The Participating Minority

[Update: The original article was about traffic, not user base. Should have read more carefully. Doh!]

Interesting stats about blogging and “viral participation” from Technorati’s Dave Sifry and Hitwise’s Bill Tancer. Also summarised on Ars Technica.

Bottom line: Despite extreme growth, only small (some would say “positively tiny”) fractions of the user base [traffic] for participatory Websites like YouTube and Flickr contribute any content. New blogs are created but a smaller proportion of them are active. Tagging, however, is taking off.

This can all be fascinating, on a social level. One thing that gets me is that those figures challenge a notion widely held among members of the participating minority itself. Even the usual figures of 10%, given for textual contributions to forums, mailing-lists, and blogs seems fairly low to those of us who write a lot, anywhere. In other words, it might well be that individual contributors are proportionally more influential than originally thought.

So, is this a trend toward less participation or are Internet users finding other ways to participate, besides contributing original content? Maybe users spend more time on social networking services like Facebook and MySpace. Even “passive participation” can be important, on SNS.

One thing people seem to forget is that private communication (email, IM, VOIP…) is alive and well. Not that I have figures to support the claim but my experience tends to tell me that a lot is happening behind closed doors. Oh, sure, it’s not “Web 2.0 culture,” it’s not even Web-based. It’s not even the sixth Internet culture, as it’s more in continuity with the fourth Internet culture of “virtual communities.” But it’s probably more influential, even in “epidemiological” terms, than “viral marketing.”

7 thoughts on “The Participating Minority”

  1. “Private sphere” wasn’t invented with Internet I guess. Phone company are here since the beginning of last century. What is new is this “n to n” communication for the rest of us (as opposite to 1 to 1 for the “phonesphere”;-)

    You might be already aware that Nielsen claimed a few months ago that the figures for participation follows often more or less 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.

    * 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.

    Source :

  2. Thanks for the comment and for the link.

    How to Overcome Participation Inequality
    You can’t.

    I like that!

    And, as it turns out, I wasn’t careful when I read the original O’Reilly and Ars pieces. The proportion is in terms of traffic, which really doesn’t mean the same thing. Guess I should be more careful in reading this stuff.

    Still, the point remains that we probably assume too much from “user generated content.”

  3. Martin,
    Thanks a lot for this link! It most certainly made the rounds and I feel st00pid for only seeing it now, but I quite enjoy Li’s entry and the insight behind her report.
    Actually, while it’s clearly based on traditional survey data, it reminds me of the type of insight we get in ethnography when we’re successful.

  4. Eh Professor Enkerli, don’t ever say again you feel stupid because you “just happen to see a piece of information now”.

    Blogosphere isn’t really like Academia where you have to know what was written on a subject before ever start writing on the same subject.

    It is virtually impossible to be aware of all the stuff that was written about a subject in the blogosphere.

  5. @Martin: You’re right. In fact, even in academia, many people write on subjects before they read anything about it. I even encourage people to do so.
    But I do, sometimes, feel that I’m slightly out of the loop. Not much, mind you. Many of the things I think about end up being part of public discussions a little while later. Feels weird. But, once in a while, I feel that I should somewhat be at the top of a game, no matter which.
    The blogosphere is time sensitive.
    Of course, st00pid is a strong word. Should have just said “weird.”

    Thanks for the comment!

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