Jed Cohen

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I am the Long Tail

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You may have heard of the long tail.  It’s one of those Internet buzzwords, but if you haven’t, here’s Chris Anderson’s original Wired article on it.  Here’s a quick description: the cost of storing and distributing small quantities of a variety of slightly popular goods becomes economically feasible thanks to the larger audience the internet provides.  If a retailer were to stock these same products on their shelves, they would not be able to sell through their inventory because their shoppers are bound by the need to physically travel to the store to purchase the item.  Some say the long tail is dead.  Maybe it is, maybe it isn’t.  Regardless, the mathematics behind the long tail (the Pareto principle) apply to a variety of circumstances and phenomena.

Including this blog.

How so?  Well, I imagine that the Pareto principle (or the 80/20 rule, or the law of the vital few, or whatever else you call it) applies to Internet traffic too.  Think about it.  If you run a website, how many visitors do you get?  And how many do you think the most popular websites in your field get?  If the 80/20 rule holds true here, then statistically speaking you probably fall within the 80% of the Internet that provides only 20% of the total web traffic.  But chances are there are a few sites within your field that dominate over the rest, at least traffic wise.

Let’s use my blog, this website, as an example.  Here’s my Google Analytics statistics from July 1st to today:

Google Analytics Statistics

I also had 395 visitors when this blog was hosted on WordPress.com, and most of those were from one post – Twitter, the Psychology of Reciprocity, and Self-Reinforcing Micro-Networks.

Anyway, it’s safe to sat that this is not one of the most visited sites on the web (even if we exclude porn and spam).  I’m okay with this.  Here’s why:

I am not here to tell you how to do whatever it is that you do.

I’m much more interested in having a conversation with you than telling you to do things the way I like to do them.  I want to create content that you find “valuable,” that makes you think or exposes you to something you haven’t heard about before.  Yes, I do try to be timely and interesting and witty while doing this, but I truly hope that I do not come off as preachy.  I am not an expert.  I truly hope that you do not get the impression that I’m trying to be one.

I don’t promote this blog very much.

Okay, so this is related to the point above.  I use some simple WordPress SEO, I tweet about my posts, and I have set up accounts on StumbleUponTechnorati, and so on, but I don’t spend hours trying to increase the number of eyeballs that take in the content here.  I’d like to think that you like what I write, and I hope you leave a comment with your thoughts, but I’m not going to freak out if only eight people read this post.  Sure I have Google Analytics enabled, but that’s because it appeals to my scientific data geek side, not because I run marketing campaigns designed to increase traffic.

I’m not here to make money.

Seriously.  There are no ads or sponsors on this website.  I’m doing this because I want to experiment and learn what works for me, not because I’m expecting to make money.  Maybe one day, but not today.  (In the meantime, at least I’ve got that whole “personal branding” thing covered).

So what’s the point again?

This post was supposed to be about web traffic, not an explanation for why I blog or a justification for why I’m okay that only a few people read this thing.  I was going to make a point about how the Internet allows me to find an audience for my writing (and the writing of others) that traditional media would not be able to.  And I was going to discuss how we shouldn’t necessarily expect the proportions of the 80/20 rule to change.  That just because the Internet is the “great equalizer” doesn’t mean that the majority of people won’t still read the same content, especially in light of the low time investment involved in surfing the web (aka if you don’t like something you close the browser window).

Obviously that didn’t happen.  Sorry about that.  Maybe another post?

In the meantime, let me leave you with this:

Justine Ezarik, aka iJustine, describes herself as “the Internet.”  To give you a frame of reference, Alexa gives her websitetraffic rank of 48,998, while this blog is ranked 3,586,457.  So if Justine is the Internet, I guess that makes me the long tail.  And maybe you too.

Written by Jed

August 18th, 2009 at 9:28 am