Two days ago I wrote about Quora. I’ve been loving the product even if it sucks up some of my time. I prefer my time go into a very focused Q&A website than into a more generic Facebook. What Quora has done is wrap social networking around Q&A with the more clever next-gen UX I’ve seen.
But my post today is not about Quora, it’s about an answer that I wrote on Quora. I stumbled upon the Question, “What-is-the-motivation-behind-writing-public-reviews-and-tips-as-on-Amazon-Yelp-Foursquare-StickyBits-etc” and took the bait. I wrote the following answer:
“I have always believed that UGC (user generated content) website users fall into three categories that follow the 1/9/90 rule. 1% = power users, 9% = casual contributors, 90% = lurkers. We all get benefit regardless of our roles.
1. Power Users – These are the people you’re likely asking about. They spend inordinate amounts of time contributing to the website. They might be moderating categories on Wikipedia, writing 100’s of restaurant / bar reviews on Yelp, checking-in and commenting on every Foursquare venue or even writing entire transcriptions of TV shows on ViiKii.net. Or let’s face it – writing lots of answers on Quora.
These people use these networks for a variety of reasons but it relates to:
– enjoyment from being a creator rather than just a reader
– creation of social status within the organization for having contributed
– rewards or perceived rewards for achieving status (kind of like collecting airline miles)
– self promotion in order to gain status that might either help with future job prospects or to drive traffic to ones website for primary business
– to meet friends / other people that are similarly inclined because they, too, are “power users.”
I tell people who built UGC websites that you really need to cater to the 1% users. They need to have the right tools, social status, rewards and stickiness to your product because they don’t want to abandon their creation. You live or die on the power users because they build the most compelling content and help promote your website (because it helps them).
2. Casual Contributors – These people are uninterested in achieving status on your website. They had a very positive or negative experience and they want to tell the world. They are passionate about a topic (like this one for me!) and they feel inclined to spend some time contributing.
For casual contributors the system MUST be quick and easy. They don’t want to figure out how your complicated stuff works. They don’t want to register for everything and they don’t care about your points or game mechanics. As you scale your business they are tremendously important because at scale their contributions really add up.
3. Lurkers. Most UGC sites try to spend time converting lurkers to contributors. Don’t. 90% of all users will never contribute anything to your company. They are there to ingest content.
I wish Twitter understood this better. If they did then they would run marketing campaigns to let users know that “it’s OK to turn up and just consume content. Twitter’s great for that, too. You don’t ever need to send a Tweet to love Twitter.” I never understood why they don’t communicate that more broadly because I think most people’s fear of Twitter is that they don’t want to tell the world what they ate for lunch.
Make it fun and easy for lurkers to visit. They deliver real value to you because however you choose to monetize, lurkers will always be your largest category.”
Then two things happened. Ming Yeow Ng asked, “Would you consider Facebook a UGC site?” Great question. I wrote the following update to my original answer to that question:
Update: Social networking sites have an additional attribute in that they are communication vehicles as well as UGC sites. Therefore more people contribute as they are communicating in an IM like way with other people rather than looking to contribute community content. I still think they follow predictable behavior with power users, casual contributors and lurkers. But perhaps the lurker category is smaller.
And more embarassingly to me Garindra Prahandono gave me this link to an article written by the guru of web design, Jakob Nielsen about the 1/9/90 rule written back in 2006.
I’ve been talking to entrepreneurs about the 1/9/90 rule for ages and didn’t realize that it was “tacit knowledge” that I had picked up through conversations with many people over the years but attributable to Jakob Nielsen. Although the 1/9/90 and the word “lurker” seem to be attributable to somebody else, my philosophy on building UGC has been original thinking / POV. That said, it’s scarily similar. From the Neilsen article I loved this bit:
“How to Overcome Participation Inequality
The first step to dealing with participation inequality is to recognize that it will always be with us. It’s existed in every online community and multi-user service that has ever been studied.
Your only real choice here is in how you shape the inequality curve’s angle. Are you going to have the “usual” 90-9-1 distribution, or the more radical 99-1-0.1 distribution common in some social websites? Can you achieve a more equitable distribution of, say, 80-16-4? (That is, only 80% lurkers, with 16% contributing some and 4% contributing the most.)
Although participation will always be somewhat unequal, there are ways to better equalize it”
So in summary, if you’re going to do a UGC site:
- Know that there will be three buckets of users
- Design the product to accomodate needs of all three.
- Incentives for “power user” plus product features that make tons of iterative contribution easy
- Easy for one-time contribution without registration or other hassles for “casual contributors” and don’t think you need to convert them all to power users. You won’t. Their character and use case is different. Celebrate their contribution as good enough.
- Make it easy for “lurkers” to get value out of your website. This is where your website goes mainstream, addresses “normals” and becomes monetizable.
- You can convert some people to “casual contributors” to give you a 2/18/80 curve or similar but lurkers will always be lurkers. Just ask people who receive traffic from Stumble Upon.
- And if you’re Twitter, LET THEM KNOW IT’S OK TO BE A LURKER!! Trying to convert everybody to a contributor is counter productive. If a person feels that they need to contribute to get value out of your site then they’ll probably stay away. Simply letting me know that most people are lurkers and they will get tons of value out of your product as pure lurkers and there are plenty of other reasons to use Twitter without contributing will encourage more people to come every day. Nobody wants to join a club where they feel like they’re not supposed to be there.
** Lurker image courtesy of Wine Library TV. T-shirt can be ordered here: