1% rule (Internet culture)

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Pie chart showing the proportion of lurkers, contributors and creators under the 90–9–1 principle

In Internet culture, the 1% rule is a rule of thumb pertaining to participation in an internet community, stating that only 1% of the users of a website actively create new content, while the other 99% of the participants only lurk. Variants include the 1-9-90 rule (sometimes 90–9–1 principle or the 89:10:1 ratio),[1] which states that in a collaborative website such as a wiki, 90% of the participants of a community only view content, 9% of the participants edit content, and 1% of the participants actively create new content. A related observation is that 1% of users generate the majority of revenue in free-to-play games.[2]

Similar rules are known in information science, such as the 80/20 rule known as the Pareto principle, that 20 percent of a group will produce 80 percent of the activity, however the activity may be defined.


The 1% rule states that the number of people who create content on the Internet represents approximately 1% (give or take) of the people actually viewing that content. For example, for every person who posts on a forum, generally about 99 other people are viewing that forum but not posting. The term was coined by authors and bloggers Ben McConnell and Jackie Huba,[3] although earlier references to the same concept[4] did not use this name.

The terms lurk and lurking, in reference to online activity, are used to refer to online observation without engaging others in the community, and were first used by veteran print journalist, P Tomi Austin, circa 1990, when her presence was noticed by other users in chat rooms, who queried her reasons for not engaging in chat. There were repeated inquiries about her identity and her refusal to engage in chat. The etiquette was, apparently, to greet other users upon entry into the chat rooms/sites. At the time, (then in her 30s, surfing among users averaging in their teens and 20s) she was only identified as "Bilbo", she explained that she was a mature, but computer-literate, user and novice to chat, and preferred to lurk, or was lurking to familiarize herself with the chat culture, etiquette, and the sites to which she had logged on. In some instances, she needed to explain her coinage of the term "lurking", as the term was new to the online community, but others quickly understood her meaning. To her knowledge, the terms had not been used prior to that period, and there appears to be no earlier dated reference to the coinage. There appears to be no attribution to the coinage that pre-dates the early 1990s.[citation needed]

For example, a large 2005 study of radical Jihadist forums by Akil N Awan found 87% of users had never posted on the forums, 13% had posted at least once, 5% had posted 50 or more times, and only 1% had posted 500 or more times.[5]

The "90–9–1" version of this rule states that for websites where users can both create and edit content, 1% of people create content, 9% edit or modify that content, and 90% view the content without contributing.

A 2014 study published in the Journal of Medical Internet Research by Trevor van Mierlo found that the 1% rule was consistent across four separate digital health social networks (support groups for problem drinking, depression, panic disorder, and smoking cessation). During the study period 63,990 users created 578,349 posts, but less than 25% of users made one or more posts. The applicability of the 1% rule was confirmed as Lurkers (90% of users), Contributors (9% of users), and Superusers (the 1%) accounted for a weighted average of 1.3% (n = 4668), 24.0% (n = 88,732), and 74.7% (n = 276,034) of all content.[6]

The actual percentage is likely to vary depending upon the subject matter. For example, if a forum requires content submissions as a condition of entry, the percentage of people who participate will probably be significantly higher than one percent, but the content producers will still be a minority of users. This is validated in a study conducted by Michael Wu, who uses economics techniques to analyze the participation inequality across hundreds of communities segmented by industry, audience type, and community focus.[7]

The 1% rule is often misunderstood to apply to the Internet in general, but it applies more specifically to any given Internet community. It is for this reason that one can see evidence for the 1% principle on many websites, but aggregated together one can see a different distribution. This latter distribution is still unknown and likely to shift, but various researchers and pundits have speculated on how to characterize the sum total of participation. Holly Goodier, in conjunction with the BBC presented research in late 2012 suggesting that only 23 percent of the population (rather than 90 percent) could properly be classified as lurkers, while 17% of the population could be classified as intense contributors of content.[8] Several years prior, communication scholars Eszter Hargittai and Gina Walejko reported on a sample of students from Chicago where 60 percent of the sample created content in some form.[9]

Participation inequality[edit]

A similar concept was introduced by Will Hill of AT&T Laboratories[10] and later cited by Jakob Nielsen; this was the earliest known reference to the term "participation inequality" in an online context.[11] The term regained public attention in 2006 when it was used in a strictly quantitative context within a blog entry on the topic of marketing.[3]

See also[edit]


  1. ^ What is the 1% rule? by Charles Arthur, The Guardian, Thursday 20 July 2006
  2. ^ "Want freemium mobile games success? Don't fail to net the whales" The Guardian 26 July 2011.
  3. ^ a b McConnell, Ben; Huba, Jackie (May 3, 2006). "The 1% Rule: Charting citizen participation". Church of the Customer Blog. Archived from the original on 11 May 2010. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  4. ^ Horowitz, Bradley (February 16, 2006). "Creators, Synthesizers, and Consumers". Elatable. Blogger. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  5. ^ Awan, A. N. (2007b) 'Virtual Jihadist media: Function, legitimacy, and radicalising efficacy', in European Journal of Cultural Studies, vol. 10(3), pp. 389–408.
  6. ^ van Mierlo, T. (2014) ‘The 1% Rule in Four Digital Health Social Networks', in J Med Internet Res, 16(2):e33.
  7. ^ Wu, Michael (April 1, 2010). "The Economics of 90–9–1: The Gini Coefficient (with Cross Sectional Analyses)". Lithosphere Community. Lithium Technologies, Inc. Retrieved 2010-07-10. 
  8. ^ "BBC Online Briefing Spring 2012: The Participation Choice". 
  9. ^ Hargittai, E. and Walejko, G. (2008) 'The Participation Divide: Content creation and sharing in the digital age', in Information, Communication and Society, vol. 11(2), pp. 389–408.
  10. ^ Hill, William C.; Hollan, James D.; Wroblewski, Dave; McCandless, Tim (1992). "Edit wear and read wear". Proceedings of the SIGCHI conference on Human factors in computing systems (ACM): 3–9. doi:10.1145/142750.142751. ISBN 0-89791-513-5. 
  11. ^ "Community is Dead; Long Live Mega-Collaboration", Jakob Nielsen's Alertbox for August 15, 1997

External links[edit]