The 90-9-1 rule

I’m involved in several online communities, and I’m familiar with the 90-9-1 rule: 90% of a site’s users will lurk and not create any new content, with only 10% creating any new content.

Take the NaNoWriMo community since that’s the one I’m most familiar with. I’m definitely a creator there. I start new threads, participate in many pre-existing threads, share stories of the history of NaNo, and provide feedback and share bugs for the NaNo staff. At one point last October, I was providing one percent of the forum’s content. One percent. One person. There were others with high post counts below me who also produced a lot of content, and it was safe to say that we produced nearly ten percent of the content alone. Just a few posters produced a significant fraction of the site’s content.

I’m nowhere near the top poster now. Even if I were, it wouldn’t matter since the site’s getting wiped this week. I expect the ratios to stay around the same because very few people actually stop by the forums and contribute significantly. This may be hard to believe for anyone who uses the forums, but over 100,000 people participated last year. If all 100,000+ people posted on the forums regularly, I’d bet that the site would have crashed more than the slow bumps it experienced last November and no one, not even the moderators, would be able to keep up with the volume.

So why do I mention this? I expect a surge in Wikiwrimo traffic come October when the forums relaunch. Some of them may request accounts and start contributing. I’m betting that not everyone will contribute, not even those with accounts. Look at Wikipedia. I’m guilty here, as I’m sure you are. I have an account there but contribute rarely, mostly when I see a nagging typo or vandalism that needs to be fixed. However, Wikiwrimo is also a wiki with a specific community in mind. The contribution rate has fit the 90-9-1 ratio pretty well over the past several months, but I’m curious to see what’s going to happen after site launch at the end of the week.

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