Here’s an abridged extract from the book Click: What Millions of People Are Doing Online and Why It Matters, Bill Tancer, Hyperion, 2008, page 123
In the late 1800s, a French/Italian economist, Vilfredo Pareto, observed that in Italy 80 percent of the country’s income went to 20 percent of the population, and also observed that 80 percent of the country’s property was owned by 20 percent of its citizens.
It wasn’t until the 1900s that an industrial engineer at Western Electric by the name of Joseph Juran applied Pareto’s observations to business, to develop what he called the Pareto Principle, or the law of the “vital few”, a hat-tip to Pareto’s original observation.
The 80/20 rule’s most popular application is the observation that 80 percent of a company’s revenues are generated by 20 percent of its clients, but the rule has also been observed in countless other business situations, such as time management and quality control.
With the distribution of content through the Internet, in the form of digital song downloads, blogs and user-created photo and video segments, the 80/20 rule may have become a relic of the bricks-and-mortar economy. Jakob Nielsen, commonly referred to as the father of online usability and several books on the subject, addressed the topic in his online newsletter Alertbox. Mr Nielsen noticed that in large online communuties and social networks, there is a division among visitors. There are users who actively contribute and there are those Neilsen refers to as “lurkers”. He labeled this phenomenon “participation inequality” and indentified the breakdown of online visitors to social sites in a 1-9-90 spread, versus Juran’s 80/20 distribution. According to Jakob Nielsen, 90 percent of online users are “lurkers”, or users who visit online communities but don’t contribute; 9 percent contribute from time to time; and only 1 percent of online users are active contributors.
Neilsen goes on to note that in terms of blogs, the inequality of active participation is even worse, possibly approaching less than 0.1 percent of Internet users…
…it goes on from there to be quite an interesting read.
What’s amazing is I had a similar theory, and have shared it from time to time, both in person and also online.
I’ve been actively involved with the Internet since for at least 10 years, having first started with an ezine in 1998 and then building websites, registering my first domain name in 2000.
Here was my theory: For every hundred people, you might have ten that sign up, so they can do more than just read and also respond. Of those 10 people you might get 1 that is an active participant. I looked at those numbers and figured I had 111 people. As opposed to the neat 100 that Nielsen has.
But then I stopped. I’ve got the same figures. Of the 100 there are 10 within that group that get involved. That doesn’t add 10 to the 100, it’s in the 100. Same too for the active participant, it was 1 within the 10. I was overjoyed to see that something I felt strongly about was in fact… fact.
No doubt others have seen the same type of trends. Even in their own guestbooks, with only a small amount of people participating in any quality feedback or discussion.
Now I was going to draw a conclusion from this information, several in fact, but I thought that rather than do that, people should just absorb the information, and come to their own.
So read this blog entry again, but not my commentary, just Bill Tancer’s words, and let it simmer for a while. In fact, buy the book, it is worth the time and money and it could turn into a worthwhile investment.