Is the 1% Rule Still Relevant?

Lurkers and Trolls
Lurkers and Trolls

For those that have not heard about the 1% rule (or the 90-9-1 rule) it is the philosophy that of consumption of information and/or knowledge via social channels that 90% are passive consumers; 9% are participants in a conversation/comments, contributing to a forum thread someone else started…maybe sharing or recommending; and 1% are initiators, starting new discussions, posting original content or reviewing information:

User participation often more or less follows a 90-9-1 rule:

  • 90% of users are lurkers (i.e., read or observe, but don’t contribute).
  • 9% of users contribute from time to time, but other priorities dominate their time.
  • 1% of users participate a lot and account for most contributions: it can seem as if they don’t have lives because they often post just minutes after whatever event they’re commenting on occurs.

The question is, as the world trends more toward social discovery of information/knowledge does the 1% rule change?

The BBC says it is dead:

My team and I conducted a large-scale, long-term investigation into how the UK online population participates using digital media today – from sharing links, to writing blogs and uploading photos. And it revealed a fascinating, and at times, surprising picture.

1. The model which has guided many people’s thinking in this area, the 1/9/90 rule, is outmoded. The number of people participating online is significantly higher than 10%.
2. Participation is now the rule rather than the exception: 77% of the UK online population is now active in some way.
3. This has been driven by the rise of ‘easy participation’: activities which may have once required great effort but now are relatively easy, expected and every day. 60% of the UK online population now participates in this way, from sharing photos to starting a discussion.

GigOM says they’re wrong:

The BBC appears to have missed the fact One Percent Rule was never intended to dictate a single pattern across the entire web: it was a rough guideline for expectations inside any given online community or service.

Should it be a surprise that 77 percent of people are active in some way in some sort of community? I don’t think so — and to suggest otherwise ignores the fact that people behave in different ways in different places. After all, like me, you could be highly active on Twitter, and therefore part of the one percent, but remain a lurker on a site like Metafilter (even though I’ve been a member there for a decade).

Or you could be a highly active Wikipedia editor (one percent) who uses Instagram simply to browse pictures from people you know (10 percent). Or you could be an active commenter on one blog but never leave comments anywhere else. It goes on.

That’s where your 77 percent comes from: the BBC research is really just comparing apples and oranges.

Yes, the internet has many channels and ways of digital consumption and engagement. Fair. But the 1% rule is all in compassing of these channels. Think about how information is consumed and engaged with when it comes to online restaurant reviews versus news and editorial pieces.

In the days of video conversations platform Seesmic and 12 Seconds TV (the pre-cursers to Google Hangouts and Vine) there was a 90% consumption (lurkers of video) and only 10% of the audience converted to production of video. Now we see Google Hangout and Vine extremely popular and a massive adoption in getting infront of the camera and producing media. Is this because of access to hardware or a change in our culture/adoption of user generated content?

When it comes to journalism, has there been a shift? News outlets like Gannett have began using Facebook comments in an effort to bring an engagement ecosystem many users already opt-in to and port that user experience in the comment section of their blogs. Last year I led the transition from Disqus to Livefyre on our Voice Media Group sites in an effort to shift focus from a Disqus powered community to our own independent community database. We have seen an upward trend in account creation as well a shift in quality comments. We have seen a loss in amount of comments however on-article. We have seen an increase in Facebook comments on our Fan pages from 2011 to current. There is something to Gannett’s strategy using Facebook comments to drive on-article comments because of that comfort of leaving comments on Facebook versus a 3rd party site. With Facebook powered comments, Gannett looses access to its community. It is Facebook community. With Livefyre we are able to port those Facebook comments onto the article and grow our community.

This leads to the question… has Facebook engagement changed the way we consume and engage? Has the “Like” shifted web culture to the point that the 1% rule is no longer relevant?

Paul Grabowicz over at UC Berkeley writes:

Having people use their Facebook profiles to register and then requiring such registration to post comments on stories may also cut down on the number of inapproprite comments people post. See the Poynter story about news organizations that have seen higher quality discussion by readers after switching to Facebook’s commenting system.

If a person’s comments are traceable to their Facebook identity they may be more hesitant to make offensive remarks. And a very small percentage of people on Facebook use fake names, according to a study by Entrustet.

But also check this study by Disqus that concluded people with pseudonyms made higher quality comments than those using their Facebook identities.

We took the hybrid approach. GIving the users the ability to leave anonymous comments and pull in conversation from Facebook with Livefyre. Facebook is our number one traffic driver (next to direct that is.) The fact that people are coming from an engaging environment into our city sites and having the ability to use the Facebook login to engage does drive our engagement. I for one feel Facebook has indeed shifted the culture of the lurkers toward more engaged behaviors.

Still, we average 800 million pageviews and just over 600 million comments a year. Those figures alone speak volumes. Engagement is up.

But I leave the question out there. Is the 1% rule still relevant?

Here are some good articles/resources on this topic. What are your thoughts?


    • kspidel says:

      djuggler good one. hey, at least you are not a lurker! Seriously though… how often do you engage on blogs? do you have your few go-to ones or if the content happens to invoke engagement it happens naturally?

      • djuggler says:

        kspidel As a blogger myself, I try to engage when it happens naturally. My habits have changed lately due to circumstances (primarily a lack of time to  put myself out there). I believe Twitter and Facebook have also damaged my interaction on blogs. For some reason, Twitter and Facebook feel more welcoming to comment and interaction than most blog commenting systems. But I’d say my biggest parting from participation in blogs came when I quit using Google Reader. When I was using  a feed reader, I read more and interacted more. I eventually had so many feeds in my reader go stale that it became too cumbersome to use the reader. Instead of paring the feeds down, I just quit using it and turned to for my source of information.
        I believe strongly that we should own our content. As Google kills off products ala the Yahoo business model, more people are going to fear for their content and return to engaging through blogs.

  1. GregMeyer says:

    kspidel a few thoughts here. I believe that the 90/9/1 rule is still absolutely relevant. I also believe that the methods and measures of engagement have changed. In plain terms, it’s true that more than 9% “engage” but what does that really mean? The goals of application developers are now to encourage engagement through passive or almost inactive measures, and if you look at the % of the customer base who will actually tell you what they are thinking, it’s still rather small.
    So here’s a corollary to the 90/9/1 rule: I believe that 90% of people view and don’t take an action or ignore; 9% will “engage” more directly, but still without taking more than a casual effort to do so; and the 1% that produced lots of content are still producing lots of content. “Engagement” to me means having an opinion, communicating that opinion, and backing that opinion up with facts or other kinds of data in the best case. How about you?

    • kspidel says:

      GregMeyer good point Greg, “engagement” needs to be redefined. Is a share or a passive “Like” engagement? For Edgerank sake, it is. But again, silos and channels differentiate metrics right? Is there universal “community health” metrics of the entire web? I guess my point of view from this conversation is from a journalism perspective. Content is so portable now. Are you reading that article/blog on Flipbook? Zite? Pulse? mobile web? Native app? Or on the source site? Engagement around that content can be redefined based on the medium it is used to serve up. This is where I find the community metrics for journalist broken. Engagement needs to be low fidelity. Doing something more than a read. A bookmark maybe or a Pocket save? We as publishers than need to redefine the 90/9/1 rule based on this reality. I just feel it needs to be “updated” sort-to-speak. Thoughts?

  2. kegill says:

    kspidel, I’d like to build on @GregMeyer’s point — when I talk about 90-9-1 rule, I tweak it a bit, like this. For any given channel, most folks will consume silently (lurk). That’s the 90. Most content will come from 1%. The other 9% will react — reply/share and every-now-and-then create something new. This is the modern day 80-20 rule. Maybe the 20% shifted to 10% because “engaging” (however we define it) is much less frictionless in the digital world than it is in the analog one.
    Every time I see good (read as other than anecdotal) data on “engagement” and “creation” the numbers are pretty darn close to 90-9-1.
    And Greg is spot on re “engagement” being a weasel word. 🙂

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