Monday, January 29, 2007

Long Tail for the Gear Head

Many many many moons ago, I did systems administration work for an environmental research shop. At one point, I was asked to help port and improve a simulation program written in conjunction with Honda. To kick the project off, a Honda engineer flew in from Tokyo to spend a few days with us. All good except he didn't speak English and we only got a translator for the first half of the day.

It was summer time and the desert heat was causing brownouts. I went around and did the usual lap to remind my users to save their work often. That is until I got to the engineer from Honda -- amongst the few words of English he managed to pick up, "brownout" was not one of them. So how do you say it? After scratching my head for a minute I went to the whiteboard and drew a graph. On the Y axis, I labeled two points: 110V and 220V. On the X axis I wrote "t" with an arrow pointing right. In another color I drew a line at the 110V line and tossed in a momentary dip to zero and back up to 110V. To the right of the graph I put the command for saving a file in the editor he was using.

He nodded. I nodded. We both went back to work. I started checking on the time stamps for his files and sure enough he was saving every 2-3 minutes.

This morning I needed to explain The Long Tail to a programmer without making him gag. Translation: Assume a graph of c/x where the area under the curve is the available market where x is number of total number of products, y is popularity, and c is some sufficiently small subset, usually 2-3, of very popular products . Historically, the only money that could be made was for x<=c. The Internet has changed this so that niche markets (x>=c) can still make a healthy living.

It ain't rocket science (as some other gear head friends who are rocket scientists would tell me), but stirred up with some examples and it appeared that we had a translation win.



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