Thought-leader, author and ex-rocker (you know he's my kinda guy), Chris Anderson has these images in a post, "Visualizing the Long Tail. " In an article on "deportalization" ... Keith Teare offers a neat analogy for the shift from a few hits to many non-hits. He's referring to websites, but the same could be true for almost any products. Special note to Richard Florida: think of this when you're considering whether the world is becoming less "spiky", not more."
A couple of thoughts here.The first image is the real distribution from 2006 and it looks pretty spiky. Whether or not the second image of the world will look in 2007-10 actually turns out (I actually have no reason to doubt it), is beside the point. The fact of the matter is that different dimensions of social and economic life have different distributions. Not everything is a long-tail, though many things conform to it and can be explained by it; and not everything is a canonical power law ala Zipf. Check out John Hagel's thoughts on the matter here and here.
As I have long said, Tom Friedman gets half the story exactly right; same can be said of Chris Anderson here. Technology (the Internet and more) is leveling the playing field in important ways, allowing certain kinds of economic activity to decentralize and enabling people to plug in and compete from far off corners of the world. But that leveling force, while important, is only one part of the bigger story. There is a powerful counterforce for concentration or spikiness which Jane Jacobs initially identified and later Robert Lucas codified. And this is the neglected, surprising and ironic force. Lot's of people for a long time have predicted flattening. But just when we expect technology to flatten the world, the distribution of key resources is becoming more concentrated. My empriical research with Rob Axtell and Tim Gulden shows how these resources become more skewed or concentrated, moving from population generally to highly educated people, the creative class, economic output and ultimately science and technology.
In my view, it's not an either-or: Long tails, flattness and spikes all coexist and exert their effects in the real world.
Tell us what you think.