The long tail of a complex system
Most attributes of complex systems studied by the exact
sciences may be approximated by the Gaussian (normal) distribution. Asymmetric
or skewed distributions are transformed so as to make them normal, e.g.,
the log-normal distribution. On the other hand life generates only skewed
distributions. Hitherto those distributions were also transformed so as
to make them Gaussian. The short asymmetric tails were regarded as noise
which ought to be reduced by an appropriate transformation.
The Gaussian distribution (model) is generated from random phenomena, and since nothing in life is random the Gaussian model fails to capture some essential attributes of life. Life is manifested by the allometric law with asymmetric tails.
After a century of ignoring these tails as random noise, developers encounter this phenomenon in the Internet, and since it is bad for business, it is unpleasant. Particularly since the area under the long tail is larger than the body that wags it. Hitherto you believed that the distribution-body harbors most of your customers only to discover that they hide in the long tail. The phrase “Long Tail” was coined by Chris Anderson, and highlighted by an influential essay by Clay Shirky, "Power Laws, Weblogs and Inequality" (February 2003) http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Long_Tail.
The long tail is a manifestation of the allometric law (a power law) which is an expression of life, and since the Internet is a living system it behaves allometrically. Thus, in order to improve your business, you ought to abandon the outdated Gaussian distribution, and turn your attention to life. You cannot generate a long tail from random elements, since phenomena generating long tails are creative. My CA models are such creative constructs which generate long tails.
The long tail carries with it a sad message which led some to conclude that Web 2.0 is dead. On one hand the web is flooded with information, yet most of it is redundant, irrelevant, and misleading. Suppose that you fell ill with cancer. You turn to the experts and get treated. Nevertheless you worry. They talk about probabilities of cure, while you want a definite answer. What about alternative cancer treatments? Google spits out 10,700,000 links within 0.09 seconds. You start reading and reading only to encounter the non-relevant. The distribution of these links forms a body with a long tail. The first n pages consist of the body, while the creative links are distributed somewhere in the long tail.
More on cancer
The optimists hope to remedy this with new search engines of Web 3.0 . Yet the future lies in Web-Bionics, whose basic ideas were introduced in this thread.
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