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Old 05-17-2006, 09:51 PM   #11
Alexander Karatis
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Now what does this model of distribution mean for...nature? Or a company's product range? What purpose does the tail serve there? We know what the head does...

But what about that tail? Does it make the group better? Or the head and the group better? How?
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Old 05-18-2006, 05:52 AM   #12
Don Woodson
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Six-Sigma. Very dirty words in my line of work (Quality Control).
As I understand it, without going into long tails and paretto analysis etc., Six -Sigma is basically the theory of self regulation, and "letting the chips fall where they may, and everything will be alright", and sounds good as a THEORY. But it really only works in nature. Like forest fires are good at cleaning up undergrowth, making room for revitalization of forest floors, ie., let it burn, it's a good thing, it'll all work out naturally.
But Six Sigma, as applied to any production line with humans on it, fails to account for that human equation. In short, humans cheat. Humans are notorious for finding the easiest and fastest way to get something accomplished. We just want to get the job done as fast and efficiently as we can. Left to our own devices, humans will always seek the path of least resistance in just about any endeaver (except Crossfit of course). Unfortunately, sometimes the easy way can have a detrimental effect on the outcome of that endeaver.
Six-Sigma says to keep the rules, but let them rules be self enforcing and these products will practically build themselves completely free of defects.
Eugene, allow me to apply Six-Sigma to law enforcement so you can see it from your point of view.
Suppose your job at one time was to enforce the traffic rules through surveillance and traffic ticketing. Now, somebody way up there comes along and says to you, "just keep the speed limit signs in place, but let them enforce themselves." "We'll put automatic speed radars out on the highways, and when a speeder blasts past it, we'll leave it up to the driver to pull himself over and write himself a ticket on the honor system, instead of having you pull him over and writing the ticket for him."

Six-Sigma falls well into the "ain't gonna happen" paradigm.

I think Six-Sigma started off with a glossy ad in the back of some business magazine, with pretty bar and pie charts, and business executives everywhere bought into it, very much like when we were kids, and our comic books had them ads for sea monkeys and X-Ray Specs in the back of them.
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Old 05-18-2006, 06:38 AM   #13
Joshua Newman
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There's a great David Foster Wallace essay about television, "E Pluribus Unum", in which Wallace states:

"TV is not vulgar and prurient and dumb because the people who compose the audience are vulgar and dumb. Television is the way it is simply because people tend to be extremely similar in their vulgar and prurient and dumb interests and wildly different in their refined and aesthetic and noble interests."

Which, essentially, is the classic argument for the importance of the Long Tail in media: if only we could democratize distribution sufficiently, we could let all this wonderful, refined niche content find its own set of consumers!

That's a lovely idea. But, speaking as someone who runs a film production and distribution company, and who therefore gets sent reams of unreleased indie films each day, I can definitively say most of the film along the far end of the Long Tail isn't there because it's niche-ey, it's there because it's remarkably badly made.

So, at some level, the Long Tail is the result of a sort of Darwinian winnowing process, in which the 15,000 films submitted each year to Sundance, Cannes and TriBeCa are pared to the hundred or so fit for broader consumption. And, looking back over the past ten years, as the number of films submitted to festivals has exploded yet the overall quality of films released hasn't much changed, I'm not sure that a larger quantity of films along the tail necessarily dictates better films at the head.

However, I do believe that, between the crap in the Long Tail, and the major releases in the head, there exists a sort of 'medium tail' - content too small to justify release given the economics of traditional film distribution, yet quite good and potentially highly appealing to at least a specific, focused audience group. That's where changes in how film distribution works should really intersect with Long Tail thinking in a positive way.
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Old 05-18-2006, 07:18 AM   #14
Paul Findley
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Bah, not "snark", just an attempt at a really bad pun, lighten up. I always viewed six sigma as a journey, not just a destination, but then my pay was never dependent on the delta from 6 sigma.
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Old 05-18-2006, 11:16 AM   #15
Alexander Karatis
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Paul-rgr that.

Joshua, you bring up a very pertinent realm of power laws at work-->The Film Industry! This might be (you probably know better) an area where much of the tail-end is crap, precisely due to the infitely more factors, parameters and subtleties that a film has.

I imagine that is why probably fewer than 1% of films made must generate more than 50% of the total revenue (just guessing). That's a remarkably head-heavy distribution!

I mean you've got this thing that runs for 2-3 hours and has so many visual and audio cues and combination of cues to trigger so many emotions in so many different ways...Is it hard to realize that few are going to get the combination that makes most people "feel" the film and thereby make it a success?

So Josh-what would you say about your industry-does the presence of the tail, make the head better? Or the whole industry/whole audience better?

This is what I'm trying to get at...and I think it's leading somewhere. Is the presence of the tail there because it continously gets reinvigorated by failures and new attempts, (product entering the market and then promptly exiting to give way to another unsuccesfull attempt), or does it serve some other purpose like helping the head the get better (new competition prompting the big guys to take notice and adapt).

How has it been with nature? Have the "dominant" species adapted after the emergence of new, rarer species with some particular attribute? I have a feeling that this may be the best example to examine, first because it is completely opaque to me, and second because the fundamentals that apply to nature should apply to every other "free system".
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Old 05-22-2006, 10:54 AM   #16
Matt Smiley
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This weekend I was lucky enough to attend BEA - the biggest book publishing trade show in the US - and I happened to pick up an advanced reading copy of Chris Anderson's forthcoming book. From what I've read so far, it seems like an idea that could have a very real impact on how my company and other book publishers/sellers do business. Very interesting stuff.
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Old 05-22-2006, 01:45 PM   #17
Joshua Murphy
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It is simple - in Six Sigma Variance is the enemy. In CrossFit it is the ally. So does that mean we are the in longtails of fitness? Yes, but how long until we are curve?
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