Long Tail Theory
October 25, 2009 9:07 AM   Subscribe

Where can I learn more about the theory behind The Long Tail? I've read the book but want something more than just examples.

Books, papers, blog posts, etc all accepted.
posted by nam3d to Education (6 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: The Reality of Relying on 1,000 True Fans.
posted by meadowlark lime at 9:09 AM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: I talk about The Long Tail sometimes when I'm explaining the 2.0 universe to libraries [we have a lot of that long tail material in libraries and that's a good thing] and when I'm getting citations for them, I usually tell them to go to the end of that Wikipedia article that you linked to and start reading. So, specifically

- A Practical Model for Analyzing Long Tails
- Yochai Benkler's Weath of Networks
- Harvard Business Review/Anita Elberse - Should you invest in the long tail? and Chris Anderson's take on it (he likes it).

Really if you wind up reading everything linked at that Wikipedia article, I think you'll be happy. There's oro and con stuff in there.
posted by jessamyn at 9:13 AM on October 25, 2009

Have you read Chris Anderson's blog, The Long Tail?
posted by mumkin at 9:14 AM on October 25, 2009

I'm teaching a media-focused class on the long tail this semester, and I pair Anderson's book with Henry Jenkins' Convergence Culture. Jenkins give more of a cultural studies/pop culture view.

I also use selections from Benkler's book, as well as Clay Shirky's Here Comes Everybody, Dave Weinberger's Everything is Miscellaneous, and for a more densely academic view, Axel Bruns' Blogs, Wikipedia, Second Life and Beyond: From Production to Produsage.

Honestly, though, I think the long tail theory is pretty simple in itself, and is laid out pretty clearly by Anderson. What helps my students develop a deeper understanding of how and why it can (and also often doesn't) work is by analysis of examples.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 9:41 AM on October 25, 2009 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Zipf's Law, the original "long tail."

Zipf's law states that given some corpus of natural language utterances, the frequency of any word is inversely proportional to its rank in the frequency table. Thus the most frequent word will occur approximately twice as often as the second most frequent word, which occurs twice as often as the fourth most frequent word, etc.

For example, in the Brown Corpus "the" is the most frequently occurring word, and by itself accounts for nearly 7% of all word occurrences (69,971 out of slightly over 1 million). True to Zipf's Law, the second-place word "of" accounts for slightly over 3.5% of words (36,411 occurrences), followed by "and" (28,852). Only 135 vocabulary items are needed to account for half the Brown Corpus.

The same relationship occurs in many other rankings, unrelated to language, such as the population ranks of cities in various countries, corporation sizes, income rankings, etc.

posted by zippy at 10:32 AM on October 25, 2009

Best answer: The (Mis)behavior of Markets by Benoit Mandelbrot is a look at a different application of the mathematics of "fat-tailed" distributions. In this case, it's about how the tail of a probability distribution has dramatic effects on the frequency of low-probability events, like stock market crashes. ("The Black Swan" by Nassim Taleb was based pretty heavily on Mandelbrot's models.)
posted by mbrubeck at 11:19 AM on October 25, 2009

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