Do you believe the long tail exists online?
April 8th, 2010

If not, take a look at the above illustration: it is a real long tail.

Chris Sherman describes how the long tail in the illustration emerged, in an article at SearchEngineLand titled “What The Long Tail Of Search Actually Looks Like.” He begins:

Much has been written about how savvy search marketers can exploit the long tail in both organic SEO and for paid search campaigns. The formal definition of the long tail refers to the statistical property that a larger share of population rests within the “tail” of a probability distribution than the “head.”

In search marketing terms, keywords are the literal key to reaching the long tail . . . .

In the article, Sherman explains how this works.

On a personal note, I would add that a major factor in my conversion to believing in open internet access to study subjects for education was actually seeing a long tail of enormous proportions emerge in metrics we did for where I was in charge of content. We had 35,000 study subjects ranging from: algebra – geography of Kenya – molecules – classical music – and so forth and anon.

We only did the metrics only once on the monthly 4 million visits to this open collection of study subjects, in May of 2000. When I saw the results, I remember being stuck by the fact that a very few subjects (mostly math and a few sciences) received a very high percentage of the traffic [the head]. The rest of the thousands of subjects were visited in a very long descending curve of frequency out to less than ten for a few and then none for some [the long tail]. Only the year before, 1999, had Albert-László Barabási and his colleagues begun mapping the scale-free aspects of the internet. I do not know if the term “long tail” had yet been coined for this phenomenon; I certainly had not heard the term. But there was a perfectly formed long tail, looking right back at me from what was actually happening online.

My conversion to open internet access to study subjects was complete because I could not answer this question: Why at school do we only let kids learn the subjects in the head, and chop off the long tail of connected and detailed knowledge. Standards and grade-by-grade curricula by definition are the head without the tail of what youngsters could learn. How dumbing down is that!

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