1% Rule of Internet Culture
The 1% rule of Internet culture, or the 1:9:90 rule outlines the ratio of participation inequality in online communities, and its implications.
The story of Internet Culture is more often than not the story of platforms: multi-sided networks that aggregate vast amounts of user generated content for other people to consume.
Within this dynamic, time and time again, we see this ratio, known as the 1% Rule of Internet Culture, or as often abbreviated, 1:9:90.
The crux of this model is that the number of people who create content on the Internet represents approximately 1% (give or take) of the people actually viewing that content.
In other words, platforms adhere to the concept of participation inequality, which can be modelled as the following:
- 1% of participants create new content.
- 9% of participants contribute or provide feedback on content.
- 90% of participants are lurkers and just consume the content.
More broadly, this is often expanded to state that only 1% create with the other 99% contributing a blended form of lurking.
It is important to note that this does not refer to the entire spectrum of the Internet, but within the specifics of niche platforms. For example:
On Imgur, 1% of users may be an original poster (OP), 9% comment on those images, and 90% simply view the content and up or down vote accordingly.
On YouTube, 1% of users post original video content, 9% comment on the videos or share them, and 90% simply watch.
It’s important to remember that this is user specific - an individual who falls into the 1% bracket on Imgur may only be a 90% on YouTube (and vice versa).
So why is it worthwhile understanding this model?
Firstly, keep this in mind when considering metrics or any network effects on any given platform. It is likely that you are going to have a small, committed "power" user base who will make up the bulk of your contributed content, so make sure that these users are catered to as much as possible. The crowd can turn on you in an instant.
This is also the core of influencer strategy - target the creators on a given platform to disseminate to the wider 9:90.
Lastly, remember that the users performing actions on your content may in fact correlate more to a personality trait that isn't universal. The people who like, comment or upvote may only represent a much smaller set of overly "clicky" (or enraged) people - in reality the vast majority might be hidden away lurking in the background.
Author's note, all frameworks are inherently flawed, so apply them wisely. The utility of a framework is always dependent on the individual problem at hand.