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.

0 Replies to “The 90-9-1 Rule”

  1. I think this is very true. I am probably in the 9 % in the oz teacher list, with only adding a little. This is more from having little confidence in having to say anything of value, but learning and enjoying the posts of others.
    The same is pretty true of schools, where some teachers are on the verge of burnout, because they are involved in everything, whilst others sit back, often complaining that nothing is done. Probably realizing that this will not change will help me feeling resentful that I am one of the 1 % at school, and I will just keep on keeping on.

    Love your work!

  2. Hi Linda.

    Thanks for the feedback. Yeah I’ve heard this “rule” called a few things over the years, but it’s interesting that once you accept that it “just is” this way, it changes the way you look at stuff.

    I heard a podcast the other day talking about IT training for teachers, and the guy’s message was “feed the rabbits and starve the snails”, meaning that those of us who support others to use technology should focus on the ones who want to go fast and do it right now, and not lose any sleep over the ones that don’t. They won’t be ready and willing no matter what we do for them, so it’s better to invest our time with the ones that are ready to go right now. The others will be ready later. Sometimes much later. Much, much later. 🙂

That's all well and good, but what do YOU think?