Participation Inequality: Lurkers vs. Contributors in Internet Communities (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

Participation Inequality: Lurkers vs. Contributors in Internet Communities (Jakob Nielsen’s Alertbox)

Following on Rangaswami’s formula of participation, is Jakob Nielsen’s 90-9-1 rule:

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.

All large-scale, multi-user communities and online social networks that rely on users to contribute content or build services share one property: most users don’t participate very much. Often, they simply lurk in the background.

In contrast, a tiny minority of users usually accounts for a disproportionately large amount of the content and other system activity. This phenomenon of participation inequality was first studied in depth by Will Hill in the early ’90s, when he worked down the hall from me at Bell Communications Research (see references below).

The reason I’m nosing around these stats is my post yesterday on the metric of engagement and the mistake one can make in assuming an overt gesture of engagement — a forum post, a blog comment — is the only valid trace. I know, for a fact, that there are many readers of this blog who have never, for their own reasons, posted a comment, preferring to save their remarks for a face to face discussion or an email. Lurkers are engaged, just not pressing “submit.”

Jakob makes some good observations about mistaking blogged commentary as a representative sample of overall sentiment:

” Participation inequality is not necessarily unfair because “some users are more equal than others” to misquote Animal Farm. If lurkers want to contribute, they are usually allowed to do so.

The problem is that the overall system is not representative of Web users. On any given user-participation site, you almost always hear from the same 1% of users, who almost certainly differ from the 90% you never hear from. This can cause trouble for several reasons:

  • Customer feedback. If your company looks to Web postings for customer feedback on its products and services, you’re getting an unrepresentative sample.
  • Reviews. Similarly, if you’re a consumer trying to find out which restaurant to patronize or what books to buy, online reviews represent only a tiny minority of the people who have experiences with those products and services.
  • Politics. If a party nominates a candidate supported by the “netroots,” it will almost certainly lose because such candidates’ positions will be too extreme to appeal to mainstream voters. Postings on political blogs come from less than 0.1% of voters, most of whom are hardcore leftists (for Democrats) or rightists (for Republicans).
  • Search. Search engine results pages (SERP) are mainly sorted based on how many other sites link to each destination. When 0.1% of users do most of the linking, we risk having search relevance get ever more out of whack with what’s useful for the remaining 99.9% of users. Search engines need to rely more on behavioral data gathered across samples that better represent users, which is why they are building Internet access services.
  • Signal-to-noise ratio. Discussion groups drown in flames and low-quality postings, making it hard to identify the gems. Many users stop reading comments because they don’t have time to wade through the swamp of postings from people with little to say.

How to Overcome Participation Inequality

You can’t.”

A formula for community engagement

Confused Of Calcutta » Blog Archive » None of Us is As Smart as All of Us

J.P. Rangaswami has a great formula for engagement and participation:

“I’ve always believed in a simple rule-of-thumb about opensource communities:

* For every 1000 people who join a community:
* 920 are lurkers, passive observers
* 60 are watchers, active observers capable and willing to kibitz
* 15 are activists, actually doing something
* …and 5 are hyperactive, passionate about what they’re doing, almost to a point of obsession”

This maps pretty closely to the experience I’ve seen at Reel-Time since 1995.

Focus, multiple blog personality disorder, and a new title

I have long wondered if I am doing myself a disservice by blogging whatever the heck I feel about in this space, under the singularly unimaginative title of “”, and whether I should fork my blogging betwixt a professional-focus (really serious thoughts about marketing optimization, metrics, and engagement with social networks) or my typical Tourette’s Syndrome of blogging pictures of my toe sticking out of a holy sock or my dog’s shaved hindquarters

Let’s start with the name: “”. Okay. So I have a weird last name and got in on the great domain landrush early in the game and have the ultimate vanity email address. Does that mean my blog has to be entitled the same as its address? How unimaginative. Let me consider some alternatives:

  1. Tongue Bath: dunno, came to me while watching the aforementioned dog chew himself into a coma.
  2. Caeocethes Scribendi: Ooh. Look. A dead language. This one means “The Itch to Write” which is about the only thing this blog is good for. Think of it as mental backscratcher.
  3. But I Digress…: shamelessly ripped off from Constantine von Hoffman
  4. Sweet Home Clamabama: given the importance of clamming strategies to this blog, I figured I’d recognize it in the title

Rejected ideas:

  1. Anything with an interCap and a lowercase beginning, eg. “marketingBlather”
  2. Anything remotely “Web 2.0” or for that matter “dot.bomb.” Flooz? Beanz? Yelp? These are utterances of pre-verbal toddlers or dogs in cartoons

Now, the hard part is to determine whether to blog in several different places. A professional blog where I ruminate about multivariate testing and optimization processes for display advertising, blog monitoring and viral engagement; and a demented blog for posts about roadside crosses, dog butts, and special clam rakes.

For the time being — as the man said — if you don’t know what to do, don’t do anything. So I won’t do anything.

Virtual sports — the best application for the metaverse?

The recent season premier of South Park took on World of Warcraft with a scathing episode in which the toilet-tongued gang do battle with a loin-clothed warrior who randomly kills people. The executives from Blizzard Interactive are terrified other users will give up in disgust and Kyle, Cartman, Kenny, et al go into serious training to rid the world of the evil user. I watched it with my 12-year old — who has a serious World of Warcraft disorder — and pointed out the line by the Blizzard exec, who when asked in a panic if he had an account to log in with, replied: “No. I have a life.”

Readers of this blog know my dislike for Second Life, another metaverse realm now being taken over by marketers determined to be on the bleeding edge, even if they exsanginuate their corporate reputations doing so. Hey, whatever floats your boat, but hanging around in Get-A-Life is not floating mine.
So, if virtual worlds are ultimately pointless — I wondered what virtual experiences I place a value on — and the answer comes down to RowPro and the opportunity to race other Concept2 ergometer users via a wireless connection to a ThinkPad running the RowPro software.

While most of my training is done against machine-generated pace boats who I pre-program to row at a specific stroke-per-minute rating and overall average split time, I have logged into a few virtual races against “live” rowers and find the experience much more random and stressful than the predictability of an AI opponent. The marriage of a virtual competition with actual physical activity automatically qualifies something like RowPro a valuable online activity as opposed to a virtually pointless one. Burning calories is a tangible benefit to me, versus the accumulation of Linden Dollars so I can buy a virtual nose ring.
I lust for one of these, a Tacx Fortius virtual reality bicycle trainer, which uses a flywheel and steering sensor to let a housebound cyclist tackle the virtual peloton. At the very least I would escape another near-death experience at the hands of a distracted motorist. The only problem is I lack a working bicycle other than the trusty SnotRocket which would not be a good idea on a powered trainer.

“The Fortius is an interactive trainer with unlimited capabilities; it is equipped with a revolutionary braking system enabling extra-hard training sessions to be carried out. The very powerful motor brake realistically simulates downhill and uphill runs. Running downhill the bike carries on rolling with the rear wheel being driven so you can stop pedalling. The uphill resistance formulas are virtually exact. The motor brake is a first from Tacx in the field of training.”

Power shortage for the holidays? | CNET

Power shortage for the holidays? | CNET

Is this a perfect storm scenario for the PC industry? Take one massive battery recall, make good on replacing those batteries with new ones, and suddenly for want of a nail the inventory is lost. There have been past “disasters” in the PC industry supply chain. I remember a massive 3.5″ floppy shortage in the late 80s brought business to a standstill, and I recall something in the last ten years when a fire at a crucial component manufacturer knocked supply flat.

“That could spell problems for PC manufacturers. In its conference call last week, Compal cut its forecast for fourth-quarter notebook shipments to 4.6 million units, down from earlier predictions of 4.8 to 5 million. It blamed the change on a shortage of batteries.”

Add into the fourth quarter mix the looming release of Vista, and some buyers may be sitting on their wallets.

New audience metric needed: engagement « Scobleizer – Tech Geek Blogger

Quantifying “engagement” is different than “attention.” Attention, in my view, is a clickstream. You went here, you went there, you spent N time focused on this piece of media before going elsewhere. Attention is also a measure of multitasking. Does reading a book and listening to the classical music channel on XM radio constitute full attention or half attention? Engagement is a measure of direct action: did you read Scoble’s blog and leave a comment? Or, in a corporate environment, engagement is whether or not you:

New audience metric needed: engagement « Scobleizer – Tech Geek Blogger

Some great blog reading this morning on metrics. I found Scoble blogging on the need for an “engagement” measurement via Andy Lark via James Governor’s links:

“I was just reading Jeneane Sessum’s post about the latest Ze Frank/Rocketboom dustup and she’s right, we need to measure stuff other than just whether a download got completed or not. She says we need a “likeability” stat. I think it goes further than that.There’s another stat out there called “engagement.” No one is measuring it that I know of.”

Max Kalehoff at BuzzMetrics writes:

“Engagement is “turning on a prospect to a brand idea enhanced by the surrounding context.” That’s the Advertising Research Foundation’s definition of the hotly debated buzzword”

I was writing yesterday on the same topic:

“Engagement is the new imperative in marketing, across the board, not simply a technical novelty enabled by blogs and blog search engines…engagement must begin at every point of contact with the customer and the tools required must be adopted throughout the organization.

“Consider the Attention Trust, a clearing house for an online user to share his or her “attention” or interests, with publishers and marketers seeking to form a relationship. What constitutes attention? I propose a different measure: engagement.”

I haven’t dug into the Attention Trust — but heard about it several times during Steve Gillmor’s Gillmor Gang podcasts. From’s principles:

“When you pay attention to something (and when you ignore something), data is created. This “attention data” is a valuable resource that reflects your interests, your activities and your values, and it serves as a proxy for your attention.”

Quantifying “engagement” is different than “attention.” Attention, in my view, is a clickstream. You went here, you went there, you spent N time focused on this piece of media before going elsewhere. Attention is also a measure of multitasking. Does reading a book and listening to the classical music channel on XM radio constitute full attention or half attention? Engagement is a measure of direct action: did you read Scoble’s blog and leave a comment? Or, in a corporate environment, engagement is whether or not you:

On a blog, engagement is:

The metrics companies will work this one for the next six months. Omniture has some yet-to-be discovered blog analysis tools in rev 13 of SiteCatalyst and I’ve blogged earlier about BuzzLogic and BuzzMetrics. I need to renew my Web Analytics Association membership and see if they have a group studying the issue.

The fall southerly is right on time

The old timers here on Cape Cod predict the end of the shoulder season between Indian Summer and the chill of winter with the first strong storm from the south in late October. Today, right on schedule, on the eve of daylight standard time resuming, we’re having a big gale with gusts up to 70 mph and sheets of wind-blown rain. This is the storm that the Perfect Storm was about.
I pulled the boat out of the water yesterday so I could clean the barnacles off the bottom and take a powerwasher to the seagull poop on the deck (as fewer boats remain in the harbor, the gulls tend to single out the remaining decks as their personal toilets). It sits in the yard, forelorn but safe from the gale.

Today’s options are (electricity willing) are:

As it turns out I spent the day doing harbor patrol with my cousin, hauling beached boats, motoring around in his truck shooting storm video and taking pictures.

This is Conrad’s barge going blub-blub. We helped haul it onto the beach with the truck.

The scene on the Sound was pretty wild. The gulls couldn’t fly and had to sit in the waves.

Firefox crashes

Anybody else experiencing an inordinate number of lock-ups and crashes with Firefox 2.0? Thankfully the new version as a great session restore function that brings back the last state, tabs and all, but I’m crashing two, three times a day, usually on sites with flash ad banners.

I was digging through my server log files last night and found a ton of errors which I am trying to debug today, plugging nagging holes such as the lack of a favicon and robots.txt file.

Ode to my final flight on Southwest

O Orange and Blue Tubes filled with Balding Salarymen!

Conveyors of human cattle lowing and mooing in the A-B-C boarding chutes

Carriers of the Clampetts, but no Ellie Maes

Just the mobbed masses! They of squeaky wheeled Samsonite Sarcophagi

Mulleted madmen trying to pack a motorcycle engine into an overhead

They of the Red-lit Bose noise-cancelling headsets

They who believe twelve peanuts constitute a meal.

Farewell oh Greyhound Bus of the Skies
For next time I fly Jet Blue direct from Boston to Raleigh
And the only thing I’ll miss is the Singapore Noodles from Kwan’s in the Baltimore FoodCourt during my layovers

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