Is the golden 90:9:1 rule of online communities dead?

1% ruleThe 1% rule is deeply ingrained in the culture of online communities.  It states that for every 100 members of a community, 1 will generate new content, 9 will reply to that content and 90 will read or watch without contributing anything.

The BBC would have us believe that this rule no longer applies.  They surveyed several thousand UK adults about their online behaviour, in particular how they interacted online.  Their findings suggest that we are now much more likely to participate online rather than passively consume content.

What's more, they don't believe this is a small shift, but rather a fundamental one.  They believe that 77% of the UK population are now producing content in some way online.

They say that online participation has exploded because it is now so easy to do so.  What once may have taken time or a degree of expertise can now be done by most of us very easily.

Of the 23% that aren't contributing, they suggest almost half of those have the skills to do so but are actively choosing not to, with this merely reinforcing the value participation plays in reflecting who we are and what we stand for.

They define all of this under a new title of Participation Choice, which is broken down into four key forms:

  1. Passive
  2. Easy reaction
  3. Easy initiation
  4. Intense participation

the participation choice

So, does this signal the death of the 90 9 1 rule?  Personally I think not.  Whilst this research is a great indicator that web users are becoming more interactive, it is worth remembering that it is a study of web usage as a whole.  With such aggregation it is always likely that better results will be returned than if you analysed individual communities.  Expecting 3/4 of your users to actively contribute to your community is in my opinion extremely far fetched, with most of my personal evidence still correlating broadly with the 10% of users the initial rule suggests.

Do you think the rule still applies or are you seeing more engagement across your communities?


9 thoughts on “Is the golden 90:9:1 rule of online communities dead?

  1. Great post, Adi. I personally think the truth lies somewhere between the 23% to 99% range for inactive users on the internet. A recent survey here in the province of Quebec showed that close to 34% of people are content creators, which is pretty far from the 1% rule, yet not as ambitious as the 77% in the UK. At the end of the day, it all boils down to how you define content generation.

    I no longer believe in the 90-9-1 rule simply because it is so much easier today to create content. Facebook, which is pervasive in today's Western society, is the perfect example. Someone posts a picture, then uncles and aunts will comment on it, share it, like it, and so on. Well, uncles and aunts were the classic "90%" of just a short while ago, but it's now so easy to share and comment that anyone can easily become a content creator.

    Not so sure this rule applies evenly across social media, though. I believe some 40% of all Twitter users are "lookers" who never comment or write, some of them will RT and that's about it. Yet, we tend to be more proactive on Facebook. Behavior is different on Pinterest, LinkedIn or Google+ so…

    Cheers from Quebec City,

    • Thanks Frederic. I agree with you on Facebook to an extent, but if you look at most pages they don't seem to haev 77% engagement, or indeed anything like that level. So even though it is very easy for them to participate many still don't. Dare say that applies on personal profile pages as well, it certainly does on mine.

      Would be great to get up around 70% though wouldn't it?

  2. Interesting thoughts from the Beeb but to be honest I'd be amazed if the average community had that kind of interaction. It's probably higher than 1% nowadays because getting involved can be as easy as making one click of your mouse, but even then if you look at the average Facebook Page engagement is much lower than 70%

    • Hi Wayne, as Frederic mentions above, I think it will certainly vary across various social networks. I suppose all you can really do is compare it both with your own performance and with that of your competitors. If you\’re doing well in that context then you can be satisfied with how engaging your community is.

  3. I can certainly see how 70% of the web population create content in some way on some website, but all the forums I go on are some way short of that number.

  4. Sorry but there's no way on earth that any community will get >70% engagement rates. No way whatsoever. Whoever thinks they can do is living in cloud cuckoo land.

  5. Hi Adi – I think this report from IBM (!OpenDocument) provides some more in depth information on patterns of engagement. In short, I think that you are correct regarding the danger in looking at aggregate numbers. Not only is it much easier to create content nowadays, but there are also many more places for that content to be published. So, an individual who in the past may have looked at only a few communities which were only of moderate interest to him/her, may now frequent 20 communities and participate very actively in one because it aligns closely with his/her interests. The result is high participation rates in the aggregate, but still relatively low participation rates for individual communities.

  6. The question immediately caught my attention, but I don't know the answer.
    I write a (usually) weekly short story at my blog, and might get 90 views per week but only 4 comments, 3 of the comments looking a lot like spam, but I'll take them.
    Interesting, thought provoking post.

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