There were quite a few interesting comments on a recent post of mine, where I’d outlined a community participation rule-of-thumb I’d been using for a while, which I repeat here for the sake of convenience:
- For every 1000 people who join a community:
- 920 are lurkers, passive observers
- 60 are watchers, active observers capable and willing to kibitz
- 15 are activists, actually doing something
- â€¦and 5 are hyperactive, passionate about what theyâ€™re doing, almost to a point of obsession
David Tebbutt wanted to know whether this was about public communities or business ones (by which I’ve taken him to mean within-enterprise ones), and bemoaned the implications for enterprises if it held true within-enterprise. David Churbuck, who’d been working on a similar issue serendipitously, felt it reinforced what he’d learnt at Reel-Time since 1995; JohnÂ Dodds was in similar vein, pointing me at a post he’d written on the same subject, quoting Jakob Neilsen on participation inequality and suggesting a 90:9:1 split from lurker to passionate. Mark Cahill, who also has experience of Reel-Time, warned about something I’d apparently missed, while endorsing the core: he felt that 2 out of a thousand were monumental jerks who need to be disciplined “pour encourager les autres”.
It’s actually quite a lot to take in, at least for me, and so I’ll keep my response brief. For now.
I think there are two dimensions to community that we must take into account if we are to understand community dynamics in this kind of analysis.
The first is time. People do not stay static in the community roles I’ve suggested; over the right period of time, yesterday’s lurkers may become tomorrow’s hyperactives; there is a gentle churn in roles as people leave and others join, and individual motivations change.
The second is topic. As communities grow, they tend to stay together on some overarching principle or shared ideal, yet clearly disaggregate into a number of subcommunities where the lurker-active-hyperactive roles shift again. One man’s meat is another man’s poison and all that jazz. In fact, as a community scales, I think its very existence depends on its ability to evolve these overlapping narrow-interest subcommunities. Chris Locke used to call it “organic gardening” whenever we spoke about this during the early Cluetrain days; Amy Jo Kim made clear reference to such behaviour in her seminal bookÂ Community Building On The Web.
And I think, above and beyond all this, there is a Long Tail effect as well, where lurkers have their Warholian fifteen-minutes-of-intense-activity because a particular debate or issue really got them. These are healthy things. Not to be derided or pooh-poohed. No lurkers no community.
I am reminded of what Milton ended On His Blindness with:
They also serve who only stand and wait.
As far as Mark Cahill’s total-jerk problem is concerned, I’m not quite sure. I can see participation being blocked where there is gender, race or similar abuse, or even strong language, something that offends communal sensitivities.
But the extreme freerider is not one I’ve felt I could block. It is part of the price that can be paid by social software, and the only real way I know of curbing such behaviour is by the use of peer pressure.
Those are my early thoughts. I’m very grateful for the comments I’ve received, good food for thought.