Summary: In most online communities, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.
All large-scale, multi-user communities and online social networks that rely on users to contribute content or build services share one property: most users don’t participate very much. Often, they simply lurk in the background.
In contrast, a tiny minority of users usually accounts for a disproportionately large amount of the content and other system activity. This phenomenon of participation inequality was first studied in depth by Will Hill in the early ’90s, when he worked down the hall from me at Bell Communications Research.
When you plot the amount of activity for each user, the result is a Zipf curve, which shows as a straight line in a log-log diagram.
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 90-9-1 Rule for Participation Inequality in Social Media and Online Communities” | Jakob Nielsen | 2006 | Nielsen Norman Group at https://www.nngroup.com/articles/participation-inequality/