The 90-9-1 Rule of Social Media

I want to direct your attention over to this rule often quoted by social media start-ups, the 90-9-1 rule for participation. It’s basically a ratio for internet users. 90% of them are lurkers. They just read posts and articles, they never comment, never share, and never click on one of those ajax-powered “thumbs-up” links. 9% are part-time contributers, you might hear from them only once in a while. 1% is the ratio of users on any given website or online community that produces 90% of the content. You almost begin to wonder if they ever see sunlight, but you see them over and over again on all your favorite websites.

With statistics like this, you begin to wonder, how democratic is the internet, really? If such a small ratio of users is producing all the content, are we really that much better served by the internet than traditional forms of media? There are several recommendations for addressing the inequality in participation by rewarding contributing users and making it easier to contribute in the first place. I think even deeper concerns about our society will have to be addressed before we make the internet the free speech utopia that we hope it to be. No one wants to write anything they’ll regret later. The media is full of moral panic stories about public figures posting information on the internet that they would later regret, as was the case with NDP candidate Ray Lam in the last BC election. On the other hand, people might avoid contributing because they fear they’ll be ignored. By the time they’ve come up with something witty to post in the comments section, the article they were reading is buried underneath dozens of subsequent posts. I’d like everyone reading this to consider what goes through their head when they post a comment, or decide not to. Either way, if I am lucky, perhaps you will post your results in the comments below.