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Wagging the drooping tail? Visualizing Web Analytics Data: Logarithmic Charts and the Drooping Tail (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

While all of Nielsen’s posts are interesting, of course, today’s hits a number of buttons in one succint posting.

Ostensibly the purpose of the piece is to note that complex data can’t always be reduced to a simple, linear chart, and that looking beneath the data (or in this case, plotting on a log:log chart) reveals patterns that otherwise would have been missed.

Indeed it’s worth noting that the resulting chart is indeed simple and clear. Whether one understands non-linear charting or not isn’t the point: the key part is to grasp that a good data analyst can suggest different, appropriate presentations to the business owner and these suggestions should be heeded – along with the explanation of what to infer from the simple charts!

Nielsen moves on to talk about the economics of this ‘drooping tail’ (the fall-off against the predicted Zipf’s law decay indicates that there’s unsatisfied demand for pages on his site). While I’m not sure that the absence of pages is the same as frustrated demand, it’s worth bearing with Jacob as he sets out a simple case for the value of this tail.

[to satisfy demand] we’re expecting to add 259,000 pages, so the total value would be $62,000.

It sounds like a nice sum — but could the site create 259,000 new pages for $62K? Obviously not, assuming the employees creating the pages earned salaries higher than that of the average ant.

Arguably, teenagers and UGC devotees can be paid less than the average (non-unionised, I assume) American Ant, but this does beg the question as to the desirability of such content.

The key route to success though is to have made your money from the _first_ publication of the data. For example, BBC News, Reuters, the Financial Times etc all make money while publishing news. The value of the news is highest on the day it’s published and then ‘decays’ as later events render the news quotient more archival background than “must know today”. Over time, however, the archive value rises and this already-fully-amortised content delivers “free” revenues at a later stage. The costs, of course, are those of archive management and distribution.

The final brutal truth though is there for startup companies in the content space to consider. Comprehensive and deep coverage of your niche space is required, yet content is expensive to create and maintain. It’s clear that monetising the long tail is an illusion – unless the content has already been paid for by the time it’s having a rest in the archive.