February 11th, 2006

Is the Long Tail a Lit Fuse?

by

The demise of Publishing 2.0 was predicted early on — I’m still chugging along, but Phil’s point here is spot on — starting to blog is easy but blogging successfully over the long term is really, really hard. Which makes me wonder about the future of consumer-created media, especially in light of a fascinating analysis by Matt Galloway, which combines David Sifry’s latest numbers on the growth of the blogosphere with Umbria Communication’s comprehensive report on the state of splogs. Here are the results of Matt’s analysis:

I created an approximation of Sifry’s trend and carried it forward (assuming a constant rate of growth of 12.75%) out to May, 2006. I then created an approximation of Umbria’s splog trend for the same time period, using a constant 31% increase in the percent splog (same as 48% increase in number of splogs.) Finally, I subtracted the number of Umbria splogs from the number of Sifry blogs to yield an approximate number of non-spam splogs.

Then I graphed it and got this…

Yulp, you’re reading it right. Assuming that both Sifry and Umbria are accurate and that these growth rates are remaining constant – the non-spam Blogosphere has peaked in size and is now contracting. Furthermore, by March, blog spam will represent half of all blogs.

Anybody want to take a stab at what the heck is going on here?

I’ll take a stab at what’s going on, using Matt’s analytic technique — consider Matt’s analysis alongside this Wired report on “Podfading”:

Although hard figures are elusive, host Rob Walch of the podcaster-interview program Podcast411 estimates at least a fifth of podcasters don’t make it to their 10th show; he expects the podcast graveyard to become even more crowded as podcasting becomes easier. Walch instituted a rule that he won’t interview a podcaster until the show has at least 10 episodes.

“Podcasting is one of those things that’s cheap and easy to begin to do but takes a tremendous amount of time to keep going with no payoff,” said freelance writer and blogger Brian Reid of Alexandria, Virginia, former host of the gender-issues program Sex Talk, who quit in August. “There was no money in it and it did nothing to push my career forward. I’ve got a lot of other things in my life, paying work being one and my family is another. It’s not like blogging, where you can do it for 15 minutes at a time and get away with it.”

Consumer-created media takes a lot of time and energy — unless we develop economic models to meaningfully compensate the long tail, the ego payoff for most people won’t be enough to justify the effort. The cost of entry to create content is low in terms of dollars, but the cost of sustainable content creation is very high in terms of time, which in this short life is our most valuable commodity.

Open markets have a way of purging the excess — the long tail will shrink as people go back to their lives, making high quality content less of a commodity. Perhaps the bubble in media will deflate itself and, as happened with the last bubble, the best brands will survive and ultimately ascend.

UPDATE
David Sifry just alerted me that his numbers have in fact been scrubbed of splogs and other forms of spam, so his graph below represents only “human-created blogs.”

Sifry Blog Count

Well, I’m getting that bubbly feeling again. The 27 million blog question is whether Sifry’s graph will turn out to look like Matt’s graph at some point down the road.

It would be interesting to see stats on blogs that post daily vs. blogs that post at least weekly vs. blogs that appear to be abandonned.

  • Great exercise in reality-testing the press release. I had vaguely similar thoughts, but I slept through a lot of econ lectures. What I do know is that splogs are a noticeably annoying percentage of Technorati search results, which I find frustrating as a cranky user. I've been thinking I'd test some keywords on various such blogging utilities and see which is the most splog-free.

    If Sifry can detect and discount splogs, then surely he can exclude them from search results?

  • "It would be interesting to see stats on blogs that post daily vs. blogs that post at least weekly vs. blogs that appear to be abandonned."

    Exactly. If there's no culling of the numbers, if every demo from the past five years is included as A BLOGGG!!!, then the curve is highly misleading. It might just as well be measuring the hype and marketing, and hence feeding on itself.

    Not the mention the confusion between people who are doing online personal diary (lots), and those who are trying for a substantial audience (much fewer).

  • Great post, but allow me to clarify on the Technorati numbers. The numbers I presented are NET numbers, in other words, we've already subtracted out all of the spam and spam blogs that we see. So, if I included all of the spam blogs that we've tracked and killed, the numbers would be much much higher. The State of the Blogosphere numbers are all about human-created blogs, not splogs or spings.

  • Ted, I don't think the publishing revolution is dead -- quite the contrary. I think the shrinking of the "amateur crap" end of the tail (I might have chosen kinder words) will only increase the value of the "millions of words of good writing being produced."

    And I don't think My Space has anything to do with blogs -- at least not blogs that see themselves as publishers. My Space is about socializing online.

  • Ted

    If you want to see the future of 'blogs', look at my space. Lots of people there 'blog' but they're not creating any value, they're mostly passing notes in class in electronic form. A funny link here, a joke there, a "I don't know what to eat for breakfast here".

    However, that's not what matters. Blogs, since the very beginning, have been mostly amateur crap. However, even 1/10th of one percent of a million will still yield valuable content that can both provide some level of economic satisfaction for the author (either a higher profile for his day job, or actual renumeration). Even if the numbers have plateaued in some sense, there are still new people reaching the age of 20 or so every day, and there are new countries getting online faster.

    Perhaps the numbers do show that we're approaching a peak in the 'everyone has a blog' age, but that still doesn't mean that the personal publishing revolution is dead, because even with a 50% drop in new blogs, we're still looking at millions of words of good writing being produced, cheaply and with low distro costs.

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