The 90-9-1 Rule

I’ve always been a great believer in the Pareto Principle, sometimes more commonly referred to as the 80/20 rule. This principle basically suggests that in any group or organisation there will usually be 20% of the people who produce 80% of the results. This observation generally holds quite true, be it a club, a group, a classroom or even a family… there is always a minority of the people who produce a majority of the results. It may not always be exactly an 80/20 split, but you can pretty much guarantee that the work done by any group will almost never be spread evenly among the workers.

Once you understand and accept this fact, a lot of the frustration and annoyance of life starts to go away as you stop worrying about how you’re going to get the majority of the people to do more than the minimal amount that the Pareto Principle says they will do. The fact is, they never will. Those people will never do more than the miminum, no matter how we cajole, threaten, or incentivise them. Like gravity and taxes, some things are the way they are because they just are… Live with it.

So I was interested to see this report from Jakob Nielsen, one of the world’s most respected human interface analysts. Nielsen studies human interaction with computer systems and tries to get designers to make systems that work with people, not against them. He tries to identify what you might call “human nature” and encourages designers to create systems that adapt to people rather than the other way around as is usually the case.

From one of his recent studies, he observes that in most online systems, 90% of users are lurkers who never contribute, 9% of users contribute a little, and 1% of users account for almost all the action.

From my own experience with online systems (discussion forums, blogs, email lists, etc) as well as real organisations (committees, clubs, etc) I would have to agree with Nielsen. There is always a bulk of the work/traffic/discussion/effort/ideas that is actively done by a relatively small percentage of the users/participants/workers. I wish it weren’t that way, but I’ve always found that it is.

So, how do you interpret this principle in your classroom? What implications does it have?

CC BY-SA 4.0 The 90-9-1 Rule by Chris Betcher is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 International License.