Fun Fact About User Participation Online

Way back when, when I hung out on the CompuServe Comics forum, one of the administrator’s rules of thumb was that for every participant, there were roughly another nine lurkers. Today, I found study elaborating on that “participation inequality”. Comfortingly, that 1-in-10 ratio is still accurate, and it even scales:

User participation often more or less follows a 90-9-1 rule:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs.

Why is this important? It matters if you’re trying to get an impression of community reaction or feelings.

[S]uch inequities would give you a biased understanding of the community, because many differences almost certainly exist between people who post a lot and those who post a little. …

Blogs have even worse participation inequality than is evident in the 90-9-1 rule that characterizes most online communities. With blogs, the rule is more like 95-5-0.1.

So here’s more ammunition for, say, comic publishers looking for reasons to ignore online commentary. (Sorry about that.)

The first step to dealing with participation inequality is to recognize that it will always be with us. It’s existed in every online community and multi-user service that has ever been studied.

The article goes on to elaborate on how you can work to minimize the first number and increase the other two. (Some good advice for those who run message boards here.)

  • Make it easier to contribute. (For example, clicking a rating button is easier than having to write an original reaction.)
  • Make participation a side effect. (Here, they’re talking about computer data-mining.)
  • Edit, don’t create. (The blank page is scary, so start with templates or samples.)
  • Reward — but don’t over-reward — participants. (You want to attract those who want more than being the king of the message board.)
  • Promote quality contributors. (This one speaks for itself.)

3 Responses to “Fun Fact About User Participation Online”

  1. Ray Cornwall Says:

    Does WordPress have a “rating” button feature or plugin? I wouldn’t mind getting feedback on reviews I write.

  2. Johanna Says:

    A quick search finds this, but I don’t know if it’s exactly what you’re looking for.

  3. David Oakes Says:

    I want a t-shirt that says “0.1%”

    But Participation Inequality doesn’t limit itself to on-line interaction. I doubt that 10% of Coke drinkers – maybe not even 1% – have ever bothered to write the company, for good or ill. And the number of people who actively campaign for a cause are a small portion of those that vote for it.

    (Not to mention that those that vote are only a fraction of those that register, and registered voters are only a fraction of eligible voters. If only 55% of the country can even be bothered to care who is going to run their lives for the next 4+ years, how can you possibly trust their opinion on whether or not Spider-Man unmasking was a dumb idea?)




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