Power Law of Participation

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Ross Mayfield distinguishes low threshold from high engagement forms of participation, i.e. collective intelligence from collaborative intelligence.

Graph: http://www.flickr.com/photos/ross/135959002/

URL at http://ross.typepad.com/blog/2006/04/power_law_of_pa.html


From Collective Intelligence ...

Digg is the archetype for low threshold participation. Simply Favorite something you find of interest, a one click action. You don't even have to log in to contribute value, you have Permission to Participate. Del.icio.us taps both personal and social incentives for participation through the low threshold activity of tagging. Remembering the URL is the hardest part, and you have to establish an identity in the system. Commenting requires such identity for sake of spam these days and is an under-developed area. Subscribing requires a commitement of sustained attention which greatly surpasses reading alone. Sharing is the principal activity in these communities, but much of it occurs out of band (email still lives). We Network not only to connect, but leverage the social network as a filter to fend off information overload. Some of us Write, as in blog, and some of us even have conversations. But these are all activities that can remain peripheral to community. To Refactor, Collaborate, Moderate and Lead requires a different level of engagement -- which makes up the core of a community.

The byproduct of use is a Conucopia of the Commons -- the act of using the database adds value to it. As users engage in low threshold participation (read, favorite, tag and link) we gain a form of collective intelligence. But it is important to distinguish the value of collective intelligence and collaborative intelligence. http://ross.typepad.com/blog/2006/04/power_law_of_pa.html

To Collaborative Intelligence

When users participate in high enagement activities, connecting with one another, a different kind of value is being created. But my core point isn't just the difference between these forms of group intelligence -- but actually how the co-exist in the best communities.

In Wikipedia, 500 people, or 0.5% of users, account for 50% of the edits. This core community is actively dedicated to maintaining an open periphery. Part of what makes Flickr work isn't just excellence at low threshold engagement, but the ability to form groups. Participation in communities plots along a power law with a solid core/periphery model -- provided social software supports both low threshold participation and high engagement. http://ross.typepad.com/blog/2006/04/power_law_of_pa.html

Additional Comments

Sam Rose:

This reminded me of a number of studies on open source that support this idea. For example, a case study of the Apache project published in 2000 found that 80% to 90% of the submissions came from a set of 15 core developers in a community of more than 3000 people. A study of the GNOME project had similar results with 11 people contributing most of the output. Relating this back to the Power Law of Participation, the small number of core community members leads to collaborative intelligence, while the larger community provides an important collective intelligence by contributing bug reports, ideas, and comments. These two types of contributors and the resulting intelligence generated both feed off of each other and allow the community to prosper. I would be interested to see how this applies to other communities.


From Forrester Research:

- Creators (13%): Publish Web pages, publish blogs, upload video to sites like You Tube - Critics (19%): Comment on blogs, posting ratings and reviews. - Collectors (15%): Use RSS, tag Web pages - Joiners (19%): Use social networking sites - Spectators (23%): Read blogs, watch peer-generated video, listen to podcasts - Inactives (52%): Other internet users. (http://www.forrester.com/Research/Document/Excerpt/0,7211,42057,00.html)

More Information


A case study of open source software development: The Apache server (Mockus, Fielding, & Herbsleb, 2000).

Effort, co-operation and co-ordination in an open source software project: GNOME (Koch & Schneider, 2002).