So Long, Long Tail?

I’ve been known to disagree with Harvard eggheads before 🙂 

 

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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