So Long, Long Tail?

I’ve been known to disagree with Harvard eggheads before ūüôā¬†

 

Chris Anderson's Long TailAnd now, perhaps, another opportunity. A new Harvard Business Review article (“Should You Invest in the Long Tail?” by HBS Professor¬†Anita Elberse)¬†throws water on Chris Anderson’s paradigm, arguing that “hit products” are still more valuable than the conglomerated also-rans in the tail; her research is mostly in retail products. Chris has responded on his blog, sparking many comments and debate, and today the Wall Street Journal covered the back-and-forth debate.

I’m interested in the debate mostly¬†because of the interest in the Long Tail way of thinking in some circles of the¬†intelligence community. ¬†I’ve written about the approach and its relevance to some intelligence issues (see “Tradecraft in the Long Tail” and “IARPA and the Virtual Long Tail“).

I’m just not certain that even a total debunking of the retail-oriented paradigm would undercut its value as applied to intelligence analysis.¬†

For intelligence analysts, obscure “facts” and patterns hidden snugly within the low-scale noise are all important – whether or not they gain numerative bulk in any accumulative way.¬† The paradoxical¬†“unknown unknowns” are what’s being sought by dogged collection and analysis, and I’m not sure that’s analogous to Elberse’s acknowledged findings.¬†

Your thoughts welcome, here or by email back to me.

 
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