The Long Tail

The Long Tail

In The Long Tail weblog, Chris Anderson (editor in chief for Wired Magazine) explores the long tail of markets and social networking. The Long Tail hypothesis states (basically) that the economics of sum of all of the small markets and niche products are greater than the sum of all of the “hit” products. In other words, the latest belly-button pop star may sell millions of CDs but all of the funky 1 and 2 sale CDs will sell even more.

Amazon has more sales from all of the titles that Barnes and Nobel DOESN’T carry (the top 30,000 titles) that the total for the top 30,000. I believe that the same “long tail” effect applies to enterprise collaboration and communication.

Everyone may want to get a copy of the quarterly report. It may be the one big publication “hit” for the quarter. Because this Quarterly Report (or Project Plan, Status Report) is well understood as an object within the enterprise, it is pretty easy to fit it into a taxonomy and to create meaningful metadata for the report: QuarterlyReport, Q1, FY2005, WordDoc, etc.

But many people are looking for many small collaboration items. This is the long tail of collaboration and communication. Only a few people may be looking for the meeting minutes for a given meeting (those with next steps and action items, those writing status reports for their peers, etc). Only a few people may be looking for an archived chat where a great idea for a piece of code was discussed. Thousands of these small artifacts are created by an enterprise. Each person will search for a few of the artifacts but everyone will want to find some of them.

These “long tail” artifacts are difficult to fit into a formal Taxonomy. Getting metadata generated for these objects (that is useful, meaningful and standardized in the traditional sense) is also very difficult. Tagging and the growth of an enterprise folksonomy is the way to create structure around these “long tail” artifacts.

But more on that later…