The Long Tail: A-Listers Maybe Not So Powerful After All

The Idea: Taking a closer look at the aggregate reader attention of the l-o-o-o-n-g tail of the blogosphere suggests the Power Law is missing something big.

A number of readers asked me how I computed the data in my recent Bloggers, Your Audience Awaits post. People were especially surprised at my computation that only 2,000 blogs have an average of over 1,000 page-views per day. Here is the data I published in that analysis:

Blogs” per Blog
Average Page Views per Day
Page Views per Day per Blog
Page Views
per Day per Blog
per Blog
100 A-list bloggers
15 million
100-400 hrs*
2,000 B-list bloggers
5 million
30-100 hrs
18,000 C-list bloggers
9 million
5-30 hrs
80,000 up-and-coming bloggers
8 million
1-5 hrs
5 million remaining active bloggers
15 million
<1 hr

To produce this data, I started with Technorati’s Top 100 (A-list) blogs, each of which had over 2000 “inbound blogs” (i.e. 2000 other blogs that had current links to them on their home pages). I then correlated that to the daily number of page views by examining a sample of these blogs’ page-view counts. There’s a lot of variation, but for the A-listers, the average number of daily page views was 150,000 and, among those at the bottom of this range, the median ratio of daily page views to inbound blogs was 7.5, so I defined “A-listers” as those with over 2000 x 7.5 = 15,000 daily page views. I then took a cross-section of smaller blogs and found the ratio of daily page views to inbound blogs declined from about 6.0 for blogs in the second 100 to about 3.5 for blogs with only 300-400 inbound blogs. By extrapolating Shirky’s Power Curve for inbound blogs I computed that the 2,100th ranking blog would have about 300 inbound blogs, and hence 300 x 3.5 = about 1,000 page-views per day.

After extrapolating the data for the rest of the categories, I looked at the average time spent per page view, again using the SiteMeter data. I confirmed the statistic I had read elsewhere, that the average reader hangs around for under 90 seconds per page view. But a quick look at some A-list bloggers showed their average readers hang around for only 40 seconds per page view. So last night I dug into the SiteMeter data in a little more detail. I discovered that the attention deficit I had noted for A-listers is even worse than I thought: There is an inverse relationship among A-listers between number of page views and average time spent per page view. Example: readers of Daily Kos, Little Green Footballs, Gawker and Atrios averaged only 3-6 seconds per page view. Multiply the average stay per page read times the number of page reads per day and you get a maximum of 400 hours per day (Daily Kos). That’s a long way short of the 1700 hours I’d computed using the 40 second average, and a long way short of the 8300 hours of reader attention the average US daily paper commands.

What this suggests is that online advertisers looking for a bargain might be better off investing in a bundle of B-list bloggers, those 2,000 bloggers who each get 1/4 the reader attention of the average A-lister, an average of 60 hours/day of attentive eyeballs.

It also suggests that Shirky’s Power Law tends to exaggerate the importance and influence of the A-listers, whose aggregate reader attention is only 25,000 hours per day compared to the 120,000 hours per day of B-listers and 230,000 hours per day of C-listers. In fact, the attention curve above isn’t a Power curve at all — just a simple logarithmic curve with — you guessed it — a long and unexpectedly powerful tail. If I’d plotted the whole 5 million active blogs on the chart above it would be 620 feet (200 metres) wide.

* revised, per calculations described above

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7 Responses to The Long Tail: A-Listers Maybe Not So Powerful After All

  1. “3-6 seconds per page view” : It could also indicate that sitemeter’s stats aren’t very accurate with high-traffic websites.

  2. Dave Pollard says:

    Yes, I thought about that, except there are a few (not many) high-traffic websites, perhaps those with relatively few pages, but notably those who write longer articles, that have much higher average sitemeter times per page view. And this data is consistent over time. I suspect that a lot of the page-views may be click-throughs, immediate jumps to external links (some of the A-listers are more links than proprietary content), or, even more intriguing, clicks through to the comments threads — many A-listers have ‘open threads’ which have many regular participants — essentially free-form discussion forums where what the blog’s author has written has nothing to do with the visit whatever, and where the advertiser is not getting any visibility at all. And some sites with provocative names probably get short visits from all the googlers looking unsuccessfully for porn.

  3. I’m pleased to see that the diversity of art and opinion is getting some study these days.Dave, I thought of you when I saw this photographic exhibit online:“It is a loving exploration into the nature of animals in their natural habitat as they interact with human beings. No longer shown as merely a member of the family of man, humans are seen as a member of the family of animals.”

  4. Derek says:

    Wow, I’m in the top 100,000. I’m a D-lister. Who-ha.Seriously, I think the one thing that’s going to totally blow away the A-list is when the smaller groups get together and create micro-conglomerates. While you might be able to crank out 1,000 word essays every day; some of us have a hard time keeping up; but the readers are demanding, never caring that we have day jobs. Something like which takes the feeds from 8-10 occasional bloggers talking about biodiesel keeps the readers happy and combines the audience for a group of like-minded writers.

  5. Monjo says:

    Actually, SiteMeter gives a lot of views as 0 seconds even if someone spends 30minutes reading through a site. This is because it logs an inbound click and that’s it (1/infinity). Only if a user then clicks to a second page will there be a time.. say 1 minute on home page then one minute on a story. This will give the visit as being 1minute (rather than 2minutes).

  6. Thanks for this analysis. I commend your attempt to look more closely at the hype.I myself question RSS feeds and the prevailing “wisdom” about post often, post every day, post in a hurry without worrying about typos or perfect writing.I post once or twice a week, maybe three times if I’m really doing a lot of research on lots of topics.But I don’t post a few sentences with a link. I post a lengthy, in-depth, carefully reseached and fully linked article on a vital topic pertaining to blogs, web usability, site credibility, comment spam, email composition, online marketing, etc.So, thanks for rocking the boat. Keep it up, my friend.”Save the Environment. If you destroy your environment, where will you situate yourself?”

  7. Vink says:

    this article is unfounded. Web metrics are very difficult to produce without a huge margin of error.

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