You’ve probably heard of the 90-9-1 rule of communities, outlined here by Jakob Nielsen.
If not, here’s the summary:
In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.
News over the past couple weeks underscores this theory. First, we hear from the Harvard Business School that “the top 10% of prolific Twitter users accounted for over 90% of tweets.” Further, “a typical Twitter user contributes very rarely. Among Twitter users, the median number of lifetime tweets per user is one. This translates into over half of Twitter users tweeting less than once every 74 days.”
Not all that surprising. If you use Twitter, think about your usage. Generally, people join, plant the obligatory “checking out this twitter thing” flag and then disappear, frequently forever.TechCrunch then adds metrics from Purewire to the pile. From their research:
- Accounts with 0 followers: 29.4%
- Accounts with 1 to 9 followers: 50.9%
- Accounts with 10 or more followers: 19.7%
- Accounts following 0 people: 24.4%
- Accounts following 1 to 9 people: 43.4%
- Accounts following 10 or more people: 32.2%
- Accounts with 0 Tweets: 37.1%
- Accounts with 1 to 9 Tweets: 41.0%
- Accounts with more 10 or more Tweets: 21.9%
So, 80% of users follow fewer than ten others, 70% are followed by fewer than ten others, and 78% have tweeted less then ten times.
Makes you wonder what the big deal is with Twitter. Twitter isn’t for everyone, and you may never find it valuable. I’ve been saying that for years.
Then, this NYT article (h/t Slashdot) references data from Technorati citing a 2008 survey that found only 7.4 million of the 133 million blogs they track had been updated in the past 120 days, or put more directly, 95 percent of blogs are essentially abandoned.
All these data run counter to the hype around the New Web. All that talk about user-generated content and crowdsourcing intelligence seems wildly optimistic in the face of the actual numbers.
From my experience blogging and tweeting, I can’t say I’m surprised. Most people don’t have the time to keep a blog running regularly or to build a following on Twitter. Even if you dedicate yourself to these activities, you’re bound to hit patches of boredom and frustration.
As much as New Web tools are compared to cocktail parties, I often wonder if the party is being held in the Grand Canyon, and I’m having one of those dream where I’m talking and then yelling without making any actual sound.
Insert the “these things take time” adage.
It’s true here, with the caveat that time could be infinite.
Seriously though, New Web and the technology supporting it are racing way ahead of human adoption. Most people just aren’t ready to jump out of the lurking crowd and into the 10% participating.
The Harvard Business School study added one interesting gem that alludes to the way to get people to jump.
“On a typical online social network, the top 10% of users account for 30% of all production.”
They don’t cite any other statistics, which is a bit maddening, but extrapolating, the numbers suggest that social networks have the potential to break through the 90-9-1 barrier. If 70% of the content is created by the remaining 90% of users, why not? This is a much more even distribution.
I think we all know why. Trust.
Whether it’s based in reality or not, the majority of people trust social networks that use the symmetric follow model, i.e. we’re friends or we ain’t. I can’t think of any other reason why participation is higher on “typical” social networks.
This is a good lesson for broadcast-friendly services like Twitter and blogs. If you want engagement and participation, you need trust.
What do you think? Do these numbers jibe with your behavior?
Sound off in the comments.