1% rules are made to be broken

by greg on August 3, 2006

I really can’t stand the “1% rule” – which posits that out of 100 people visiting a website based on user-provided content (also referred to as a ‘democratized forum‘, but that’s a misnomer) 1 person will create content, 10 will interact with it somehow, and the remainder will stand around and gawk. It was based on a few anecdotal observations about Yahoo Groups and Wikipedia, augmented by a handful of observations about Digg and YouTube, but these data points really don’t justify this broad generalization, which is gradually moving from observation (‘hmmm, only 1% of people on these sites create content’) to some sort of dot-commer folk wisdom (aka ‘you shouldn’t expect too much online.’)

I’ll guarantee you one thing – if you expect only 1% of your users to create content, that’s all you’re going to get. Don’t limit yourself, don’t limit yourself, don’t limit yourself. Participation is both a design and a scope problem, and you can’t just take a pass and say ‘eh, we’re everything to everybody and we’ll get our 1%.’ Yes, this is partially an old debate redux, but it needs to be said now more than it did back in February. Take chartreuse’s advice: “The mainstream is dead… hit your core audience first and hit them hard with something they LOVE.”

Getting a little preachy about this but the whole “1%” line of thought is frustratingly lame.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }

Ben McConnell August 3, 2006 at 6:47 pm

I would hope that people see it for what it is — an observation — not as any sort of expectation or goal. I think everyone is strugling to define terminology and benchmarks in this fledgling new realm.

That said, if you have data that indicate different rates of participant content creation and interaction (or synthesis, whatever suits your fancy) that vary from 1% and 10% respectively, I would sincerely like to know.

Greg Yardley August 3, 2006 at 8:37 pm

Ben,

Thanks for the comment.

You might hope that people see your observation as an observation but everyone in the space is meme-happy and I predict that’s not how it’s going to be seen.

Don’t have data. This blog isn’t up to analyst level. Would love to have information from more tightly-focused (although not necessarily well-designed) businesses dependent on user-generated content – say, dogster.com, makeupalley.com, iam.bmezine.com. Suspect we’ll find much higher content generation rates as befitting the sites’ sharper focus.

Ben McConnell August 5, 2006 at 9:40 am

Meme-happy (love that term) people, to me, reflect a discontinuity with expectations. Data are flung at us daily, and it’s hard to know what to grab onto.

I think, though, the 1% Rule has a good chance of sticking if, for nothing else, how power laws rule website traffic, the popularity of blogs and book sales, to name a few.

The sites you mentioned are great candidates to build a better understanding of content creators. Many thanks for the tip!

rob leathern August 7, 2006 at 1:08 am

the free rider principle is a classic web truism. it is borne out by data but not typically of the 1 percent variety. I forget the exact detail but something like 10 percent or fewer ebay users have sold something vs buying. pareto holds true too for many big sites too according to research I did on traffic concentration… 80 pct of time spent by 20 pct of visitors. on content eg user reviews it is not just online though that most of us couldn’t be bothered. figures I saw in 2000 indicated that only about 10 percent of people getting bad service (offline) bothered to complain about it let alone tell all others. there is definitely ‘participation concentration’…

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