Given the ongoing and at time spicy debate that surrounds the Long Tail, as presented by WIRED’s Chris Anderson, I believe its time we ask a very simple question: Is “The Long Tail” a Theory or an Ideology? If this question has already been asked, then consider this simply the time for me to ask this very simple question.
By Theory, I simply mean a statement of some causal relationship(s), and/or conditional process(es) that can be proven to be false. Notice, I did not say that a theory is something that can be proven to be true. This distinction – falsification – is fundamental to what it seems we call our scientific method. Furthermore, as highlighted by the Oxford dictionary, a theory involves “general principles independent of the thing to be explained.” The outcome and conditions are not the theory – the theory is in the spaces in between the cause and the consequent.
By Ideology, I simply mean “a system of ideas and ideals” that can be shown to be true. Importantly, these principles may not be independent of the thing to be explained. Instead, ideologies are alternatively explanations or interpretations. The cause and the consequent are fused together, no longer independent.
For example, the various disciplines of the social sciences – economics, sociology, political science – are supported by various ideologies. These disciplines are cornerstoned, and at times distinguished, by certain ideas and assumptions about the world such that explanations make sense. These ideologies then give birth to all sorts of theories about human behavior, at the level of individuals or the aggregation of individuals we call markets or societies.
The Long Tail may in fact be an Ideology – a system of ideas and ideals that once in place can be shown to be true. I am coming to this conclusion given most challenges to the claims of the Long Tail are met with re-stated conditions and exceptions. The objective of the Long Tail thesis appears to be to describe a set of conditions under which both the cause and the consequent would be shown to be true.
As such, the premise(s) of the Long Tail may not form a Theory to be tested, but an Ideology to be adopted and adapted.