Ah, yes, the Pareto Principle. Anyone in project management or who reads productivity blogs is going to be familiar with this concept. It is simply the idea that 20% of the cause creates 80% of the effect. It was proposed by Vilfredo Pareto in 1897 as he found that the majority of England’s wealth was controlled by a minority of the population. It has been found to be an accurate guideline in a variety of situation.
In recent years it has been applied all over the place. Maybe too liberally.
The Pareto Principle and understanding your community
Where I think it can be helpful is in cases where a big problem looks and feels overwhelming the 80/20 rule can help to set some priorities. This writeup from invision breaks down the mountain of an ongoing task that is understanding your users by taking it a bite at a time.
In building a new website user research is as expensive as it is easy to neglect. Particularly when you’re on a budget it seems like a good idea to assume you know your programs best and how best to communicate them. This can end in a product built for insiders rather than those you are seeking to engage. If you only look to your own needs and preferences there is little chance of attracting new customers or breaking into new markets.
Every bit of user research you can do helps
It’s not going to be scientifically sound but we can take a minority of your community to represent the majority of input for building a new site. Talking to only a small portion is better than none. Ask this small group to point you to help you set priorities for the big picture aspects of development: What is the most important thing to get right on a new website? Where do people want to get content from you? What is the reason that they visit your website most often?
If you get these things right, then it makes it easier to tweak and change in the future as you gain a more nuanced understanding of what your community is seeking from you.