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Monday, April 28, 2008

90-9-1 Rule aka 1% Rule in Collaborative Environments

I was just talking to someone who is regular reader of my blog and they claimed that I had never officially posted about the 90-9-1 Rule which is often referred to as the 1% Rule. Basically this rule tells us that in collaborative environments, e.g., discussion groups, wikis, etc. for every 100 people that sign up:
  • 90 will lurk (read with no active participation)
  • 9 will participate in a limited fashion (maybe rate or comment periodically)
  • 1 will regularly post content
Of course, you can try to improve those percentages through:
  • Incentives or requirements (students must blog - it's graded)
  • Community cohesion
  • Focus (short time frame, limited topic)
  • Integrated as natural activity
and other adoption models. Still, be careful about overselling the amount of adoption.

And even with these efforts and while some environments differ in their participation rates, there is often a similar spread of participation which can be a big problem for the effectiveness of social solutions. Think about it:
To get 10 active content contributors, you need an audience of size 1,000.
More information:

Wikipedia article: 1% Rule
Guardian article: "What is the 1% rule?"
"The 1% Rule: Charting citizen participation
Quantitative Analysis Of User Generated Content (PDF) - paper


Mark said...

Hi Tony,

Continuing on these theme, you might be interested in the paper at www2008 by Xavier Ochoa and Erik Duval entitled "Quantitative analysis of user-generated content on the Web", for more details check out Erik's blog [click here].

I guess I am now in that 9% now!


jadekaz said...

Perfect timing! I hadn't heard of this and it fits in with a paper I'm currently writing for school on the topic of Communities of Practice (Situated Cognition) and Web 2.0. Basically, Communities of Practice is the idea that people become more involved overtime and move through phases of participation (Driscoll - Psychology of Learning for Instruction, p. 165). Instead of applying the concept to traditional networks, such as professional organizations, it made me think immediately of the blogging world and wikis and the like.

Peripheral: learner engages in partial participation only - Reading blogs

Inbound: learner is headed toward full participation - Commenting on blogs

Insider: learner continues through full participation - Creating a blog and reading related community blogs

Boundary: learners arrange interactions between related communities of practice - Participating in active blog creation with lots of "talkbacks" between established insiders. (See "The Big Question")

Outbound: learner is in the process of leaving the community of practice - Stop reading and/or posting

Tony Karrer said...

Mark - thanks for the pointer to the paper. It gives a much richer data set and shows quite a few actual distributions.

Luckily, they reinforce the 90-9-1 rule rather than dispute it. Although the real conclusion is that its far more complicated of a distribution than that.

Colin Warren said...

I hadn't heard of this rule before (Pareto Principle, yes) so interesting to read what's been written about it. From personal experience the 90-9-1 rule resonates with me, and my introduction to, and participation in, collaborative online environments. I've other experience in setting up a drupal to support communication and collaboration for a group of people that worked quite well without too much encouragement to participate.

Mark and Jade have provided links to further expand and provide data on the idea (thanks), but I'm also interested in how we try and change the ratios.

Thanks for your suggestions on some strategies Tony, but I also wonder sometimes if it's really worth the effort. Are there ways we can get people on board more quickly? How do we encourage more people to be 'pioneers'? How can we push them on to become 'settlers' (or should that be 'natives')? It must be something to do with adding value. Making it worthwhile, stimulating, rewarding and inspirational. The challenge of doing this in the field of education must be more difficult than in other areas...

I also wonder if it's worth looking further into not just the quantity of contributions, but the quality and (as research is requiring now) impact of what people write.

denz said...

I found that your percentages are a bit lower than what others have found. I think it depends on the environment in question, and are you talking about the general public or a target audience?

Is a breakdown of participation in social media by generations

Tony Karrer said...

Denz - thanks for the link to the BW article. It certainly does show higher participation rates, but not sure what to make of this as compared to other research about activity on sites like Wikipedia, Yahoo and others. However, based on a comment in another post on this blog it may be that people are in many different communities and therefore the aggregate participation is higher.

However, for our one community that we are facilitating it will likely follow the 90-9-1 Rule.

Sharon Boller said...

This echoes the truism about direct mail and telemarketing - 1% response rates. Interesting!