The 1-9-90 rule, also known as the participation inequality principle, is a concept used to describe the unequal distribution of user engagement in online communities. According to this rule, 90% of users are passive lurkers who consume content without actively participating in any way. They may visit the community regularly but never post, comment or engage with other users. The next 9% are occasional contributors who participate in discussions and interact with other users from time to time, but not as frequently or consistently as the remaining 1%. The remaining 1% are active contributors who generate most of the content, drive discussions and are heavily engaged in the community.
This rule has been observed across a wide range of online communities, including social media platforms, discussion forums, and knowledge-sharing websites. While the distribution may not be exactly 1-9-90 in all cases, the general trend of a small percentage of users generating most of the content holds true. This principle has important implications for community management, as understanding user behavior can help moderators design strategies to engage with lurkers and encourage them to become more active participants.
The 1-9-90 rule is particularly relevant in the context of online communities, where user engagement is a critical factor in the success of the platform. In a discussion forum, for example, the majority of users may simply read threads without commenting or creating new topics. However, these lurkers still provide value to the community by consuming content and contributing to pageviews and ad revenue. On the other hand, the active contributors who generate most of the content are the ones who drive engagement, attract new users, and keep the community alive. Therefore, community managers must find ways to encourage lurkers to become more active, while also incentivizing the most active contributors to continue their efforts.