Building a Wiki Community: The 90-9-1 Problem

In last week’s discussion on encouraging the timid contributor, Govloop creator Steve Ressler left a link to the phenomenal — and horrifying — site It explains a common community interaction ratio seen on wikis.

The 90-9-1 Principle states that members of a community will interact with the wiki in a defined way. According to the ratio, 90 percent of your community will simply read or watch what’s happening on the wiki, 9 percent will modify or edit information on the wiki and only 1 percent will create new content. That’s a scary ratio, especially if there’s nothing one can do to change it. But it’s also easy to wonder: How can one increase the “creator” ratio to 2 percent? Is it possible?

If you simply assume that the 90-9-1 ratio can’t be changed, then the only way to get more contributions will be by adding more people to the community. This means if you have 10,000 readers in a community with only 100 “creators” then the only way to double the number of creators is to double the number of community members to 20,000. It’s something we constantly look to do at Whorunsgov, but community growth is accomplished overtime and difficult to do quickly.

But how can one change this ratio? Before we get to that, let’s quickly break down how the ratio was developed. For example, take a reader of Wikipedia. This person doesn’t ever interact with Wikipedia besides reading the site. This person sits in that 90 percent group as a reader of Wikipedia. However, what if this person also reads and creates Amazon reviews? Then for Amazon, this reader is part of the 1 percent that creates content. This example shows a common occurrence. Often the 90 percent of readers on your wiki contribute to other sites. This group isn’t afraid to contribute; they just don’t contribute to your site. So you need to encourage this group to also contribute to your wiki.

I think the best way to convince this group is through incentives. From the discussions in the past, it seems like many government wikis are incentivized by mandating employees to contribute. That’s certainly an effective way. Other incentives: recognition for a job well done in an obvious and meaningful way, giveaways (like free t-shirts) or maybe even a small amount of money.

Whatever incentive seems logical for your own community can help encourage more contributions. And if you think about it, incentives are a worthwhile approach because you don’t need to increase the number of contributions by much to make a significant difference in the wiki. If you only expect one percent of your members to contribute, then doubling that to 2 percent will double the community’s interactions while exponentially increasing the amount of information available to everyone who reads the site.

What are some incentives that either convinced you to contribute to a wiki or have you used to encourage participation?


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Adriel Hampton

Clear encouragement to participate is important. A compelling call to action/great prompts could help wikis get more contributors. To get beyond one percent contribution, you also need to narrowly target the audience. If you’re going for a broad spectrum of readers, many are likely to be just that.