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.

3 thoughts on “The 90-9-1 Rule of Social Media

  1. Standard Lurker

    For the first time ever I’m making a random statement on the internet. I didn’t pause to make this witty and man I hope this doesn’t come back to bite me in the butt, but I’m tired of flame wars and sorting through garbage responses to get to the couple of people per article that have something useful to contribute to the discussion. I think for those who regularly read the internet for the articles it’s a bigger problem than email spam. I’m happy with the 90-9-1 ratio but I’d like to see a serious shift in the profile of the people in those groups.

  2. Sara

    The reason why I weigh my options carefully before I post on your site is largely because of nepotism. I worry that it would look bad for your blog if only your wife was commenting.

    In terms of commenting on sites in general, I think I tend to stop myself because of something I like to call “Thumper’s Law”: “If you can’t say anything nice, don’t say anything at all.” I think people stop themselves from commenting on a post they disagree with because they don’t want to hurt the feelings of the person who wrote it, as well as all the other people who wrote “great post!”. Sometimes I have found some really insipid writing that I could easily argue with using all of the logical fallacy skills I learned in English 12, but I refrain from commenting because I don’t want this person to get upset at me or to think poorly of me. I know this sounds silly, especially since commenting is largely anonymous, but as a society we are raised to not hurt other people’s feelings. In order for intelligent debates to occur on the Internet, maybe we need to stop worrying about hurting the other person’s feelings and start worrying about how to form the most concise and intelligent arguments possible.

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