Long Tail of Open Source

Chris Anderson popularized the Long Tail phenomenon in his 2004 Wired article.

The theory of the Long Tail is that our culture and economy is increasingly shifting away from a focus on a relatively small number of “hits” (mainstream products and markets) at the head of the demand curve and toward a huge number of niches in the tail. As the costs of production and distribution fall, especially online, there is now less need to lump products and consumers into one-size-fits-all containers. In an era without the constraints of physical shelf space and other bottlenecks of distribution, narrowly-targeted goods and services can be as economically attractive as mainstream fare.

Like the Pareto 80/20 principle, you can apply the long tail graph to other context.

To illustrate, let us refer to the head as the vertical axis while the tail as the horizontal axis.

The vertical axis (head) vs the horizontal axis (tail) includes:

  • mass market vs mass of niches
  • iOS-based products vs Android devices
  • Big businesses vs micropreneur (freelancers, sole proprietors)
  • Proprietary software vs open source software
  • Multinational corporations vs SMB (sari-sari stores, anyone?)
  • Vertical markets vs horizontal markets
  • Global vs local
  • Major film studio vs indie film
  • Luxury vs utilities
  • Unschooling vs traditional schooling
  • A few good men vs ubiquitous evil (rather cheesy but it’s true) 🙂

In economics, the core idea of the Long Tail is that, commoditization and differentiation are always at odds.

Regardless of its merit, no matter how hard the vertical axis keeps its head high, we’ll continue to see its long tail as long as we live.


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