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The Not-Yet-Former Audience?

Citmedia friend and contributor J.D. Lasica reported earlier this week from the Web 2.0 Expo . Bill Tancer, general manager of research at HitWise and Dave Sifry, founder and CEO of Technorati paired up for a keynote on the state of the “Participatory Web” or “Live Web.”

There’s no question that blogs and other participatory sites have seen tremendous growth. Sifry’s State of the Live Web blog entry notes 70 million blogs with another added every 1.4 seconds), while Tancer noted a 668% growth for popular participatory websites since April 2005.

But that growth is also deceiving in a way:

Said Tancer: “It’s not the 80-20 rule anymore. It’s 1-9-90.” Spread across the Web, generally 1 percent of visitors are creators and producers, 9 percent are “highly involved participators”,… and 90 percent are consumers or viewers.”

These technologies and approaches to the web are still in their infancy, so hopefully time and the greater public consciousness of these tools will raise the participation rate. But these statistics about Web 2.0 participation have implications for citizen media, too. Are we truly erasing the barriers between citizen and media, or are we just replacing one set of gatekeepers with another?

It’s also possible business leaders are looking at participation in the live web the wrong way. Web 2.0 isn’t just about a handful of “killer apps” that will make their CEOs millionaires and rock gods among the geek crowd. It’s also about the dozens or hundreds of small sites that won’t ever get that much buzz, from the small-town hyperlocal media sites to the private social networks keeping a group of friends or colleagues in touch for decades. It’s about those human connections that go from the web to face-to-face to phone and back again, over and over. It is alive. And that’s a lot harder to fit onto a PowerPoint chart.

12 Comments on “The Not-Yet-Former Audience?”

  1. #1 Terry Heaton
    on Apr 23rd, 2007 at 2:52 pm


    This doesn’t wash with Forrester’s new Social Technographics report. It has good data and graphs and shows a user base that’s a bit more involved than Mr. Tancer suggests.



  2. #2 Remembering the 1-9-90 rule »
    on Apr 23rd, 2007 at 4:36 pm

    […] clipped from […]

  3. #3 Seth Finkelstein
    on Apr 23rd, 2007 at 5:25 pm

    You’re just replacing one set of gatekeepers with another. This is so obvious by now that it shouldn’t even be a question. The reason otherwise is that there’s a whole system of deluding and conning The Audience into thinking they could be the ones in charge, if they just buy whatever snake-oil the “Web 2.0” salesman is selling. It’s really very cruel at heart, even if some of the nicer fellow-travelers get drunk on the Kool-Aid themselves at times.

    And no, shifting to something like “You can write your diary, little Z-lister, you can CHAT WITH FRIENDS, doesn’t that thrill you to pieces?”, isn’t a rebuttal. It’s part of the shell game of trying to find some emotionally appealing justification for the hype.

  4. #4 Martin Stabe » links for 2007-04-24
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 4:26 am

    […] Center for Citizen Media: Blog: The Not-Yet-Former Audience? Dan Gillmor: “[The] statistics about Web 2.0 participation have implications for citizen media, too. Are we truly erasing the barriers between citizen and media, or are we just replacing one set of gatekeepers with another?” (tags: journalism socialmedia gatekeeping web2.0 community participation) […]

  5. #5 Debbie Block-Schwenk
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 11:31 am

    Terry, I will definitely check out that report, thanks. (I wrote this entry, not Dan).

    Seth, I go back and forth between your statement and the perhaps vain hope that a new generation and the increasing scope of change will really shake things up. I do agree a lot of the optimism is hype. On the other hand, that feeling of empowerment from being able to participate, as corny as it sounds, may have some unintended consequences down the line. It makes me wonder what Web 4.0 will look like.

  6. #6 Seth Finkelstein
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 1:43 pm

    Regarding the Forrester report, it’s actually consistent. You have to read carefully, because the graphic is misleading – they actually count the 10% highly involved, multiple times. That is, the top categories can overlap a lot in terms of people.

    How do you know the unintended consequences will be positive? Perhaps they will be negative. There’s a pretty good argument that the *feeling* displaces *real* participation, by shunting people off to echo chambers, where they can be fleeced by operators like Trippi. You do know this is his stock-in-trade, right? Giving people the *feeling* of participation, and extracting funding from them. Not that he invented that idea. But again, if you don’t know what the consequences will be, it seems to stand to reason they might be harmful, not helpful.

  7. #7 Pete’s View
    on Apr 24th, 2007 at 4:15 pm

    […] thought I’d check out the source for Matthews post at the Center for Citizen Media. The Tancer quote came via JD Lasica’s blog review of the Web 2.0 Expo.  Fascinating stuff! […]

  8. #8 :: links for 2007-04-25
    on Apr 25th, 2007 at 12:23 am

    […] Center for Citizen Media: Blog » Blog Archive » The Not-Yet-Former Audience? Forget 80-20. The new rule is 1-9-90. Interesting, although it does sound like a fertilizer. […]

  9. #9 Jeff Crigler
    on Apr 27th, 2007 at 6:24 am

    I think there is an important distinction to be made between replacing one set of gatekeepers with another and what we have with the participatory Web. Web 2.0 offers the possibility of participation for everyone and that is a significant difference – a democratizing difference. And while the 1-9-90 rule may not change, certainly the members of each group will have a much higher turnover than the editor’s and gatekeepers of today. The flexibility provided by today’s platforms offer enormous opportunity to those hyperlocal publications. The millionaire CEOs will be the ones developing those platforms, but the rewards will reach well into the long tail of the Web.

    Jeff Crigler

  10. #10 Jon Garfunkel
    on Apr 30th, 2007 at 7:23 pm


    Agreed with Seth here. The Forrester report still shows around a 10% participation class. These numbers could be broken down by *any* media site, but few sites actually do it, since there is no audit bureau of participation to compel them to publish accurate numbers.

    and yes, when you say “just replacing one set of gatekeepers with another?” you are free to add, “as my former co-worker, Jon Garfunkel, hypothesized in his The New Gatekeepers series two years ago.”

  11. #11 Slouching towards Golgonooza » Blog Archive » Remembering the 1-9-90 rule
    on May 2nd, 2007 at 10:09 pm

    […] clipped from […]

  12. #12 Slouching towards Golgonooza » Blog Archive » Web 2.0: the not-yet-former audience?
    on May 2nd, 2007 at 11:13 pm

    […] clipped from […]