You can’t travel anywhere on the web these days without bumping into the notion of the Long Tail. As conceived of by Wired’s Editor-in-Chief Chris Anderson, the long tail is the sizable hunk of all the millions of obscure things that sell only a few, but match the sales of bestsellers in total. The Long Tail is represented as the area under the sinking curve that never quite reaches zero, but seems to extend forever: Infinite niche.
That’s background for a new verb I noticed a year ago. Nick Carr, internet consultant and useful curmudgeon, writing in his blog, Rough Type, tends to find the virtues of the long tail to be exaggerated, if not wrong, at least in the blogosphere.
In a November 10, 2006 blog posting Carr postulated that blogs were headed down to further obscurity rather than up to the floodlights of fame. He wrote: “Back in October 2004, there were three blogs in the Technorati top 10. Last year, there was one. Today, there are zero. Defining the short head more broadly, as the top 100 sites, provides an even starker picture of the rapid downtailing of blogs.”
Downtailing!! This is the perfect word for the slow descent down the ranks of influence. One can imagine one’s book, movie or career downtailing, which indicates not only a move down, but more importantly a move out — to the edges of irrelevancy. To the wilderness of obscurity. To the silence of the solo audience. With tail down between legs, it’s a cross between demotion and exile.
And here is the cool part. When I checked the Googleness of “downtailing” in November 2006, it had the near-impossible Google Hit Count of 1. That is, Carr had the word to himself, the only reference on Google being his own blog. As far as Google knew, no one else had ever used this word. So if it ever took off, we’d know its birthplace.
Since that time I have not heard anyone else use it. I just Googled the term again today. After 13 months “downtailing” now has a hit count of 7. Interestingly, one use seems to be found in a 1994 biography of Conor O’Brien.
I still think downtailing is the perfect word to indicate a slide away from relevance. To me it captures a shift in the flavor of moving not from the A list to the B list, but moving from the C list to the Z list. I know it is hard to believe, but someday Britney Spears will downtail. This is not the same as downfall, because as we have seen sometimes downfalls can yield uptail. Many celebrities find their links uptailing as they downfall.
Uptailing! That’s what we all want to do. Ever the optimist and pollyanna, I claim the term uptailing. (Take that, Carr.) The term is staring out with a Google Hit Count of 9. Most of the uses are for ducks uptailing as they dive. Of course, I am proposing “uptailing” as what happens when a work or artist crawls at bit from the outer limits of the long tail up towards the fatter end (still miles from bestsellerdom). You hope to uptail to the place where getting pirated, sampled, mashed and parodied is something you look forward to. After you’ve uptailed, then you worry about getting ripped off.