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1% rule (Internet culture) (wikipedia.org)
105 points by aburan28 on Jan 13, 2014 | hide | past | favorite | 61 comments

I've always felt like one of the most important factors of sites like Reddit and HackerNews is that it takes very little effort to "contribute". It's almost part of reading/lurking to upvote an article or comment, and that lower barrier to entry means a lot more action and a lot more data to determine which content is the best.

The founders of Twitter were right. When a thought is on the top of my mind, writing a blog post about it is hard. Sending a <=140 character message about it is easy.

Lowering the barriers to entry can be a great strategy for something, especially something that requires a lot of participation to work correctly, to gain traction.

Lowering the barrier to entry is also a double edged sword. Just look at youtube comments pre-Google+.

I haven't seen much difference after Google +.

Other examples include Xbox online which is horrific.

It's a mixed blessing.

Contributed content without the ability to select for the best or most appropriate content just becomes so much mud to wade through.

Depending on the forum and behavior of participants, I find that the best discussions are relatively small. With the right people, a small handful of participants, often as few as 2-3. More adds to the mix, but you pretty quickly run into the trolls, me-too's, derailers, and others, and the costs that they impose (by both discouraging and obscuring quality content) increase rapidly. What Metcalfe's law fails to take into account (especially for forum discussions) isn't just that not all contributions are equal, but many are negative.

I've seen well-designed systems scale to a few thousand participants, though this generally requires a great deal of reserve from many. At those scales, keeping track of who's who is hard, and Dunbar's number seems to be pretty well established. Roughly 150 active participants (which is to say, 1,500 - 15,000 members, with an allowance above and below that) seems to be the maximum manageable size barring some pretty fancy tricks and very methodical moderation.

I've seen subreddits scale to 100,000 - 1,000,000 users, and retain decorum, but I also wouldn't exactly call what's happening in them conversation.

> When a thought is on the top of my mind, writing a blog post about it is hard. Sending a <=140 character message about it is easy.

Now that you know this, why not write short, 1 or 2 sentence blog posts? There's nothing preventing that.

By that token, wouldn't Facebook have come beforehand with status updates, and other compabies before FB? Twitter succeeded for various reasons in combination, not just the <= 140 characters aspect.

> Lowering the barriers to entry can be a great strategy for something

It's considered that Wikipedia works because the barriers are high to contribute. (Learning mark up)

The barrier to wikipedia are the arseholes who revert good faith edits to a page while doing nothing to fix the rest ofthe errors on that page. They drive away new people while leaving bad pages in lousy condition.

Mark up is not a high barrier to entry.

I've always liked the reversed interpretation: The web has a multiplying function. For everything created, there are 10 people expressing an opinion and 100 people reading it.

I also look at it the other way: 1% of people have the required atributes (talent, motivation) to produce something that 99% of the population want to consume.

It's probably lower in other endevours, e.g., less than 1% of people can play basketball at a level that the average person would actively choose to watch on a regular basis.

On the other hand, the vast majority of the population produces something that somebody else is interested in. It's just that not everybody contributes everywhere. Specialization is useful.

Sturgeon's Law: 90% of everything is crud.

Morbius's Law: At Internet scale Sturgeon's law is six-sigma compliant: 99.99966% of everything is crud.

Your filtering / content surfacing algorithms had best take this into consideration.

Sturgeon's law is here, it's just not evenly distributed.

Well played, sir, well played.

I like that thought, but I think its wrong. or at least it's only true on average. But the average is not really interesting when you are in a domain that's heavily dominated by exceptions. See this distribution of youtube views for reference http://socialblade.com/blog/2012/05/10/youtube-view-distribu...

so i'd rather say: for everything created, there are either 100 people expressing an opinion and 1000 people reading it / or none.

It's hard for me to contribute online because there are rarely things that I have a hard opinion on that I think other people would benefit from. Maybe a lot of it is a lack of confidence that my ideas are worthwhile.

Well, that's always possible.

On the other hand, kicking ideas into the mix and seeing what others do with them can strengthen that muscle.

At least for some people.

I find this to be especially true on HN comments.

>Maybe a lot of it is a lack of confidence that my ideas are worthwhile.

Or that you simply have high standards for what you "publish", and prefer to be an expert on a topic before sounding off about it. Nothing wrong with that.

If we combine the 1% Rule with Sturgeon's Law that 90% of everything is crap, then surely it follows that of all the people on the internet only 0.1% are actually producing stuff worth looking at, and maybe only 0.08% are producing stuff worth looking at that isn't about kittens, assuming that this internet kitty-o-meter that I just googled is accurate - http://stevetilley.tumblr.com/post/9504481725/what-percentag...

I just posted this above, but I've been saying for a while (mostly on G+, where noise filters are crap, though I've since given up).

Morbius's Law: At Internet scale Sturgeon's law is six-sigma compliant: 99.99966% of everything is crud.

Well, that's a nice hypothesis, but my theory is backed by actual kitty-data.

Just because people can create and publish does not mean they want to.

Prior to the internet, physical media like books, newspapers, and music certainly had a similar distribution. Consuming takes little effort, provides stimulation and enjoyment whether http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Special:Random, /r/AdviceAnimals or Rolling Stone magazine.

A study looking at which demographics choose to participate in which communities would interest me. Reading comments on local news websites can be terrifying, but my parents would be more likely than me to participate becoming that "1%". Other communities like Live Journal, Reddit, or deviantART appeal to a different sets of 1%ers.

edit: Stats on views vs upvotes vs comments would be an interesting metric for reddit or HN to publish.

I suggest that, prior to the Internet, the actual proportion was much less than 1%, simply because the barriers to contributing were higher.

I have no actual data, of course. Finding some would be interesting.

As an example, my high school class of 310 students had several original bands which easily surpasses the 1% mark for creators. Considering the context of internet posting, "good" or "famous" really don't come into it. In the pre-internet or offline world, 1 in 100 people being content creators seems a trivial threshold to cross.

I'd say that the further you go back, the higher the conent creator ratio was. The absence of storage is what made it possible and the absence of storage is why it wasn't conserved.

What do you do when there is no music?

You start to sing.

How many of those bands played for the public? How many made a CD, tape, or record (depending on how old you are)? I'll stop before I ask if any of them produced a commercial album; I bet I know that answer.

"Famous" does not come into the picture, but one thing the Internet has done is make publication possible. It is the difference between no one listening to your band and no one being able to listen. But depending on how you look at it, the difference between 0 and 1 is either tiny or infinite.

"Reading comments on local news websites can be terrifying"

That's a very interesting topic, locally paid political astroturfers sloganeer so much at each other, that everyone else has been driven off the local news website comments section. Too toxic. People who want to comment on the news have to use FB or other social media. Another similar system might be spammers and flakes on CL, or spammers on whatever is left of usenet in 2014.

I'd theorize that the presence of spam shrinks the total pool while the ratio remains the same, but this is a very weak gut feeling.

I think an academic paper on the topic of spam suppressing interaction would have interesting financial implications, as the only thing keeping the lights on at the local newspaper (and some other places) is ads from pageviews, so spam may have a modelable financial impact on those operations. Depending on the result, this might either encourage new anti-spam startups, or wipe out the whole spam filtering industry (and probably, discussion forums as well)

I always find that political discussion that take place between me and random strangers in the comment sections on websites are always filled with trolls or crazy people. Neither of which I want to waste my time on.

There are so many factors that can combine to influence this rule, and it's hard to generalize or even predict which ones will impact it the most.

I co-founded a company that built and managed private online communities for large brands, and the fact that the sites were private/invite-only and facilitated meant the engagement levels were often much higher than 90-9-1.

Here are some of the factors that we noticed could change the ratio for our clients - private/public forums, ease of content creation, whether the site is moderated, anonymous accounts, commonalities between members, site usability and the difficulty of registration (setting higher barriers to register can actually create higher engagement).

Your mileage will likely vary...

Would be interesting to see research on education and MOOCs.

I recently completed an online class where the final announcement reported 1100 people passed and got their statement of accomplishment, unknown number failed, so total population at least 1100, and coursera forums list each read (not distinct readers, each time someone reads, even if its 10 times per individual) and a typical forum post never exceeded 50 or so reads, although a couple legendary ones got up to 300 or even 500. There were at least tens of posts.

So at least one CS class on one MOOC had stats around 10% read any individual post, about 1% create a post and/or respond. So the 1% rule is partially correct although the 99% lurk is about ten times too high. I'm not sure what you call someone who's in the community but doesn't even read the posts.

I've been informed discussion forums are critical, but most students didn't use them and I found them useless other than a waste of time. Then again one course does not define the experience of all courses, which is where an actual research paper with real data would be interesting. I still have the gut feeling forums will turn out useless; after all, who's more likely to be correct, google/SO/Reddit or a small forum of mostly confused students?

> in a collaborative website such as a wiki, 90% of the participants of a community only view content, 9% of the participants edit content, and 1% of the participants actively create new content.

In Wikipedia's case, there are also those who destroy content.

Wouldn't vandalism be included in the 9%?

I wasn't talking about vandalism. I mean real irreversible destruction of content.

I'm not too familiar with the turmoil of internal Wikipedia politics; how/what sort of content is irreversibly destroyed given that Wikipedia pages have public versioning/history?

If an article gets deleted, it's gone.

Does anyone run a service that saves deleted articles? If not, should such a service be created?

In the past, there was Deletionpedia:


The history of the term "lurker" was very interesting to me.

I am an active member of the shoe community NikeTalk, and lurkers are almost a daily subject on that site. Lurkers in a way are actually looked down upon from active community members (not me personally), since they get quick access to helpful information on shoe releases without out having to share anything to help others. If they saw this rule of thumb, it would probably be serious fuel to their fire.

While this seems true for a lot of websites, it seems that the true 'home run' apps of the last 10 years have a much higher number of creators. Instagram in particular makes it insanely easy to be a creator, but more importantly, a creator of something that you're proud to share. The apps that can more widely enable creators in this ratio, are the apps I believe really take off.

Different models for different services. Some services are 1 to Very Many. (TV) Some encourage more involvement (StackExchange in the early days, or HN now). As a principle it's good to be on top of this, though. You have to treat your content creators different. And your content editors.

I'm not so sure if this is accurate for all sites, on forums often the amount of posts in a thread is more than 1% of the amount of views of the thread.

1% distinct users. Many users comment several times in a thread over the course of a conversation.

I was going to say something, but I'm too busy trying to work out how to get in the top 1% of HN right now, so ..

Step One: Be on HN a few years ago when karma scores were visible

Seriously, karma flowed like water for whatever reason back then. Most of the super high point accounts built themselves up back then, including myself.

damn... I don't even have 10 karma yet...

I was going to say something, but remember many valuable HN comments, worth more than the article they are commenting on. Often we see "I wrote this article" or "I work at that company" or "I'm building something that does similar", etc.

I avoid diluting those great comments with my one-liners.

(I am not saying this to slight the parent comment. My comment seemed related to his so I'm putting it here.)

I was honestly trying to contribute by stating the meta- nature of the subject. But to be honest, I've taken to loving my karma score, even though nobody else can see it, because it actually does tell me something about the point of view I posit.

I truly and utterly do not understand why its not sparkline'ed yet, and I'm sure there is a plugin for it, but I wish karma was a sparkline, by default, simply. Is it too much flair?

Once young I was in the top. Like winning the high score to some intellectual video game. Looking back then reflecting, that was a waste of my life.

that was a waste of my life

Maybe, but it probably taught you a little about civil discourse, rational thinking & reasoned argument, and gave you some practice typing. I know it did all those things for me :)

It may teach more about pandering to an audience. But that is super important too, sometimes.

To me, it teaches somewhere in between- how to coach your argument in a form that will make it through people's mental firewalls. Sometimes you have to play to people a little bit to get them to actually hear what you want to say.

I have no comment.

"Even a fool, when he holdeth his peace, is counted wise: and he that shutteth his lips is esteemed a man of understanding."

Proverbs 17:28

"If I had all the money I'd spent on drink, I'd spend it on drink."

Vivian Stanshall. At four in the afternoon.

I'll drink to that.

I am the 1%

We are the 99 percent.

occupy the internet?

Could be, if the 99% bothered to comment.

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