Who’s wagging the long tail?

The “long tail” is digerati shorthand for the the increasing profitability of companies’ backlists–the formerly neglected niche products that used to be kept in stock just in case one of them suddenly turned into a breakout hit, or because they were simply necessary to have a fully-stocked store. Now, thanks to easy searchability, it’s easier than ever for customers to find these products, and some of them are becoming much more profitable than ever before. Think books, music, blogs … in each case, the traffic/sales going to niche products overwhelms (or will soon overwhelm) that going to the “hits.”

The “long tail” implies that the Internet is ushering in an age when micro-niches will dominate, at the expense of mass-culture monoliths. Sure, the Net makes it easier for us all to find the bizarre fetishes and tiny cliques that we are longing for. But one thing has always bugged me about this theory: How do you make a business out of that, unless you’re a big aggregator?

John Cassidy put it very well in a recent New Yorker article, pointing out that Amazon, Google, and eBay — all big companies — pop up again and again in discussions of the subject:

Has the New Economy really moved past the familiar “winner take all” dynamic? That depends on whether you’re looking at the long tail—or at who’s wagging it.

In other words, sure, there’s a huge proliferation of blogs on every imaginable subject under the sun. Most of those bloggers, if they’re making anything at all, are making about $2.93 a month for their efforts. Chump change. The only way to make that into a business is to aggregate a million of these bloggers and take 50% of their revenues. But who can manage that trick? Hello, big companies: AOL (Weblogs, Inc.), Yahoo (Yahoo Groups), and Google (Blogger).

Suddenly the brand-new blogosphere is looking a lot more like old Big Media.

The New Yorker: “Going Long”

Who’s wagging the long tail?

Google AdSense vs. AdBrite.

AdBriteAdSenseJust for kicks, and because AdBrite has such cute branding, I decided to check out its advertising network. I’ve been using Google AdSense for awhile (and just got my first $100 check from it last month, woo hoo) but I’m open to alternatives, especially if they stand a chance of making me a little dough.

So I set up a test: Using a PHP script, I’ve rotated AdSense and AdBrite banners on tinywords and SMS 411 for the past few weeks. Each time a page is served, my script randomly chooses an ad, so the distribution is even, giving me the ability to do straightforward A/B tests.

The results are clear: Over the same period, and on the same sites, AdSense is generating 3 times the revenue that AdBrite is. The reason is clear, when you look at the ads the two systems serve: AdSense ads are highly relevant to the adjacent content, whereas AdBrite’s ads seem to have been targeted by a drunken monkey with a heavy interest in pushing credit card debt-reduction schemes.

But there’s a much bigger reason AdSense has my business right now: Reporting. AdSense lets me examine a huge amount of detail on how my various ads are performing, enabling me to fine-tune ad colors, placements, and other aspects on the fly. I can compare performance on various domains, between different color ads (using custom channels), and between ads and Google product referrals.

With AdBrite, I can’t do any of that. Annoyingly, AdBrite’s traffic and clickthrough reports are on one page, and the earning reports are on another, separate page. AdBrite doesn’t give me an easy way to check performance by CPM (I have to do my own calculations) and I can’t easily check, say, the last week’s or the last month’s results.

The only advantage AdBrite offers is that I can use it to sell spots directly on my site, and I can set my own price for these ads. So if I thought I could regularly convince someone to pay $30 a week for a banner ad on tinywords, I would use AdBrite. But for my tiny sites (and I suspect for most “long tail” publishers) network ads — those that are placed on my site by a computer, not a human — are really the only option.

In this case, AdSense wins hands down. It delivers better-targeted ads, generates more money, and gives me much more data about how my sites are working. And thanks, Google, for the C-note.

Google AdSense vs. AdBrite.

Fixies.

When I was a kid, the more gears your bike had, the cooler it was. Yet San Francisco is just crawling with single-speed bikes. On closer inspection, I found that many of these bikes don’t even have coaster brakes–they’ve got direct-drive chains. As long as the wheels are turning, the crank is turning, so you have to keep your legs moving, and you slow down by slowing down your legs. WTF??

It turns out that these fixed-gear bikes, or “fixies,” are something of a trend. Last year they were, anyhow. Here’s how to make a fixed-gear bike out of an old 1970s ten-speed, plus lots more info on why you might want one of these stripped-down, admittedly dangerous urban hipster rides.

Fixies.

Anti-spam and digicams.

Here are two upcoming PCMagCast events that I’m producing and moderating. Lots of useful info in both of them — check them out!


SMB Bootcamp: How to Can Spam
(Tuesday, July 25, at 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific)
A 60-minute overview of anti-spam technologies for small-medium businesses, featuring PCMag analysts Neil J. Rubenking and Oliver Kaven, and OnlyMyEmail antispam analyst Stephen J. Canale. Here’s more info, or click to register.

Making the Most of Your Digital Camera (Weds, August 2, at 2pm Eastern / 11am Pacific)
An overview of how to take better pictures, aimed at beginners. In one hour, we’ll cover digicam basics, cover some easy tips for taking better photos, and we’ll even show you how to take super-clear “HDR” (high dynamic range) photos using an ordinary camera and some simple software. This webcast will include a 10-minute video where yours truly will be showing the basics of using a digital camera. And, we’ll leave plenty of time for Q&A. Click for more info, or just register now.

Both events are free but we do ask you to cough up some information on the registration form before we’ll let you in. And both will be available for 3 months after the broadcast date.

Anti-spam and digicams.

SMS 411.

Want to learn more about SMS, aka short message service, aka cell phone text messaging? Check out my new site, SMS411.net, which provides simple, easy-to-understand information on how to use SMS with U.S. cell phones.

Although the popularity of SMS is rapidly growing in the U.S., we’re far behind the rest of the world in understanding how to use it effectively. Part of the problem is that it’s just too hard to find good info on how it works and what you can do with it. Lots of people don’t know, for example, that you can receive email on your cell phone via SMS, or that you can use SMS to do Google searches. This site explains all that and more, as clearly and accessibly as possible.

It’s brand-new, and I’m doing the site in my off hours, so the information you find there is just a start. Please take a look and let me know what you think–I welcome your comments and suggestions!

SMS411.net

SMS 411.

Internal Damage.

internal damage DVD coverMost tai chi chuan (aka taijiquan) videos are New Age snoozers of the yoga-hippies-on-the-beach variety. You’d never guess from them that tai chi is originally a martial art with serious defensive and offensive applications. That’s why I applaud Internal Damage: Advanced Tai Chi Chuan for Combat (DVD, $40). The instructor, Glenn Hairston, is a security professional, bodyguard, and former cop. His video was filmed entirely on an urban outdoor basketball court, with weeds coming up through the cracks and graffiti on the walls. The soundtrack is badass hip-hop. And the entire focus of the video is on how you can use different parts of the Yang style tai chi form in hand-to-hand combat.

Hairston does gloss over some critical details (“push with full body energy” — but how to do that right, well, that could take literally years of study). More annoyingly, there are no chapter markers in the DVD so you just have to fast forward and reverse to find the parts you want. But these are quibbles. In a showdown between the yoga hippies and Hairston, my money is definitely on the big black guy.

Internal Damage.