profitable to be the one who gives (sells) Big Business the Long Tail? How do they get access to the Long Tail niches? Online advertising. The little ads you see on the margins of niche websites allow Big Corporate to reach the Long Tail.

Who puts Big Corporate into the Long Tail? Who's the middleman who interfaces between all those blogs and niche websites and the industry? Google. Which brings me back to repeating (sorry) a point I've made before: Google is an advertising company.

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