Making or not making online noise: To lurk or not to lurk

The other day one of my colleagues opened a subject about the 1/9/90 standard distribution. That brought me back some ten years ago, when one of my former bosses kept believing that he might be able to change that. It was hilarious and I am unsure whether he realised or not, in the following years, that it is impossible to do that.

It was in the early years of the online communities. Yahoo managed to create the so-called “groups”, which are still very popular today. Some twelve years ago we tried a number of platforms, which were developed by different providers, but none of them suited our needs. My former managers then wanted to create and develop a community model that it has not existed before. Well, a very ambitious project with very limited resources, which needed to compete with the commercial solutions proposed by famous providers benefiting from large budgets. The project died in the end.

A lurker

A lurker

But this article is not about my past work. It is about the 1/9/90 standard distribution. Nielsen explains the standard distribution concept by arguing that is a natural online behaviour of the users. The members of an online community tend to behave differently and, based on research evidence, he says that 1% of an online community create content, 9% of them contribute and 90% of them are passive consumers.

Nielsen calls the passive consumers “lurkers”, a term which was introduced by a journalist, who entered a chat room some 20 years ago, and did not engage with the chat participants. Therefore, a lurker is someone who comes online and observes the others, without engaging with them.

The concept was somewhat adapted to the social media/networks environments and scholars have recently developed it further.

I have often behaved like a lurker in online communities. Consuming information passively also means being able to listen to what the others say. It is a moment when one can learn more and digest the information quietly.

I engage in online discussions only when I believe I can make a relevant contribution. I normally avoid generating online noise.

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