For several years, there has been a rule-of-thumb, called “90-9-1″, that 90% of online participation in groups/communities consists of “lurkers” or more politely, “passive participants”, and only 1% are active creators. Jacob Nielsen’s 2006 post on Participation Inequality provides a good overview of this phenomenon.
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.
A recent BBC survey of 7,500 people shows significantly different results.
Here we see that passive lurkers make up only 23% of participants; active (intense) participants have increased to 17%; and there is now an “Easy” group in the middle who, “ … respond largely to the activity of others. This includes replying, ‘liking’ and rating, all activities where there’s little effort, exposure or risk.”
Perhaps the most interesting finding is that many early adopters, those who used to be active online, are dropping out and are classified as “passive”. I’m not sure if they are actually dropping out or have just moved on to other media and communities.
One conclusion I would make is that in 2012 it is now easier to get people engaged in online participation, whether for work or pleasure. This is the Facebook effect, which I have noticed since the service became mainstream. With a concrete model of what a social network looks like, people can more easily understand online communities. Of course, there comes a saturation point which many of us have faced as we add social networks to our lives. The YASNS effect ["Yet Another Social Networking Service" ~ Clay Shirky] is also becoming ubiquitous.
If nothing else, this report indicates that social media are making people more social online. The medium is the message, or so it seems.