[FOUNTAIN]A ‘tail’ of two principles

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[FOUNTAIN]A ‘tail’ of two principles

Department stores have a special parking lot for customers with excellent records. These VIP customers can have a cup of tea at an exclusive lounge and enjoy an extra discount. The department stores offer the special perks to frequent patrons because a large portion of their revenue, about 80 percent, comes from a small number of loyal customers, the top 20 percent. Italian economist Vilfred Pareto’s 80-20 rule can easily be found in our daily lives. Eighty percent of the calls we get come from the closest 20 percent of the people we know. Twenty percent of the population has 80 percent of the money in the country, and 20 percent of the workers do 80 percent of the work.
American linguist George Kingsley Zipf arranged the words appearing in the Bible and “Moby Dick” according to the frequency of their occurrence, and obtained a distribution very similar to the Pareto distribution. The Korean language is no exception. If a person knows the vocabulary of the 1,000 most frequently used words, he can understand 75 percent of Korean. The unabridged dictionary of Korean contains more than 300,000 words.
The Internet delightfully turned over Pareto’s principle. Yoshihiro Sugaya argues that the center of the market is shifting from the few to the many. He calls it the “Long Tail” principle. As an example, he cites the American online bookstore Amazon.com. Half of its revenue comes from the sale of books that are not publicly popular. The long tail portion in the distribution, which was considered insignificant in the Pareto distribution, is growing more important.
The politician who benefited from the long tail rule before Mr. Sugaya’s book was President Roh Moo-hyun. He started the party primary race as just one of many lawmakers and succeeded in seizing power with the support of online groups. Other politicians had not even imagined the idea of garnering voters’ support online.
Mr. Roh adopted the “rebellion of the long tail” in the state administration as well. He divided the citizens into the 20 percent group and the 80 percent group. He attacked the 20 percent and united the 80 percent. However, the outcome was a failure.
Let’s picture an outrageous scenario. What would happen if we were banned from using the 1,000 most frequently used words in order to develop our vocabularies?
Would it be possible to communicate first-hand? Or, perhaps, another set of words might replace the banned words. If Pareto’s principle is a law of exclusion, the Long Tail principle is a rule of acceptance and co-existence.


by Kim Jin-kook

The writer is an editorial writer of the JoongAng Ilbo.

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