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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Tradecraft in the Long Tail

Fact: Chris Anderson, WIRED editor in chief and author of the Internet-era classic book “The Long Tail,” also runs a couple of Ning social networks focusing on what the intelligence community would call¬†IMINT, or imagery intelligence – specifically DIY Drones, “a site for all things about amateur Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAVs): How-to’s, videos, discussion and more,” and PictEarth, “a Social Network used to collect, link and geotag RC, UAV/UAS or Kite derived Earth imagery for use in 3D Globe Programs including Google Earth, Virtual Earth, World Wind and ArcGIS Explorer.”

Analysis:¬† With these sites, Chris Anderson is promoting what he calls “Crowdsourced Aerial Imagery.”¬† In the mission statement for DIY Drones, he writes that “Reasons to make your own UAV range from a fun technical challenge, student contests, aerial photography and mapping (what we call “GeoCrawling”), and scientific sensing. We are primarily interested in civilian, not military, UAV uses here.” (Emphasis is in the original.)

Let’s presume that individual DoD or¬†intelligence-agency personnel have an interest in such issues, and maybe even in spending their personal time by keeping current and following the crowd’s interest in such topics,¬†by participating in these new social networks.¬†¬†One can¬†then assume that others from foreign intelligence might have some interest in tracking those very IC personnel, by observing their activities within social networks (and not just Ning ones).¬† No spectacular logic needed for that.

The CIA has had some challenges in understanding their field presence within the Long Tail. 

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