In 2006, Compete was contacted by Read Write Web to provide data for a piece on the Long Tail Theory: The Shrinking Long Tail – Top 10 Web Domains Increasing in Reach (You can see our follow up to the post here). The Long tail theory is another way of describing the democratization of media and business through the Internet by removing some of the institutionalized hegemonic powers of the biggest mainstream outlets. In this post we compared the share of page views held by the Top 10 domains in 2001 to that of the Top 10 in 2006. We found that the top 10 domains weren’t shrinking at all, as alluded to by the long tail theory.
Recently, we were contacted by B.J. Mendelson who is writing a new book entitled “Social Media is Bullshit” to be released in the Fall of 2012. He reached out to us inquiring for an update on the 2006 blog post, and being that it had been five years since we touched the topic, we were due for a 2011 update to determine whether or not our data-driven thoughts about the long tail theory remained true.
In terms of the page views metric, they certainly haven’t. In fact, the upward trend that alluded to a increasing concentration of power in the hands of the top domains has seemed to stabilize.
Since 2006, the total number of Internet domains has increased by 11% and stretched out the power of the long tail in the lens of page view analysis. The number one domain in September of 2011 (Facebook) resembles the number on domain of 2001 (Yahoo!) in terms of page view dominance. It seems that 2006 was the peak of the power gap in that regard.
Because of this, we wanted to look at Internet usage on the Top 10 domains in terms of our attention metric as well. Attention considers all the time we collectively spend online and then determines what percentage of that time was spent on a given site.
Here we see a different story. We see further support of our 2006 research which disproved the long tail theory.
Here is the breakdown of these results by site in 2001, 2006, and 2011 for the month of September:
As you see here, the top 10 sites are garnering more and more of a user’s entire time spent online. Although the change isn’t as rapid as the growth from 2001 to 2006, we are seeing evidence to disprove the long tail theory with regard to engagement, which we think might currently be a more accurate portrayal of today’s internet population in the context of the long tail theory over page views.
With that said, there are exceptions (Search Engines for example), which is why we don’t present Attention as the king of all metrics. As with any standalone metric, we see Attention as an additional piece of the puzzle. It is important to view multiple metrics in conjunction with each other in order to understand each dimension of internet usage and build a complete perspective.
Jen Duguay joins Compete to take on all things social media. She comes from a social issue background, most recently having worked for the Social Innovation Forum, the venture philanthropy arm of Root Cause, a nonprofit research and consulting firm. Jen's interests include singing, marketing, running, art, making guacemole, and using social entrepreneurship to tackle world issues. She has spent time in Belize and the Dominican Republic working on microfinance initiatives and recently traveled to Kenya where she studied the public healthcare system. Follow Jen @jenduguay on Twitter.