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Friday, February 23, 2007

1% Rule - Can You Fight It?

I just saw a post - Solving the 1:10:100% problem by Phil Wainewright on the Fast Forward blog. He reminds us of the 1% Rule. In his post he said:

There is no workaround for the 1% rule. Instead, recognize it exists and work with it. With luck, you’ll find it’s more like a 3% or 5% rule among knowledge workers, since middle-class professionals (and their offspring) are more predisposed to posting content online than other demographic groups. But still accept that most of what they contribute will be irrelevant, inaccurate, superseded or redundant, and build the system in a way that allows users to discover and recognize the most useful items.
He also points out how hard it may be to convince management to spend money on something that hits 10% and that only 1% actively contribute to.

Previously I had mentioned that DevLearn: Ze Frank Keynote - Level of Engagement suggested that we have to think about modifying participation so that participation can happen more easily and at more levels. In some ways, that's the beauty of the web and some of the models emerging on the web. For example, consider the levels of effort involved in:
  • Visiting a web page
  • Voting/rating something
  • Transacting - Buying/subscribing
  • Commenting
  • Composing
A click to visit a web page takes almost no effort. Yet it's an interesting data point to see who what the most viewed pages are. And it continues up the scale. Obviously, the value increases as you move up the scale. See also: Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers.

I'm still not sure if you can fight the 1% rule all that well. But certainly, you can by making more levels and more seamless with the work itself.


Stephen Downes said...

The 1% rule has applied for as long as I can remember, even back to MUDs.

That's why I have always wondered about why people try to set up a discussion in a class of 30 students.

Tony Karrer said...

Exactly Stephen. Or worse, yet a discussion that is supposed to happen after the class in an informal on-going way.

Unless of course, you make it mandatory. ;)

Karl Kapp said...

Stephen and Tony,

I am not sure the 1% rule is even an online only phenomenon. I have been involved with many organizations and many groups of people and always, a small percentage end up doing all the work. It is the same at church, in professional societies, among the faculty, in corporations...I think it is not an online issue but a human issue.

In fact, I am constantly amazed while watching American Football how much of a difference one or two players will make. You would think that at that level, the differences would not be so dramatic between all the great players and the really great players but the differences are huge. Again, a small percentage makes the most impact. Blogging and online participation is the same way.

Blogging and wikis are really not going to gain wide spread (other 99%) until someone builds an application on top of them...I don't know what the application will be or how it will work but a killer "blog" application is needed. Maybe something template driven or something.

To Stephen's point about class discussions, I would argue that while all 30 students might not engage in the same discussion...side discussions will occur that are of value to the motivated and focused students...we can't make people learn but let's provide experiences for those who want to learn and the others will either follow or not.

The most spontanous online threaded chat discussion I was ever involved with occured by accident.

I asked students to post a summary of an article they had written into a threaded discussion so I could easily see all the articles in one place. I didn't ask them to comment, just post their article summary.

Then, one student wrote a comment about one of the articles and it was like the flood gates opened, great discussions about almost every article. It was amazing the level of participation and engagement was intense. Great conversations.

Since that time, I have tried to reproduce the result by making it Mandatory and, while I get discussions about almost every article, the level of writing and interest is clearly not the same as the accidental occurance spurred by the 1% student.

So rather than lament 1% we need to embrace it as a reality and continue on.


Tony Karrer said...

Karl - I agree that this is not online only. However, there's something different about online than when you put a bunch of folks in a room. I think in the room, you get a smaller percentage that completely hang back. Of course, you still get domination of the conversation by a few.

I'm not sure that a tool on top of blogging is the right answer because blogging is more the 1% case and something lighter may be required. That's why I like the idea of multiple levels. But likely we are saying the same thing here.

And I think you've hit the problem squarely when you discuss how in one case it takes off and in another it doesn't. We've likely all seen that in various forms. But that's the fear as well. You can't count on it - so do you include it in your design?

And, I'm only saying making it mandatory because that's likely not to really work and I know that Stephen wouldn't like it. :)