Mark Cahill is an old hand at interactive community building and gardening, having tamed and developed the saltwater flyfishing mob at Reel-Time.com for the past decade and having built more than his fair share of social networking platforms. At his Vario Creative Blog he discusses an important academic study of USENET and the findings that 2% of the users answer the majority of all questions, acting, in effect, as mentors for the other 98%. This is a very good study, one that aligns with the anecdotal evidence that other content-driven phenomena, such as Wikipedia, are driven by a tiny, devoted core.
“Indeed there are people in most successful communities who answer a majority of the questions, and they tend to answer them authoritatively. The quality of the community is often directly related to the quality of the answer people, especially in small niche communities.
“I have always attempted to recognize these answer people for what they truly tend to be, mentors. They generally have expertise, and gain little from interaction with the newbies in the crowd. Theyâ€™ll take the time to answer the same question on the 50th time around, just as they did on the 1st.
“How are they served by the network or community as a whole? Prestige and vanity enter in for some, but for others the knowledge that they indeed fulfill that mentor role is enough. I can think of several archetypal â€œanswer peopleâ€ who actually use screen names and have over as long as a decade kept their true identities generally secret.”