30 July 02006

Review of The Long Tail by Chris Anderson

Cover of the Long Tailignore thisIt's a measure of a term achieving zeitgeist status when people apply it liberally, even in circumstances where it doesn't really fit — as with the managers who sought to label their initiatives as Total Quality Management or Business Process Re-engineering in the nineties, even if they only half-grasped the original intention behind these terms. In the 21 months since Chris Anderson published his article on the Long Tail in Wired, this new term has come close to achieving similar status. To some extent that's a sign of its attractiveness and strength, but will it end up (forgive the almost unavoidable pun) tailing off, as TQM and BPR have done?

The Substance of the Long Tail

A quarter of the way into his book The Long Tail: How Endless Choice Is Creating Unlimited Demandignore this, Anderson explains, "The theory of the Long Tail can be boiled down to this: Our culture and economy are increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of hits (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve, and moving toward a huge number of niches in the tail."

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24 July 02006

Information foraging theory

I came across information foraging theory via Jakob Neilsen, who described it as "the most important concept to emerge from Human-Computer Interaction research since 1993". Wikipedia has a reasonable overview, noting that "information seekers… use the same strategies as food foragers — informavores constantly make decisions on what kind of information to look for, whether to stay at the current site, trying to find additional information or move to another site, which link to follow, and when to finally stop the search." And there's a general introduction in a New Scientist article.

I'm interested in the theory for its possible applications to how people discover new music, in connection with the book I'm writing. Although Nielsen has referenced it a few times. There aren't that many other published applications of the theory on the personal page of Pete Pirolli, who is its principal proponent. There are a large number of academic papers on the theory among Pirolli's publications, of which I've read just the 01999 Psychological Review paper and the 02005 HCI International one. What follows is my assessment of what I like about the theory and what I don't like.

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23 July 02006

Top online brands and the calculation of charts

My friends at Futurelab have posted their own chart of the Top 100 Online Brands, as an alternative to that provided by Interbrand (here's Interbrand's 02005 list, with the 02006 one due soon [Update, 28 July: the link to 02005 list now redirects to the 02006 list]).

What does a chart of brands mean, and to whom? I can see that the branding industry wants to identify who's doing best, and then determine how they've achieved that. But what can the rest of us learn from the results that Kodak beats Coca-Cola on Futurelab's metrics, but Coca-Cola was top of Interbrand's list? For most of us, these two brands do not overlap or compete in any part of our lives.

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21 July 02006

Why is Pandora big in Beverly Hills?

An amusing little bit of trivia about Pandora, the online music discovery service that I've written about a few times (here's my most in-depth review). Yesterday's CNET News feature on Pandora mentions in passing that the most popular zip code of Pandora users is Beverly Hills' 90210.

Pandora is only licensed in the US. To use it you have to provide your US zip code, but that's the only check Pandora does on your location, I believe. So if you're outside the US, and you want to use Pandora, what are you going to do? Pick a zip code out of the air perhaps? And if you did, which zip code might come quickest to the mind of a non-US citizen? Possibly one that features in the title of an internationally syndicated soap opera? Even as someone who has never seen Beverly Hills 90210 on the TV, I am aware of it from reading TV listings. Call me cynical, but could that explain Pandora's apparent popularity in that part of California? (Of course, I don't endorse anyone falsifying their zip code. No, not me. Not a good idea.)

8 July 02006

Learning Light web site launches, research published

Learning Light is a not-for-profit organisation set up in Sheffield to "overcome the everyday obstacles our members face within the field of e-learning". It is supported from Yorkshire's regional funds but is open to more or less anyone.

I did some work for Learning Light last summer to build up their Knowledge Base, working with Seb Schmoller and David Kay (plus David's colleagues Liz Wallis and Camilla Umar). You can now register with Learning Light (free of charge), and thereby gain access to three reports, including one that I co-wrote.

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