The 1% rule

A common misconception about interactivity is that everyone has to do it for it to be successful. But, in fact, if a small proportion of a community chooses to contribute, they can create great value for all. That is the essence of the internet media economy. That is how value is driven on, Flickr, Yahoo Groups, YouTube, and so on. The Church of Customer blog has a good roundup I’m just catching up to with numbers from Wikipedia and elsewhere on the proportion of contributors to beneficiaries.

For instance, in June 2005 Wikipedia had a total of 68,682 total contributors. Wikipedia founder Jimmy Wales is reported to have told a library group that month:

* 50% of all Wikipedia edits are done by 0.7% of users
* 1.8% of users have written more than 72% of all articles

If we also add evidence from Bradley Horowitz that roughly 1% of Yahoo’s user population starts a Yahoo Group, we seem to have The 1% Rule: Roughly 1% of your site visitors will create content within a democratized community. (Horowitz also says that some 10% of the total audience “synthesizes” the content, or interacts with it.)

In an email, Erik from ProductWiki says the 1% Rule applies to ProductWiki as well; he has about 350 total contributors, more than Wikipedia had in its first year of operation.

  • The same applies to other media. In talk radio we go by the ratio that less than five percent of our listeners, even those who have listenend for years, will EVER call-in. The other 95% plus participate strictly by listening. In the same way most people in online communities participate by reading, viewing or listening to what is on the site, but not contributing anything of their own.

    The power of the audiece comes from their ability to destroy a site by abandoning it if its credibility is damaged or the site does not offer what they want. And just because most don’t use the interactive features, don’t think they don’t value them. Try to take them away and this silent majority will roar!

  • Interesting post Jeff – bravo! The first such single digit “rule” from electronic media appears to be an observation first made by Lew Hill, the founder of Pacifica radio. Hill reasoned that it was possible for his enterprise – the first listener sponsored radio operation – to go forward expecting no more than 2% to be active contributors or patrons of his stations. While 2% remained an unrealized goal of his for many years Hill was still able to grow his venture attracting funds from a bit more than 1%.

  • That’s amazing… so I suppose all I have to do is to keep WRITING and crawl my way up to that 1.8% bracket, and people will eventually come?

    Nah, I don’t beleive it, I think it’s just that under 2% of the population are competent with the pen and can achieve the creative state enough to actually produce. Other’s just give up whatever emotional state they’re in and dump their blog/wiki/porn subscription.


  • And only 1% of those who contribute actually have anything original to say…

  • Yeah, I’d been thinking about this earlier today. I guess, in social news organisation, this is acutely significant – it’s just that 1% that becomes the new editors. There would be a fascinating study on just *who* the 1% *is*, and why they contribute (and whether they’re spinmeisters trying to game the system).

  • interesting observation. Another way of looking at it is that “yes” 1% is small but , is probably way too greater than creator/audiance ratio for the traditional media such as TV.

  • please ignore the above comment i made. now i realized usually audiance is not a contributor.

  • Interesting post. I’ve read about similar things in the past, but this time you revived the issue with data I ignored. I’ll even refer to your post on a paper I’m working on about political campaigns and their use of the Internet.

    By the way, it would be helpful (and the right thing to do, actually) if you always made a reference to the original texts you quote.

  • B. Horowitz of Yahoo Research had a crystal clear diagram about this on his blog, some weeks or monthes ago:

  • All my school teachers seemed to think we all had to participate. I wish I had this argument then.

    Actually it makes sense to me – thanks for extending this conversation.

    Keep creating,

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