Position of item in sequence

Figure 5.4 Zipf's law, showing decrease in popularity of items within an ordered sequence

In an online context, application of this 'law' is now known as 'the long tail' thanks to Anderson (2004). It can be applied to the relatively popularity of a group of web sites or web pages or products on an individual site, since they tend to show a similar pattern of popularity. There are a small number of sites (or pages within sites) which are very popular (the head which may account for 80% of the volume) and a much larger number of sites or pages that are less popular individually, but still collectively important. Returning to the product context, Anderson (2004) argued that for a company such as Amazon, the long tail or Zipf's law can be applied to describe the variation in preferences for selecting or purchasing from a choice for products as varied as books, CDs, electronic items, travel or financial services. This pattern has also been identified by Brynjolfsson et al. (2003) who present a framework that quantifies the economic impact of increased product variety made available through electronic markets. They say:

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